Just three weeks after their first matchup this season, the New England Patriots and New York Jets are set to meet again. The two AFC East rivals will square off on Sunday at Gillette Stadium, with the Patriots trying to sweep the Jets for a seventh straight season.
Of course, their 22-17 win in East Rutherford in Week 8 was not an easy one. New England’s offense struggled against one of the better defenses in football, while its own defense looked good but gave up the occasional big play as well.
So, what will the game plan heading into Week 11 look like? There will be some similarities to the one the team used in the first game against the Jets; neither team has undergone any drastic changes since then given that both were on a bye last Sunday. From a personnel and scheme perspective, the two squads are more or less the same.
That said, the Patriots did start their preparation anew according to head coach Bill Belichick.
“It’s hard to play a team and remember all the things that you did a week or two weeks ago,” Belichick told reporters on Friday. “there are some basic things that come back to you. All the little details that you spend the whole week on, you kind of forget those and apply them to whatever those things are to the next team. Then when that’s over, you forget those and move on.
“So, obviously some things carry over. I’m not saying that. But they don’t carry over team to team. I mean it’s new players, new, different matchups, different ways that utilize their people and so forth. So, it’s new every week.”
It is new indeed, but that does not mean the Patriots cannot learn from their Week 8 win in New York. So, with that said, here is our best-guess estimation what they can take away from that contest to live up to their status as 3.5-point favorites (via DraftKings Sportsbook).
Patriots offense vs. Jets defense
Let’s take a look at some numbers from Week 8. The Patriots offense generated 288 yards on 75 plays, an average of only 3.8 yards per play.
Those stats do not tell the whole story of Patriots-Jets Pt. 1, but they are a reflection of New England’s issues: the team was up and down, registering several negative plays. Not counting kneel-downs, 15 plays went backwards — an astonishingly high number.
Whether it was sacks or tackles for loss, the Jets operated on the wrong side of the line of scrimmage far too frequently in Week 8. This, in turn, forced the Patriots to go through several third downs in order to keep drives alive: the team found itself in 19 of those, converting six for a success rate of 31.6 percent.
Not counting a kneel-down to end the game, the average yards to gain in those third-down situations were 8.9. That number is also far too high for any team to consistently keep moving the chains.
To their credit, the Patriots did just that in some key situations. Mac Jones had some timely scrambles, exploiting matchups versus man coverage; he also got the ball out on time against zone (while aided by some great downfield blocks). But relying on Jones’ running skills to keep drives alive is too dangerous a game to play for various reasons.
Needless to say, the Patriots need to keep themselves out of unfavorable third-and-longs.
How can they do that? Let’s start with some improved offensive line play.
Getting center David Andrews back should help quite a bit. While stand-in James Ferentz did an admirable job against a talented Jets front, he is a clear downgrade from the team captain. Andrews may be underrated in a league-wide comparison among the best centers, but he is a “rising tide lifts all boats”-kind of player for New England.
Having him back should help with one issue the Patriots faced in Week 8: the team’s successful runs came almost exclusively from yards after contact. Runners were constantly being met behind or at the line of scrimmage, forcing Rhamondre Stevenson and Damien Harris to work their magic.
On this play, jumbo tight end Marcus Cannon (61) is late to get to his second-level block which in turn gives Jets off-ball linebacker Quincy Williams (56) a free shot at the ball-carrier. Luckily, Rhamondre Stevenson (38) is one of the best backs in the NFL right now, and capable of making Williams pay for his overaggressiveness shooting through the C-gap.
Turning the page to Week 11, however, New England simply cannot allow this much disruption and needs better execution on combos and second-level blocks. The Patriots having Andrews back should help, and not going against one of the Jets’ starting defensive tackles — Sheldon Rankins, who is out with an elbow injury — should too.
Of course, execution is one thing. The Patriots can also learn something else from Week 8: getting the ball out of Mac Jones’ hands quickly, especially if the Jets can continue putting pressure on him on a regular basis.
They already showed the ability to adapt in Week 8.
Patriots called the exact same play a quarter apart, but the second time Mac takes a 3-step drop instead of the 1-step drop he was initially sacked on pic.twitter.com/WNLiZo4dGh— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) November 17, 2022
Additionally, they incorporated screens and short out-breakers to Jakobi Meyers to get the ball to their playmakers without Jones holding the ball all too much. New England’s on-schedule success in Week 8 largely came from such quick throws and underneath plays versus zone coverage.
All in all, though, the game in New York was nothing out of the ordinary for the Patriots offense. Route spacing and synchronicity with dropbacks and pass protection were again issues, which forced Mac Jones into improvisational mode far too often.
The Patriots focused on the former during the bye — especially with an eye on early-down success — and the hope is that the latter will improve with more continuity along the offensive line.
Patriots defense vs. Jets offense
Let’s take a look at some numbers from Week 8. New England surrendered 17 points to the Jets, as well as 387 yards on 58 plays for an average of 6.7 yards per play.
That looks a lot more like an NFL-caliber offense than whatever it was the Patriots produced that day. And yet, the Jets ended up losing by five points. You probably already know why: turnovers.
While New England had one of its own — a Mac Jones interception on a pass that saw his arm get hit while throwing — the Jets suffered three of them. Their own second-year quarterback, Zach Wilson, threw three picks: Ja’Whaun Bentley had one of them, with Devin McCourty registering two on some of the worst quarterback decisions you will ever see on a football field.
Those takeaways directly led to six New England points. Again, the Jets lost by five.
To say that those three picks were big for the Patriots would be quite accurate not just because of the scoring opportunities they provided for their at-time anemic offense. They also made up for what was some inefficient defensive football at times.
The Jets, after all, moved the ball fairly well at times. There were two primary reasons for that, and New England can take them away from that Week 8 game as areas of potential improvement.
First up: tackling. The biggest play of the day — a 63-yard catch-and-run from Jets wide receiver Denzel Mims (11) — would not have been possible without some bad wrap-up attempts and questionable angles. The Patriots were playing rather passively at that point late in the fourth quarter, but the missed tackles were exactly what they did not need in such a situation.
Mims had four Patriots around him when he made his catch, but they could not bring him down initially. Jack Jones (13) bounced right off of him, while Adrian Phillips (21) overran the play to take down Mack Wilson (30). Josh Uche (55) slowed down too soon but was on the wrong side of the Phillips-Wilson pile to begin with. Just a bad play all around.
Luckily, plays like that do not happen often against the New England defense. The second problem, however, is one that popped up on tape several times versus the Jets: the Patriots had a few issues in zone coverage.
The second-longest play of the day — a 54-yard pass to Garrett Wilson — was an example, with Devin McCourty too slow to move over to provide over-the-top help in New England’s Tampa 2 defense.
The bigger problem, however, was a lack of depth and/or re-routes in zone from safeties and linebackers. Those have led to explosive passes the past few weeks, and Week 8 was no exception.
On this play, the Jets exploit the hole between the second and third levels of the defense. Ja’Whaun Bentley (8) barely touches C.J. Uzomah (87), and he is able to get open on an out-breaking route away from him. With the deep-field defenders further back, the Jets tight end was able to not just catch the ball but also quickly turn upfield for some yards after the catch.
All in all, though, the Patriots defense did what it was supposed to do against the Jets. It took advantage off their mistakes and helped the offense on a day where it could do very little.
The main issues, as discussed, were technique breakdowns and some problems in zone coverage. Both can be addressed; both need to be addressed.