When this game was scheduled prior to the season I’m sure that NBC and the NFL thought they had a spectacular grudge match to top off the tasty treat that is Thanksgiving football. That preseason optimism has fallen away, and for a number of weeks now this has looked like a dead rubber with much of the luster taken from the game.
Uninspiring and one sided was how you would have expected this game to play out, and that is exactly how it did. After huffing and puffing to keep the Patriots’ off the scoreboard in the first quarter the Jets capitulated in both the second and fourth quarters en route to a blowout loss that heaps more pressure and misery onto the green side of New York, if that was at all possible.
The Patriots were as convincing and opportunistic as they needed to be, never allowing questions to surface as to whether they would prove to miss the presence of All Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski. It is astounding that one team can make the game look so easy, while the other makes the game look so hard. Here are a few of the performances that allowed the Patriots to cruise past the hapless Jets to round off the Thanksgiving Thursday football feast.
New England – Three Performances of Note
Controlling the Game on the Ground
The Patriots won this game based around big plays and opportunism — scoring points in bunches to put the punchless Jets out of reach with quick and demoralizing touchdowns. However, while the score may have been close outside of the second quarter the Jets were never really in the game and the Patriots’ ability to control the ball and the clock enabled them to keep New York at arm’s length. A team less focused on running plays would have cut a lot of time off of the clock and the drive at the start of the fourth quarter alone could have been around twice as long if the Patriots were interested in milking the clock rather than putting the Jets to the sword. Up front, the Patriots’ offensive line and Daniel Fells were consistently controlling on the ground. Of those six players only Nate Solder graded negatively as a run blocker and the other five graded at least +1.1 or better. All of this allowed Stevan Ridley to consistently pick up good chunks of yardage on the ground and finish his runs going forward on almost every occasion.
Physical Brutality in the Middle
No matter how often you watch the Patriots their one defender that consistently leaps off of the screen at you, in both good and bad ways, is Brandon Spikes. This week Spikes faced a matchup with one of the league’s premier centers, Nick Mangold, and due to the Patriots’ willingness to align Vince Wilfork as wide as an outside shade of the tackles he doesn’t always have the protection to keep big linemen off of him. This week though, Spikes proved he rarely needs this protection as he made a number of plays where he simply bossed Mangold physically, something you never expect to see from the ultra-consistent and excellent Jets’ center.
Spikes set his stall out at the start of the Jets’ second drive, making a play to make amends for playing a role in drawing Wilfork into an encroachment to start the drive. On the second play of the drive Wilfork and Love shifted pre-snap to leave Mangold uncovered and, after a quick chip on Love, Mangold moved on to pick up Spikes where he was immediately rocked back by the Patriots’ middle linebacker who quickly shed the block to make a tackle for 3 yards. Spikes would again stand Mangold up in the middle of the line in the third quarter, asserting his control. His aggression may get him in to trouble with the officials and cost the Patriots’ yardage, but there can be little doubt that Spikes’ pure physicality and attitude brings a world of benefit to a Patriots’ defense that offers far more menace this season than it has in years past.
Another area picking up a little for the Patriots is their pass coverage. Led by the rebounding Devin McCourty the Patriots’ pass defense has really picked up this season, even though the passing stats may say otherwise. In this game, Kyle Arrington put forth his fourth consecutive positively graded game in coverage and collected a pair of pass defenses for the second time in five days.
Playing within an hour of the campus of his alma mater, Arrington locked down anyone entering the slot against his coverage and allowed only a 9-yard completion to Stephen Hill in his coverage. He collected a pass defense against both Jeremy Kerley and Dustin Keller to help slow the Jets’ attempts to minimize the deficit in the second half. The Patriots are still in a position of having more than half a dozen defensive backs seeing playing time in any given week, but they now appear to have a greater depth of capable players to call upon. The nature of the games that the Patriots are caught in means they are always likely to give up a large number of passing yards, but with good coverage skills to complement playmaking skills the Patriots are well set to defend leads this season. Now they just need a healthy pass rush to complement their budding secondary.
New York – Three Performances of Note
Beyond an inability to hold on to the football on consecutive plays, there are fundamental flaws rooted in why the New York Jets are no longer a competitive team in the NFL. Simply put, the blueprint upon which this team is built is no longer applicable to the players on the field. When the Jets were at their height around the turn of the decade under Rex Ryan, they were predicated around an exceptional offensive line which allowed them to play a ball control run offense paired with a spectacular defense. The Jets still apply that same blueprint now but the same players aren’t in place to make that system work.
This team is built to play with a lead, or in close games based upon mistake-free football and putting their opposition under pressure. However, when you hemorrhage points as the Jets’ did on two occasions you need the ability to launch quick strikes in reply or score in bunches, and the Jets haven’t developed that part of their arsenal to counter their weakness. Beyond the ability of Joe McKnight to score on a long kick return, the Jets simply don’t have the firepower to fight back from a large deficit. Outside of the catastrophic errors the Jets were reasonably competitive in this game, but that simply isn’t good enough and when they waste opportunities such as having six consecutive plays within 6 yards of the end zone and run four unsuccessful plays from the shotgun, taking away the running threat, you are doomed to failure. Unless the Jets magically find the players to turn them back into that suffocating team from a couple of seasons ago, they need to change to keep pace moving forward.
Bright Start Evaporates
On the first snap of the game one of the Jets’ few star players from this season, Muhammad Wilkerson, tore into the backfield beating Donald Thomas to hit Tom Brady and draw an intentional grounding penalty for the Patriots’ signal-caller. If you thought this was going to be a sign of the Jets’ getting the upper hand in the trenches and turning the screw on the Patriots, you were quite wrong. In fact, even Wilkerson himself had a rare down week, recording his lowest grade since the Jets’ last 30-point home defeat to the 49ers. Outside of Bart Scott, benched after Shane Vereen’s long touchdown catch, no member of the Jets’ front seven graded positively as a run defender. The Jets’ ends can typically be counted upon to at least put up a fight, even if as a unit the Jets’ run defense faltered, but even they were handled by an underrated Patriots’ offensive line which was in no mood to allow New York to gain any momentum in this game.
New Security Needed
The fumble by Mark Sanchez that was the duck in a Turducken of New England touchdowns consumed in 55-second quarter seconds, was simply the most comical of a quintet of fumbles that will be anything but a laughing matter for the Jets’ coaching staff. While Shonn Greene may have had little choice but to try and reach the ball out to convert a 4th-and-1 situation on which he was otherwise stopped short, the other four were simply not good enough. The ball carrying for the other four fumbles was simply sloppy. There is always an element of luck in terms of fumble recoveries, but when you put the ball on the ground five times you are putting your fate in the lap of the football gods, rarely a good idea. This was a night to forget for the Jets, but surely the entire offense will be reminded of this set of errors with a series of ball carrying drills when they return to the facility ahead of next Sunday’s visit of the Cardinals — surely a matchup of the NFL’s most hapless teams at this point in the season.
– Between the numbers Tom Brady was money beyond 10 yards, going four of five for 127 yards and a score. Outside of the numbers on deep and intermediate throws he was not, going zero of six on those throws.
– For the second straight week Mike Devito failed to record a defensive stop. This is only the second time in the past four seasons Devito has gone without a stop in back-to-back performances. The other time coming in Weeks 3 and 4 of the 2010 season.
– When you only play scraps you need to make the most of your chances. For the third time in four appearances this season Justin Francis recorded a quarterback hit.
PFF Game Ball
The Patriots’ running game really controlled this clash and consequently the game ball goes to the offensive line and tight ends who set up a strong performance from Stevan Ridley to establish the tempo for the game.