3TFO: Jets @ Patriots, Week 2
Just four days after besting Tampa thanks to an eleventh-hour penalty, the New York Jets will travel to Foxborough to take on their archrivals. While rookie quarterback Geno Smith was better than expected in his debut given the lack of talented skill players around him, running backs Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory labored against Tampa’s elite run defense, gaining 44 yards on 22 carries, and combining to break just one tackle. The Jets will surely be looking to improve their rushing attack in order to reduce the pressure on Smith.
New England escaped Buffalo with a costly victory, losing standouts running back Shane Vereen and wide receiver Danny Amendola to injury. On a short week to prepare for Rex Ryan’s defense that has challenged them in the past, that makes this game an even more enticing proposition. With Rob Gronkowski still recovering from surgery, Tom Brady will be without his three top targets and how he overcomes this could determine the nature of the contest.
New England Passing Offense vs Jets Secondary
Vereen and Amendola accounted for 24 of Brady’s 51 targets last week, so the Patriots will have to be creative as they try to move the ball through the air. The team will lean heavily on receiver Julian Edelman, who caught a pair of touchdowns against the Bills. Rookie Kenbrell Thompkins caught just four of his 13 targets, and seemed out of sync with Brady throughout last week’s contest as he made the leap from undrafted free agent to NFL starter. Fellow rookie, tight end Zach Sudfeld, lost his footing and caused an interception on Brady’s only attempt in his direction as fantasy players put their heads in their hands. That leaves the Jets likely to focus on Edelman as the guy to take down as the most established target on the field.
Every starter in New York’s secondary received a negative grade in Week 1 with Antonio Cromartie (-1.8 in coverage) having the toughest day of the lot. The good news is with no Vincent Jackson in town they should have an easier time dealing with the threats in the Patriots passing attack. After mentioning Edelman the key could be in how the Jets try to stop him. The Bucs’ bigger receiver saw Antonio Allen play as a hybrid safety who can come down and line up opposite either Jackson or Mike Williams when both receivers were split to one side. With the Patriots likely to do something similar with Edelman, will Gang Green make more use of Kyle Wilson against the shiftier receiver? Or will they lean on Dee Milliner to handle the row, given that’s it is unlikely they’d put Cromartie (a guy they like tracking bigger and speedier receivers) the task.
Patriots Offensive Line vs Jets D Line
The Patriots offensive line is one of the strongest areas of the roster, and they did a nice job last week. The left side of the line, Nate Solder (+1.6), Logan Mankins (+1.7) and Ryan Wendell (+2.6), excel when run blocking. The Patriots saw their greatest rushing success when running to that side in Buffalo, gaining 69 yards on six carries through the A-gap and 36 yards on seven carries through the B-gap. Meanwhile, Sebastian Vollmer was outstanding in pass protection, earning a 98.6 score in Pass Blocking Efficiency after allowing just one pressure in the kind of performance that is typical for him..
New York’s defensive line was dominant against the run last week, but struggled to pressure on the quarterback without 2012 first-rounder Quinton Coples. Rookie Sheldon Richardson had the best day of the group, earning a +4.5 run defense grade after making four stops. Nose tackle Damon Harrison was strong as well, with a +3.2 run defense grade in just 15 snaps. Muhammad Wilkinson may be the team’s best player, and he will look to rebound after being pushed around in Tampa (-3.2 overall) as his season got off to a slow start. New England’s shortage of receiving options will force them to pick up yardage and first downs on the ground leaving us with the excellent contest of strength against strength. A strong showing from the Jets’ defensive front will give them their best chance to beat their rivals on the road.
Geno Smith vs Patriots Secondary
Though he led a (penalty-aided) game-winning drive in his first start, Smith struggled when throwing on his way to a -2.2 passing grade. He did, however, show the ability to scramble effectively, gaining more yards (47) than the Jets’ running backs combined. The former Mountaineer was clearly executing a simple gameplan, as just 10 of his 34 attempts traveled more than 10 yards in the air while, like many rookies might, he struggled against the blitz. He earned a -2.0 grade when blitzed, compared to a +1.3 grade when facing a standard rush and that won’t have gone unnoticed in New England. Smith’s job will be more difficult in his second start, as the team is expected to be missing their best playmaker, receiver Jeremy Kerley.
During Bill Belichick’s tenure, the Patriots have never lost to a rookie quarterback in Gillette Stadium and on paper the Jets lack the weapons to really test the New England secondary. Corner Alfonzo Dennard was the unit’s standout player in coverage last week, allowing no catches and nearly intercepting a deep pass attempt. Kyle Arrington showed off his playmaking ability by forcing two fumbles and nearly intercepting a pass himself. Given the attrition the Patriots are facing on the offensive side of the ball, winning the turnover battle will be crucial.