3TFO: Patriots @ Jets, Week 7
It is hard to imagine a more up and down season than what the Jets have had in 2013. The team has alternated wins and losses each week, and they will be happy to continue the pattern this week with a win against their arch-rivals. They will need far better play from Geno Smith in order to beat New England, however. Just six days after a star was born with an impressive game in Atlanta, that star came crashing down to earth with a dismal performance in a home loss to the previously winless Steelers.
The Patriots shocked the Saints last weekend, improving to 5-1 on a last-second pass. Injuries to key players continue to mount for the team however, as Jerod Mayo, Aqib Talib, Dan Connolly and Danny Amendola (all starters) were knocked out of the game. With Mayo joining Vince Wilfork on injured reserve, New England will have to finish the season without their defensive captains. This team could badly use some good news on the injury front — Rob Gronkowski’s return to the field cannot come quickly enough.
Jets Running Offense vs. Patriots Run Defense
Scoring just 17.3 points per game (fourth worst in the NFL), it is clear that a lack of skill position talent is holding the Jets back. The Jets have built both their offense and defense from the lines out, so it is surprising to see the offensive line also playing poorly. The group has been average in pass protection, ranking 18th in Pass Blocking Efficiency, but has really struggled when run blocking. The team’s cumulative run blocking grade of -16.9 is the seventh-worst mark of any team, and star center Nick Mangold has been one of the worst offenders. Though he was our fifth-best run blocking center in 2012, Mangold has graded positively in that department just twice this season. Injuries to Wilfork and Tommy Kelly will certainly make his life easier this week. Running back Bilal Powell has been better than his raw statistics suggest, averaging more than 2.0 yards per carry after contact. Powell is 10th in Elusive Rating among running backs, and would clearly benefit from improved blocking in front of him.
The loss of Mayo is a major blow to this defense. Though Mayo was actually our lowest graded player at his position thus far in 2013, and was consistently pushed around by opposing offensive linemen in run defense, he is the Patriots’ best-rounded linebacker and played nearly every snap for the team. Mayo was our second best 4-3 outside linebacker last year, and it will take multiple players to replace his three-down contributions. Fortunately, the Patriots are deep at linebacker, and 2013 top pick Jamie Collins and Dane Fletcher appear to be Mayo’s most likely replacements. Rob Ninkovich has quietly been excellent this season, and his +10.3 run defense grade leads all 4-3 defensive ends. Defensive tackle is the clear weakness of this defense at this time. With Tommy Kelly still unable to practice, undrafted free agent Joe Vellano and Bucs castoff (and fellow rookie) Chris Jones will likely take the bulk of the snaps again. After being dominated by the Bengals’ offensive line two weeks ago, Vellano rebounded last week. The former Terrapin made three run stops and finished with a -0.2 grade, an improvement of +5.4 over the week before. Jones surprisingly took every snap last week, but finished with his third consecutive negative grade. Both of these undersized tackles are better pass rushers than run stuffers, so look for middle linebacker Brandon Spikes to attack the line of scrimmage aggressively on run downs to compensate.
Patriots Running Offense vs. Jets Defensive Line
New England has arguably the best starting offensive tackles in the game. Nate Solder (+16.7) and Sebastian Vollmer (+14.2) rank second and fourth respectively in our cumulative grades for tackles, and the pair have been consistent as well. Neither has graded out worse than -0.4 in 2013. Dan Connolly was knocked out of last week’s contest with a concussion, and Marcus Cannon replaced him at right guard. That position has been the biggest weakness on the line this season, and Cannon has really struggled when run blocking, earning a -5.8 grade in just 68 run blocking snaps. Stevan Ridley had his best game of the season last week, and now sits at seventh in Elusive Rating, but he will have to be at his very best against a Jets defense that leads our cumulative run defense grades by a wide margin.
The Jets’ defensive line has not been especially productive rushing the passer in 2013, but they have excelled in run defense. Muhammad Wilkerson is the star of the group, but he has been outplayed to this point by the other starters on the line. Damon Harrison was a great find as an undrafted free agent in 2012, and he leads all defensive tackles with a +18.8 run defense grade. The massive nose tackle has been a model of consistency as well — his worst run defense grade was +2.1 in Week 4. Rookie Sheldon Richardson has also been quite dominant against the run to this point. His +13.0 run defense grade is second only to J.J. Watt among 3-4 ends, and Richardson is the front runner for PFF’s Rookie of the Year.
Patriots Receivers vs. Antonio Cromartie
With Danny Amendola likely to miss this week’s game due to injury, Julian Edelman will probably get the start in his place. Edelman has been the team’s most dependable receiver though six games and he leads the group with a +3.3 passing grade. Kenbrell Thompkins leads all receivers in snaps, but Aaron Dobson played 21 more snaps than Thompkins last week. Dobson was a disappointment, with a -4.1 grade and a dropped ball on a crucial fourth-down conversion. Dobson now has the worst grade of any wide receiver, and his six drops also lead all receivers. It was telling that Austin Collie, just signed this month, was in the game over rookie Josh Boyce during the team’s final drive last week. It will be interesting to see if Collie can carve out a role for himself while Amendola recovers.
After a terrific 2012 season, Antonio Cromartie has been extremely disappointing this year. He has the worst grade of any corner (-9.2), and has a negative coverage grade in every single game in 2013. Cromartie has already missed five tackles this season, one more than he had all of last year, and opposing quarterbacks have a passer rating of 110.6 when targeting him. He did a decent job when targeted by the Patriots when the teams played in Week 2, holding Edelman, Thompkins and Dobson to three catches for 21 yards. With the pass rush lacking, the Jets simply need better performance from their secondary. While the team was once known for its excellent coverage, only reserve safety Jaiquawn Jarrett has a positive coverage grade in 2013.