How Jets can upset Patriots for AFC East lead
In years past, Sunday’s crunch encounter between the Jets and the Patriots would have been top of the news carousel in most major media outlets. The upstart Jets heading into Foxborough just half a game behind the juggernaut Patriots, seeking to wrestle control of the AFC East away from New England, with New York’s head coach making noise about how they could do it.
Times have changed with Todd Bowles as head coach, and there isn’t the same brash and vocal confidence from the Jets as there was under Rex Ryan. However, the situation remains eerily similar to recent seasons.
The Jets have taken care of business against their early schedule, seeing off Andrew Luck and beating the Dolphins in London, and have the chance to take first place in the AFC East away from the Patriots, setting up a season-long battle for top spot. If the Jets are to go into New England and topple the Pats, their keys remain largely similar to what they were under Rex Ryan. But how do they shape up, in terms of being able to control the game with their defense, particularly up front, while taking advantage of their opportunities on offense to see defeat Tom Brady and company?
The key battleground for the Jets’ defense is up front, where they hold up a comprehensive advantage in the trenches over a Patriots’ offensive line that will be relying on their quarterback for protection as much as their quarterback looks to them for protection. Defensive end pairing Muhammad Wilkerson (88.7) and Leonard Williams (85.2) have been lighting it up this season, and that grouping only grew stronger with the return of Sheldon Richardson (79.2) from suspension last week (seven pressures and three stops in the Jets’ two-touchdown victory over Washington).
This mouth-watering array of talent will go up against an offensive line that is shuffling the pack, both by design and necessity, with only guard Josh Kline (76.1) and tackle Sebastian Vollmer (79.8) earning above average grades so far this season. Around those two veterans, the Patriots are trying to juggle personnel to cover both injuries and get linemen into favorable scenarios by rotation (a novel principle), allowing the line to hold up. This will be their sternest test of the season, however.
In a two-point defeat in New England last season, Richardson and Wilkerson combined for four hits on Tom Brady, despite forcing the QB to hold the ball 2.7 seconds, on average, before releasing a pass. The Jets still didn’t record a single sack, and Brady lit up the New York’s secondary for a passer rating of 125.5 on his 18 dropbacks holding the ball for 2.6 seconds or longer, compared to a passer rating of 68.5 on his 20 dropbacks of 2.5 or shorter.
Last year, however, Darrelle Revis was on the opposite sideline, while three Jets defenders surrendered 60 yards or more in coverage. Back in green, Revis has only allowed 10 yards in coverage in the Jets’ last three games, and will be part of a unit looking to limit Brady’s effectiveness if the Jets are able to keep the ball in his hands, as they did a year ago. The margins will be tight once again, but if New York can repeat their game plan of a year ago, their improvements in the defensive backfield, led by Revis, and their offensive backfield, led by Ryan Fitzpatrick, could be enough to see the Jets to victory and setup a season-long division race.