ReFo: NYJ @ NE, Week 2
It wasn't pretty, and the game hinged on a blown defensive assignment, but the Patriots beat the Jets and sit at 2-0. Ben Stockwell has the best and worst from ...
ReFo: NYJ @ NE, Week 2
Ugly conditions. Ugly football. Ugly conclusion.
But plenty of intrigue.
Much of the pre-game and preseason talk was about how much the Patriots would beat the Jets by in this game, but for a variety of reasons this one was closer than many people would ever have imagined. The continued growing pains for Tom Brady and his new crop of young receivers continued to stunt the New England passing attack, with a slew of dropped passes coming even before the weather closed in.
For the Jets, this was another scrapping performance (literally and metaphorically) and it took all the gifts they got from the New England receivers to stay in the game for the duration. In the end, the difference between the two teams was one moment of brilliance from the Patriots’ offense on their first drive. The Patriots’ ability to confuse the Jets’ defense with their personnel usage and formation was paired with the speed of their execution to get out to a 7-0 lead. In the end that moment of sublime execution was what proved the difference between the two teams.
New York – Three Performances of Note
Dominant Start from Ducasse
Midway through the second quarter I thought we might have been looking at one of the best displays from a guard in recent seasons from the Jets’ Vladimir Ducasse. As it was, his performance slipped away in the second half of the game but his +2.5 overall grade marks out the best performance of his career, aside from an isolated +3.2 grade in his rookie season. Back in the state where he played his college football, Ducasse got the game underway with some terrific run blocking against a variety of defenders, but most notably against Vince Wilfork. In line, he principally did his work sealing, and often driving, defenders to his outside but also climbed up to the second level to seal Jerod Mayo on a couple of occasions. Though a pair of poor plays back to back at the end of the second quarter signalled an end to his assault on our Page of Fame for guards, this was still a very strong performance from Ducasse after a disappointing display (-1.5) against the Bucs on Sunday.
Late Letdown for Smith
If you head to our premium section and see a -0.9 passing grade for Geno Smith you might think it paints the picture of a really poor performance, but the context of how he put that grade together paints a different picture. For much of the game Smith played reasonably well for a rookie making his first road start in a hostile environment against the best team in the division. After a slow start (missing on his first two throws) Smith gradually grew in confidence with some strong throws, but he didn’t get much help from his receivers with three drops and a fumble, which came off a strong throw to a post route. To mirror the slow start, Smith then let himself down in the game’s most crucial moments late in the fourth quarter by not just throwing interceptions, but in at least one of the two cases missing a golden opportunity to test the Patriots’ secondary when his receivers had got in behind them. Did the conditions play a part in those final two interceptions? You can’t rule it out, but it’s hard to imagine a wet ball taking too much off those throws as opposed to Smith leaving those throws short. There was plenty to be pleased with from Smith’s performance, but he missed opportunities to make this an even bigger night for him.
More Quality in the Heart of the Line
The Jets might have said goodbye to Sione Pouha at nose tackle, but they appear to have found an immediate replacement as their run stuffer through the middle. Second-year player Damon Harrison has come right in and reeled off two strong displays in a row. After racking up three stops and a +2.7 run defense grade against Tampa Bay, Harrison came up with an even stronger game against one of the league’s better run blocking centers, Ryan Wendell. His +3.3 run defense grade came off the back of some strong play, showing the ability to stack Wendell and shed him off either shoulder to get to the ballcarrier. Other defensive linemen around him might get more attention as former first-round picks, but just keep an eye on Harrison in the middle. Can he bring the consistency to allow the Jets to seamlessly move on from Pouha? The early displays are certainly encouraging.
New England – Three Performances of Note
Growing Pains for a Young Passing Game
Chemistry takes a long time to develop between a quarterback and his receivers. On the evidence of this game, even before the deluge set in, Tom Brady and his young receivers have plenty more work to do. After such an encouraging start, as Brady and Aaron Dobson caught the Jets short for a walk-in touchdown, things started to unravel with drops and miscommunication aplenty. In the end, Brady reverted largely to targeting his only veteran receiver, Julian Edelman, even though he didn’t get a play no longer than 10 yards from Edelman, and the connection averaged 4.3 yards per target. The aforementioned Dobson put three passes on the ground, while Kenbrell Thompkins dropped one and hauled in only two of the seven passes sent his way. Clearly there were plenty of errors from the receivers, but Brady himself was not blameless as he struggled again with the deep ball — as displayed on a miss on the first drive when Edelman got behind Antonio Cromartie on a double move. The Patriots got the win, but with Danny Amendola’s fragility emphasized by his absence from this game, Dobson and Thompkins need to get on the same page with Brady.
Unsung Defensive Standout Up Front
In our premium section you will see a large block of red on the Patriots’ defensive page for this game, as the front seven struggled against the Jets’ run blockers. The exception in that defensive front was Rob Ninkovich whose four stops, five pressures and a forced fumble earned him a +2.7 overall grade. His first stop came off the back of Geno Smith reversing field toward him on a read-option play, but thereafter Ninkovich was his usual hard working self. His forced fumble from Chris Ivory got him underway in the second quarter, and he built on that with two hurries and a hit in a strong second quarter — with a stunt for a tackle for loss highlighting his second half work. Ninkovich’s run defense was also his strong suit in Week 1, when he racked up six defensive stops against the Bills. Through two games, Ninkovich has already matched his output from the first month of last season with 10 stops.
Moved Around Up Front
The stats might not say it, but the Patriots’ defensive front came out second-best in their battle with the Jets’ run blockers in this game. We’ve already noted Vladimir Ducasse’s strong game, but others had similar success against the likes of Vince Wilfork (-5.1 overall) and Tommy Kelly (-2.4 run defense), and the Jets showed an ability to open running lanes between the Patriots’ defensive tackles. This was shored up somewhat when rookie defensive tackle Joe Vellano (+1.3 run defense) came on the field but it was the Patriots’ strong tackling that ensured their sub-par day against the Jets’ blockers didn’t materially affect the outcome of the game. The Patriots missed only one tackle in the run game, and that came in the box with other defenders immediately there to finish the play.
– Talk about a let off. The Jets’ starting secondary combined for a -8.2 coverage grade.
– By comparison, the Patriots’ starting secondary combined for a +5.7 coverage grade, with Alfonzo Dennard adding a +1.6 coverage grade on his snaps in nickel.
– On passes targeted within 9 yards of the line of scrimmage, Tom Brady was 17 of 23 for 108 yards. Targeting 10 yards and beyond, he was a mere 2 of 14 for 77 yards, but, fortunately, also hit that crucial first quarter touchdown.
PFF Game Ball
One punt return might have gone to the ground after a bobble, but he recovered it and crucially in the passing game Julian Edelman provided the known safety blanket for Tom Brady. His quarterback might have missed him early, but he came up with a number of conversions throughout the game as Brady’s go-to receiver.
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Ben Stockwell | Director of Analysis
Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.