On Sunday, the New York Jets and the New England Patriots will face off for the first time this season. The game features several intriguing storylines, but the most interesting one is how a good Jets defense can slow down one of the best offenses in the NFL.
As the Cowboys showed in the first half of Week 5, the only real way to slow down the Patriots is to get pressure on Tom Brady with four players and cover Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman effectively on every snap. But even the Cowboys ended up giving up 30 points to New England. Of all the teams on the Patriots’ schedule, two stand out that can slow them down: the Broncos and the Jets.
The Patriots will face one of those teams this Sunday when they host the Jets. Just by looking at the numbers, the Jets defense is eye-opening. They are first in yards allowed per game, second in passing yards allowed per game, first in points allowed, and tied for third in interceptions. It isn’t just the numbers, however, that make New York’s defense so impressive, it is the personnel.
For the Jets, it starts up front with one of the best defensive lines in the NFL. New York invested first-round picks in Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson and both have proven to be excellent investments. The two of them command double teams and are excellent off the snap. Both players are strong and fast, generally overpowering whoever is across from them.
Rookie Leonard Williams has lived up to his billing as a Top 10 pick last spring. Adding him to a line that includes Richardson and Wilkerson has made the Jets front unstoppable at times. The Patriots have had injuries all along the offensive line and this is where the Jets could have a major advantage. One of the best ways to defeat a Tom Brady-led offense is to get pressure in Brady’s face, something the Jets should be able to do.
New York also brings a lot of pressure from other areas. They blitz as a team more than any other defense in the league and are not afraid to send rushers in any situation. Because the Jets have two elite defensive linemen, offensive lines have greater difficulty handling the blitz. In many cases, the only option for an offense is to max protect, leaving seven to eight players in to block and having only two to three players run pass routes.
There is one major reason the Jets can send pressure whenever they want and not be concerned: their secondary. The signing of Darrelle Revis was a homecoming to New York that brought one of the game’s best corners back to the Big Apple. Revis can cover anyone and wins matchups nearly every snap. The Jets may decide to put him on Rob Gronkowski, but it is likelier that they match him up with Julian Edelman. Edelman’s short area quickness has led to many big and drive starting plays for New England, and Revis is the Jets best chance of taking that away.
Buster Skrine is also a possibility here. Skrine is smaller than Revis at 5’9” and might be able to handle Edelman’s quickness well, but he can be a streaky player so the Jets probably won’t put him on Edelman for the entire game. Skrine is currently going through the league’s concussion protocol so his status for Sunday is not yet confirmed.
The biggest question facing defenses that play the Patriots is what to do about Gronkowski. Since 2010, it has been rare for a single player or even one defense to take Gronkowski out of a game completely. Putting Antonio Cromartie on him is an option, but Cromartie will not always be physical at the line of scrimmage and that is necessary against the All-Pro Patriots tight end. New York should have a linebacker jamming Gronkowski at the line and then have Cromartie follow him in coverage.
Cromartie is the biggest of the Jets defensive backs but also quick enough to stay with Gronkowski. The Colts made it a focus to limit Gronkowski last week and shut him out in the first half. But as Gronkowski showed, it only takes a handful of plays for him to make a major impact. The Jets personnel is better than the Colts on defense, but it will take a strong effort to contain both Edelman and Gronkowski.
Sunday’s match-up between the Patriots and Jets will tell a lot about both teams. The matchup between the Patriots offense and Jets defense will be a chess match that could come down to the end of the game. Not only will the winner had a lead in the division, they’ll have an important building block toward AFC supremacy.