BGA Preview: Patriots at Jets

During the season, Bent’s Game Analysis charts games for some of the Jets’ upcoming opponents, enabling a break down of what to watch out for on gameday…

The Jets have already faced this week’s opponent once this season, a game we previewed here. Therefore, the focus of this preview will be what’s changed since then.

After the jump, I break down the positional groupings (BGA-style!) to try and highlight what the Jets need to look out for.

Quarterbacks

Over the last two weeks, Tom Brady has looked somewhat mortal. He failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time in over three seasons in the loss to the Bengals and then followed that up by failing twice to drive the Patriots for the winning score against the New Orleans Saints. Unfortunately for Jets fans, the Saints gave him a third chance to win the game and he delivered. As much as he’d struggled over the previous two games, Brady’s game winning touchdown pass to Kenbrell Thompkins was perfectly placed and underlines that you can’t give a player like him too many chances.

With injuries decimating his receiving corps, Brady has completed just 57% of his passes – a career low – and has a QB rating below 80 for the first time in his career. It should be an interesting test for Brady against a Jets secondary that has also under-performed expectations and has the potential to be a lot better than it has been so far.

Offensive Line

The starting lineup has remained consistent throughout the season for New England, but right guard Dan Connolly suffered a concussion early in last week’s game and was replaced by Marcus Cannon. Cannon struggled, but Connolly – who is listed as questionable for today’s game – hasn’t been having a particularly good season either, so that’s not necessarily a downgrade.

At tackle, both Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer have been having outstanding seasons. Center Ryan Wendell has been relatively ineffective. Logan Mankins has been solid, but does lead the team with four penalties.

Running Backs

With Shane Vereen still on temporary injured reserve, it was LaGarrette Blount who got the start in the most recent game. However, both Brandon Bolden and Stevan Ridley got twice as many reps as he did. Ridley rushed for 96 yards, while Bolden got most of the reps on passing downs and in the two minute drill(s).

Fullback James Develin has been averaging 20 snaps per game, but that may be because of the injuries they’ve been dealing with at tight end.

Leon Washington remains out with an ankle issue.

Receivers

The big news this week is the expected return of tight end Rob Gronkowski. Much of the focus has been on how the Jets will stop him in the passing game, but it’s worth bearing in mind that he’s a terrific run blocker and that could provide a boost to their running game which managed just 54 yards on 24 carries in week two against the Jets. How rusty he’ll be remains to be seen.

Having missed the first meeting between the teams, Danny Amendola is out again after suffering a concussion last week. Julian Edelman replaced him in the slot last time, catching 13 passes for 78 yards. In the other five games, he’s averaged 5.6 catches per game and dropped six passes.

The Patriots were hoping their rookies (Thompkins and Aaron Dobson) would step up and to an extent they have combining for 40 catches. However, they’ve also combined for 10 dropped passes. Thompkins is developing as a red zone threat. His game winner last week was his fourth touchdown of the season.

Veteran Austin Collie rounds out the rotation. He made his Pats debut last week, catching two passes on only nine snaps.

At tight end, ex-Jet Matthew Mulligan might find himself squeezed out of the rotation by Gronkowski’s return. As a sign of how depleted they’ve been, blocking tight end Michael Hoomanawanui has already played just one snap less than all of last year including the postseason.

Defensive Line

The Patriots defense was healthy when they met the Jets in week two, but that’s no longer the case. Vince Wilfork is out for the season and Tommy Kelly will miss today’s game with a knee injury, leaving them very inexperienced up the middle. They tried to address that by signing Andre Neblett, who started seven games over the past three seasons for the Carolina Panthers, but it’s unclear if he’ll be ready to contribute.

Last week’s starters were undrafted rookie Joe Vellano and sixth round pick Chris Jones. Vellano played every snap and Jones missed just 10. They’ve both been pushed around a little in the running game, but Jones did record 1.5 sacks against the Bengals two weeks ago.

At defensive end, Chandler Jones is off to another great start. He also had a great start last year, but his second half production plummeted after some injuries took their toll. He continues to come off the right side with Rob Ninkovich coming off the left side. They combined for two sacks and 11 pressures in the first meeting with the Jets. Seventh round pick Michael Buchanan has been getting backup reps.

Linebackers

Middle linebacker Jerod Mayo suffered a season ending injury in last week’s game. This is a major loss despite the fact Mayo hasn’t been playing well this year. Mayo typically plays every snap and wears the headset. Brandon Spikes and Dont’a Hightower are both healthy though, but neither has been an every down player all season.

Mayo’s replacement is a mystery. The Patriots list their seventh round pick Steve Beauharnais as the starter, but he hasn’t played a snap all season. Second round pick Jamie Collins would seem like the obvious choice. Another could be special teamer Dane Fletcher, although he hasn’t played significant defensive reps since 2011. Ninkovich could play inside at times too.

Defensive Backs

Yet another injury blow for the Patriots has seen Aqib Talib listed as doubtful (and reportedly not making the trip) with a hip problem. Talib had been having an outstanding season, so that would be a major loss, even with Santonio Holmes and Kellen Winslow still out for the Jets. Alonzo Dennard remains in the starting lineup and Kyle Arrington continues to be virtually a full time player in the slot role. Dennard moves into the slot pretty regularly too, as the Patriots have been experimenting with a one-safety look at times.

That safety is Devin McCourty, a converted cornerback, who continues to thrive in a deep safety role. The other safety is Steve Gregory, who didn’t start last week, but still played all but nine of the snaps.

Assuming Talib can’t go, the Patriots could use third round pick Logan Ryan who was in the starting lineup for the first time last week.

Interestingly, the Patriots have only blitzed a defensive back ONCE all season.

Special Teams

There’s no major changes on the special teams unit where Steven Gostkowski has made 16 of 17 field goals, Ryan Allen has the 11th best net punting average in the league, Edelman remains on punt returns and Blount is the kickoff return man with Washington out. All-Pro coverage man Matthew Slater is listed as questionable with a wrist injury.

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I’ll be back tomorrow to recap the game!

Stats from PFF were used in the completion of this article.