Patriots 6-pack Preview: Jets sputter into Gillette

Andy Hart
September 20, 2019 - 6:36 am
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While the Patriots (2-0) are flying high after two impressive wins to open the season, building some early momentum in what many already believe could be a special kind of year, the Jets (0-2) arrive in New England for this Week 3 AFC East battle trying to pull out of a September nosedive.

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With Sam Darnold sidelined to mono and backup Trevor Siemian lost to an ankle injury, New York is already down to its third quarterback, Luke Falk. Falk was claimed off waivers from the Dolphin after training camp and the second-year former sixth-round pick will make his first NFL start on Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium against his idol, Tom Brady.

That’s just one of the many reasons that Bill Belichick’s team is more than a three-touchdown favorite at this point, having outscored the Steelers and Dolphins a combined 76-3 over two weeks of action.

But as much as there seems to be a massive divide, Belichick did his usual best to hype up the Jets this week and prepare his team for a dogfight that nearly no one on the planet thinks could come to fruition. Belichick praised first-year Jets coach Adam Gase, who has actually had some success against New England in past stops with the Dolphins and Broncos.

New York also has an aggressive, physical Gregg Williams-led defense that has legitimate playmaking talent at all three levels. It’s a unit that held Buffalo’s Josh Allen and Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield to a combined 59.7 completion percentage with three interceptions over the first two weeks.

While Falk is a complete unknown against a Patriots defense that’s been dominant to open the season, it’s not crazy to think a Jets defense buoyed by guys like defensive lineman Leonard Williams and safety Jamal Adams could give Tom Brady and Co. at least a little bit of trouble.

“Coach Williams does a great job,” Belichick said. “They're very aggressive on defense, they cause a lot of negative plays. They had the four turnovers against Buffalo. They do a good job of mixing it up and making the offense, I'd say, uncomfortable with dealing with the different schemes that they utilize. They keep it simple, but they're very aggressive and they create a lot of problems with a fairly – I wouldn't say it's a complex system, but it causes a lot of problems.

“They have good players at every level of the defense. They're explosive, they're contact big-hitters, cause negative plays with their aggressiveness and contact plays. So ball security and making good decisions with the ball are going to be critical for us on Sunday.”

Is that “explosive” Jets defensive unit good enough to derail at Patriots train that has been picking up steam at an impressive rate through two weeks on both sides of the ball? Highly unlikely. Could it give Brady and his star-studded unit enough problems to make this more of a game than most outsiders expect? Maybe, although history shows us that New York’s trips to New England over the last three seasons have been blowouts for the home squad, the Jets failing to score more than six points.

Heading into the second of three battles in three weeks with the AFC East, here are a half-dozen factors to keep an eye on in this latest installment of the Border War between the Patriots and Jets, once one of the most heated rivalries in the NFL.

The line of the times – If there is one area that’s cause for legitimate concern in New England these days it’s the offensive line that’s been an on-field game of musical chairs through three weeks. The unit will use its third different starting lineup in Week 3. With Isaiah Wynn on now on IR with a foot injury, there will be a new body at left tackle. Is that going to be journeyman veteran Marshall Newhouse, who stepped up to man the spot in Miami just days after signing with New England? Will Joe Thuney be asked to bump out from his usual left guard spot? The decision at left tackle will also decide who is at right tackle, likely either Newhouse or Korey Cunningham, who arrived via trade after training camp. Signed this week, Caleb Benenoch might also be in the mix. All of Patriot Nation – and obviously the team itself – has great faith in legendary line coach Dante Scarnecchia’s ability to coach up backups, but that is being tested now as much as ever. Issues on the offensive line can ruin a team, almost regardless of how good it is everywhere else. Williams’ defense will certainly test the group, whatever it looks like, with blitzes, games and aggressive talent up front. Will the linemen, and by extension Brady, survive that test?

The GOAT’s calf – Minor injuries to Tom Brady tend to be ignored in New England given his history of never missing time and never really showing ill-affects to aches and pains. But in a year when future Hall of Fame quarterbacks are being sidelined at an alarming rate, Brady was limited in practice this week with a calf injury. It doesn’t appear to be a major issue, but at the age of 42 and in the spotlight of another pass-happy start to a new season Brady’s health certainly bears watching. Oh, especially against a Williams defense that’s physical, tends to walk to the line on hitting the QB late and has aggressive playmakers looking to do damage.

A growing role for AB? – Antonio Brown had a solid debut in Miami that included a touchdown. But he clearly had times when he and Brady weren’t on the same page. The duo has now had an extra week of work together, including 1-on-1 conversations on the practice field to fine tune some things. Make no mistake, Brown is now the focal point of the Patriots offense. Much like Rob Gronkowski last year or Randy Moss back in the day, Brown is the guy that opposing defenses are going to hone in on. So he’s going to need to continue to get comfortable and build a rapport with Brady to produce. But his mere arrival on the field makes life easier for everyone else on the offense. The more Brown makes plays it helps the Patriots in terms of obvious production, but also in terms of opening up room for Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon, James White and the rest of the weapons to make plays as well. This is a good week for Brown to expand his role against a solid defense in a game that probably won’t be in doubt for all that long.

Field goals – The Patriots defense hasn’t allowed a touchdown in seven-plus months. It’s only been three games in that span, but it’s still an impressive stretch that’s best in team history. If the opposition doesn’t score – as was the case in last week’s shutout of the dismal Dolphins – or at least is held to field goals, it’s going be basically impossible to beat New England. The pride, swagger and confidence in the New England defense is clearly building as each successive impressive performance is put forth. There is no reason to think that the unit will struggle with Falk and Co. As Belichick keeps saying and his players continue to parrot, if the opponent doesn’t score then they can’t win. That’s not reality in the NFL very often, but with this unit, this opponent and the momentum, New England’s defenders are actually believing and living the mantra. It’s been a long time since this could be said, but the defense is the better half of the Patriots team right now. By far. The longer that continues to be true the more dominant New England will be.

For whom the Bell tolls – While maybe it’s true that no man is an island, Le’Veon Bell is probably going to be asked by Gase to carry a huge part of the load for the New York offense with Falk getting his feet wet at quarterback. After a year off, Bell has brought his unique skills and versatility to New York and been very active. Beyond leading the team with 38 rushes (33 more than his closest teammate), Bell is also second on the Jets with 16 receptions. When Siemian went down to injury on Monday night, Bell even took over the offense in terms of some Wildcat reps. If the Jets have any chance to move the ball on offense, Bell is going to be a big part of it. So, New England’s own athletic, versatile front of defensive linemen and linebackers will have to key on Bell and keep the former Steelers All-Pro in check. New England’s defense has a great history under Belichick of taking away an opponent’s most obvious, dangerous weapon. On Sunday, there is no question that guy is Bell.

Prediction – Is there anyone on the planet wondering who will win this game? Outside of the Jets locker room – and maybe even inside of it -- no. The question is really whether New England will cover the spread that’s grown to 23.5 points in some places, looking more like a college homecoming game than an NFL contest. That’s a lot of points to lay, even for a team that’s playing as well as the Patriots against a first-time starter at quarterback. Assuming the offensive line isn’t a disaster, New England should continue to be able to use its depth of personnel to spread the ball around offensively. Playing from in front is always important, especially in a division battle against a young quarterback. Defensively New England will key on Bell up front, and then throw varied looks at Falk on third down. Really, though, all the Patriots have to do is play the type of efficient football they are capable of, the kind they’ve played the first two weeks. The Jets don’t have the talent to come to Foxborough and beat Brady and Co. If the Patriots don’t turn the ball over and don’t fall asleep on defense this one, like the first two weeks, shouldn’t be close. Oh hell, we’ll lay the huge points and go with the 34-10 win for home squad.

Related: Friday’s Mashup: Antonio Brown’s second accuser says he sent her ‘intimidating’ texts after SI story