CLNS Headquarters — the Patriots finally got back into the win column with a 30-27 come from behind victory over the winless New York Jets on Monday night.
Adam Gase’s Jets team put up a fight in the Meadowlands, but the fact that the win came over a team likely picking at the top of the draft next April is not lost in this scribe.
The fact that the Patriots needed a fourth-quarter comeback to beat the Jets doesn’t offer much confidence for the rest of the season.
Still, there’s no reason to continue to harp on the Jets’ ineptitude, especially in a season where wins are hard to come by in New England, and spare me the tank for Trevor [Lawrence] tears.
The Patriots could be in for a long second half of the season if Monday night’s game is any indication, so there will be time to discuss losing. Tonight, let’s discuss winning, just for fun.
After making a habit of failing to close-out games, the Pats finally finished a fourth-quarter comeback and game-winning drive in arguably Cam Newton’s best performance of the season.
Newton passed with excellent downfield accuracy, timing, and maneuvering in the pocket with significantly better awareness as he gets more comfortable in the system.
The Pats offense is finding a rhythm these last two weeks, and there’s an excellent repertoire brewing between Newton and Jakobi Meyers, who had a career night.
On the other side of the ball, New England’s secondary had a terrible first three quarters, and at this point, the defensive struggles are more troubling than lacking skill talent on offense.
But as head coach Bill Belichick said, the Pats played good complimentary football at the end of the game, and you could tell the win meant a lot to the team after four-straight losses.
Here are ten things we learned from the Patriots’ victory over the Jets as they improve to 3-5 on the season:
1. Cam Newton Finally Delivers a Gem
As much credit as Newton deserves for his honesty, there comes a time for every player where talking the talk isn’t enough, and the Pats QB finally walked-the-walk on Monday night.
Newton’s QBR of 90.1 against the Jets was a season-high and the sixth-best of any quarterback in Week 9, as the former MVP is starting to find himself again.
The Pats quarterback also registered his best completion percentage over expected (CPOE) mark of the season, completing 13.7 percent of his passes over expected, per Ben Baldwin’s formula.
Most of Newton’s best throws were to Jakobi Meyers, who had a career-high 169 receiving yards tearing apart the Jets secondary despite not much else to offer in the passing game.
Here, the Jets ran one of their cover-two zone blitzes and got immediate pressure up the middle. Newton sensed the blitz was coming, but New York dropped two defenders off the line of scrimmage into short zones where Meyers, his hot read, was running. Cam side-stepped Jets linebacker Harvey Langi initially, broke out of Langi’s second sack attempt and somehow got his eyes back downfield to find Meyers for the first down in his highlight of the season to date.
Earlier, Newton connected with Meyers on a 33-yard catch where the Pats quarterback showed great process to move the middle of the field safety with his eyes.
On the play, the Pats ran a two-man route combination off hard play-action against man coverage. In his drop, Newton stares down the left sideline where Damiere Byrd is running a go route. Newton’s eyes pulled the deep safety towards Byrd, leaving the entire right side of the field vacated for Meyers one-on-one on a post-corner route. Meyers gets open, and Cam drops it in the bucket.
Then, there were easier throws that also showed significant progress for quarterback and receiver.
Here, eight of the 11 defenders on the field sell out to stop the run with the Pats in 21-personnel, leaving Damiere Byrd in single coverage on the outside. Cam makes an on-time throw to Byrd on the stop route, giving the Pats wideout the momentum to turn upfield and set up the game-tying touchdown with a 31-yard reception, netting the biggest EPA output of any play for the Pats on Monday night (2.7).
The Jets pass defense is having a historically bad season, but Newton used Monday night as a get-right game and played his best football.
2. Jakobi Meyers’s Goes Off for a Career-Best 12 Catches, 169 Yards
There are only four players in Patriots history to record at least 12 catches and 169 receiving yards in a game: Terry Glenn, Troy Brown, Wes Welker (twice), and now Jakobi Meyers.
Meyers’s 12 grabs accumulated 12.2 expected points added in a terrific performance, one of the best we’ve seen out of a Pats wideout not named Edelman in some time.
Accomplishing a feat that his mentor never has, Meyers looked exactly like Julian Edelman against the Jets on Monday night. Meyers is taking notes as he watches Edelman’s work.
Meyers’s route running is eerily similar to the Pats vet, starting with this over route that also drew a holding penalty. First, Meyers uses an Edelman hop-step release to freeze the DB at the line as he gets into his route. Meyers re-stems vertically upfield to set up his break and stack the defender and then leans back into rookie Bryce Hall as he snaps the route off. I mean, the resemblance is scary.
Another Edelman trait that Meyers is absorbing is JE11’s ability to find holes in zone coverage.
On the catch that set up the game-winning field goal, Meyers identifies the coverage as cover-six and runs a deep dig route away from the squatting boundary corner and safety over the top, getting just enough yards to be in Nick Folk’s range.
Lastly, Meyers’ ability to get defensive backs to retreat on vertical releases despite limited speed is impressive. DBs have to know Meyers isn’t running by them, yet they still get on their heels.
Here, the Pats move the pocket with Cam rolling out to his right, and Meyers sells a vertical route by accelerating off the line and keeping his pads down. Once he gets the corner to backpedal, he stops down in two steps to break the route off at the sticks.
Meyers’s slow start to the season was due to a shoulder injury that limited throughout training camp and into September, but now he’s starting to excel.
The Patriots found something in Meyers, and he’s a clear part of the present and future. Now, if the Pats can add some pieces around him? Even better.
3. JC Jackson, Pats Secondary Struggles Against Joe Flacco
Former Ravens quarterback and current Jets backup Joe Flacco always give the Patriots trouble, even though he’s a mediocre player, and Monday night was no different.
Flacco averaged 10.5 yards per attempt with three touchdowns against a Stephon Gilmore-less Pats secondary, due to uncharacteristic man coverage breakdowns by New England.
One of the game’s duds was Patriots cornerback JC Jackson, who saved himself with a late-game interception but was beaten twice for touchdowns in a weirdly sloppy performance.
Both of Jackson’s burns resulted from poor technique at the line of scrimmage, where Jets wideout Brashod Perriman beat him clean off the line to set up two critical scores.
On Perriman’s 50-yard touchdown, Perriman used a two-step stretch release to get inside of Jackson. Perriman then hits a recovering Jackson with a stutter-and-go at the top of his route, and the Pats CB is toast against a speedy receiver.
On Perriman’s second touchdown, Jackson got too far back on his heels after the Jets WR shook him at the line again, and Jackson went down in a heap as Perriman went past him.
Jackson is still a player on the rise, but his lack of recovery speed limits his ability to track vertical threats like Perriman if he’s beaten at the line.
For Jackson, either smothering or mirroring route releases into the boundary is critical to his success, with Perriman showing us what happens when the Pats CB loses early in the route.
There were a few other uncharacteristic communication breakdowns where the Patriots weren’t on the same page covering rub routes and stack or bunch formations along with Jackson’s struggles.
Those types of errors should get ironed out at practice, but life without Stephon Gilmore is starting to look bleak after the struggles of Jackson and Jason McCourty on Monday night.
4. Pats OC Josh McDaniels Continues to Call Conservative Game
Although the Patriots won the game, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’s play-calling took some heavy criticism on Monday night. Some justified, some not.
In the first half, my feeling on the fourth-and-one stuff was that poor execution was more to blame than poor play-calling. The Pats are running a read-option play, which should be a staple of their short-yardage package, but center David Andrews gets blown backward off the ball, and Newton makes an iffy decision to give the ball to James White (I think Cam has the corner if he keeps despite the edge defender playing the QB thanks to Ryan Izzo’s block).
Although the success of quarterback sneaks later in the game brought that particular play in question, my gripe with McDaniels continues to be his fascination with pounding the rock.
The Patriots ran the ball 33 times to just 29 passes on first and second down, despite averaging 0.33 EPA per play on pass attempts compared to 0.02 on running plays.
Plus, the Pats averaged just 3.9 yards per rush with a 46 percent success rate on the ground, yet McDaniels kept chipping away at the Jets defense with his ground and pound formula.
McDaniels then either got scared or too cute on the game-winning drive calling two screens and a draw, forcing Cam to hit the chunk play to Meyers to set up a long 51-yard field goal for Folk.
New England will be a run-first offense that leans on that strength, but establishing that identity when the game is going in a different direction forces them to play from behind too often.
5. Is Chase Winovich Finally Out of the Dog House?
New York was running the ball effectively to start the game behind rookie left tackle Mekhi Becton, but when Becton left the game due to injury, the Pats righted the ship.
One notable change was second-year edge defender Chase Winovich, who played 31 of 44 snaps this week after managing only 18 plays in the prior two weeks combined. Winovich’s lack of size on the edge was the explanation from the Belichick’s as to why he wasn’t playing in matchups with the Broncos and Niners, but the Jets’ success throwing the ball forced the Pats to play their best pass-rusher, and Wino was in on four tackles. Winovich also played four snaps off the line, another potential early-down role for him.
The coaches continue to insist that Winovich is a good player who did nothing wrong, making his lack of playing time even more baffling, but hopefully, that’s in the past.
6. Pats Kicker Nick Folk’s Clutch Gene on Full Display
Credit to Patriots kicker Nick Folk battled through a bad back to hit a 51-yard game-winner against his former team. Folk made all six of his kicks, including extra points, and although the 36-year-old is getting up there in age, he has been extremely reliable since signing with New England last season. The Pats are set at kicker for the time being, even if that means rookie fifth-round pick Justin Rohrwasser remains on the practice squad.
7. Pats Running Game Churns Out 149 Yards in Inefficient Performance
New England ran for 149 yards on Monday night, but it took them 41 carries and only netted 0.02 EPA per rush, with some tough running by the backs saving the overall performance.
Most of the Patriots’ big runs came on their fullback lead or ISO play where Jakob Johnson leads through the hole as the interior of the OL “fans” out the interior defenders.
On the Pats’ longest run of the night, Shaq Mason clears out the nose tackle with a great combination block alongside David Andrews, presenting a runway for Damien Harris. Johnson has to take the “first color” through the line as Onwenu struggles to secure a difficult block, leaving Harris to do the dirty work. The Pats running back is initially contacted 3.5 yards downfield but breaks several tackles to turn an average gain into a 21-yard run.
Here’s another example of Rex Burkhead creating space to convert on third down against an initially filled hole. The Pats are running lead once again. The Jets plug up the initial gap this time, but Burkhead makes a nice cutback off Isaiah Wynn and Joe Thuney to pick up the first down.
The Patriots’ running game was hot and cold for most of the night with the Jets selling out to stop the run, but they continued to get tough yards after contact from Harris and Burkhead.
8. Pats Rookies Continue to Ride the Bench Sans Onwenu
Despite playing short-handed on defense, rookie linebackers Josh Uche (four) and Anfernee Jennings (seven) combined to play only 11 snaps on defense. Instead, the Pats opted to roll with practice squad call-up Terez Hall as a MIKE linebacker, a role that the two youngsters probably didn’t practice much, and top pick Kyle Dugger also barely played (four snaps). Dugger’s low snap total might be due to an ankle injury, but still, it would be nice to see more of this group. After watching Harris break out a bit in his second season, it’s important not to make snap judgments on the rookies’ raw talent. This is more about role and Belichick’s hesitancy to play young players without much practice time than it is about ability. We might need to wait on the Pats 2020 draft class until they’ve experienced a full training camp and preseason in 2021, outside of future Hall of Famer Mike Onwenu, of course.
9. Pats Lean on 21-Personnel With Limited Resources at WR/TE
New England only dressed one tight end (Ryan Izzo) and was limited at wide receiver, so McDaniels ran 55.7 percent of their plays out of 21-personnel (2 WR, 1 TE, 1 FB, 1 RB). Meyers’ breakout helps the Pats throw out of 21-personnel despite basically running only two-man route combinations off play-action in those groupings, helping make it a more efficient package. The Pats also ran three plays with six offensive linemen to make up for their lack of tight ends and played two plays in their 20-personnel pony package. As was the case over the last two seasons, New England is still a base 21-personnel team as their early-down identity.
10. Play of the Game: Patriots Dial-Up Zero Blitz to Set Up Game-Winning Drive
Despite their struggles on defense, the Pats forced a key three-and-out on the Jets’ final possession of the game to get the ball back to Newton.
On the play, New England ran their cover-zero blitz scheme, which they’re using less this year, to hurry Flacco into an incomplete pass. The critical component of this play is safety Devin McCourty, who initially rushes the quarterback, but makes a terrific on-the-fly read to see the running back releasing out of the backfield. McCourty peels off his rush to match the running back’s wheel route and saves the game for the Patriots. If DMac doesn’t cover Perine, the Jets might be on a game-winning drive of their own.