The Patriots and Jets are more similar on paper than some may realize.
Defensively, both teams have loaded fronts, outstanding young corners complimented by exceptional veterans, and they don’t give up big plays. New York plays more of an attacking style compared to New England’s two-gap centric scheme, but both are stout units that make you earn everything on the ground, though the Patriots have room to improve after a shaky performance last week.
New York’s unit features a player at every level that needs to be accounted for on every play. Quinnen Williams is an elite talent on the interior, so making sure he doesn’t wreck their game plan is priority #1. Even against such a talented defensive line, I’d expect New England to give Williams extra attention. They’ll also need to slow down cerebral linebacker CJ Mosley, whose ability to quickly diagnose and fly to the ball could lead to negative plays if he’s allowed to fly around untouched. And while avoiding Sauce Gardner full stop is unlikely, Mac Jones will likely avoid throwing last year’s Defensive Rookie of the Year as much as possible.
Offensively, both teams have struggled to put up points and rank bottom-10 in passing EPA/play (a measure of offensive explosiveness) but are top-10 in positive EPA rate (a measure of offensive efficiency) when running the ball, thanks to talented young backs. The Patriots have shown they can move the football, but shaky offensive line plays, self-inflicted wounds, and inconsistent receiver play have derailed promising drives. The Jets’ offense has two of the league’s most creative backs in Breece Hall and Dalvin Cook, but their passing game dropped off significantly after losing Aaron Rodgers a few plays into the season.
Quinnen Williams is an elite talent on the interior, so making sure he doesn’t wreck their game plan is priority #1. Even against such a talented defensive line, I’d expect New England to give Williams extra attention. They’ll also need to slow down cerebral linebacker CJ Mosley, whose ability to quickly diagnose and fly to the ball could lead to negative plays if he’s allowed to fly around untouched. And while avoiding Sauce Gardner full stop is unlikely, Mac Jones will likely avoid throwing last year’s Defensive Rookie of the Year as much as possible.
The Jets have one more win than their division rival, but the Patriots are looking to continue their 14-game win streak against New York and get on track after a disappointing 0-2 start. Here are three key matchups for New England to reset the trajectory of their season.
Christian Gonzalez vs Garrett Wilson
Christian Gonzalez’s rookie year is off to a hot start. The 17th-overall pick’s first NFL assignments have included playing on the boundary (where 1-on-1 matchups are most common) against A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith, covering Jaylen Waddle on an island, and playing press man against Tyreek Hill with safety help (which frankly, he didn’t seem to need in limited snaps).
These gargantuan tasks have resulted in the following stat lines:
- A.J. Brown: 5 targets, 4 receptions, 47 yards, two conversions, 0 TD
- DeVonta Smith: 4 targets, 2 receptions, 22 receiving yards, 1 conversion, 0 TD
- Jaylen Waddle: 1 target, 1 reception, 15 yards, 1 conversion, 0 touchdowns
- Tyreek Hill: 2 targets, 0 receptions, 1 INT
Christian Gonzalez has had smothering reps vs 3 of the best NFL's best receivers. Just remarkably little panic in his game
Had a couple losses at the top of routes vs the Eagles and gives up most underneath throws (understandably at times), but he's been great deep pic.twitter.com/A4mTBTgC5N
— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) September 19, 2023
The rookie is already drawing praise for his efforts after immediately being thrown into the fire.
Serious Praise: All-Pro wide receiver Tyreek Hill praised #Patriots first round draft pick CB Christian Gonzalez, after facing him on Sunday night. Gonzalez is getting recognition from around the league with PFF ranking him as the 3rd highest-graded corner thus far.
The Oregon… pic.twitter.com/pgbmZc7emu
— Ben Belford-Peltzman (@thepatriotsbeat) September 20, 2023
Gonzalez has three more targets than the next closest Patriots defender (15; M. Bryant, 13) and is tied for the 9th-most at his position. He hasn’t been perfect and tends to give up short-to-intermediate throws, but he’s been shot-proof, hasn’t given up a touchdown, and usually makes the tackle after giving up a catch.
At some point, the rookie will have a bad game, and the internet will implode. But for now, let’s just appreciate how remarkable it is that a rookie has held multiple Pro Bowlers under 50 receiving yards with tape to back up the stat line.
Gonzalez’s gauntlet should continue in Week 3, as the early Defensive Rookie of the Year frontrunner will share a field with last year’s Offensive Rookie of the Year winner Garrett Wilson. And with Wilson being the Jets’ biggest receiving threat by a healthy amount, Gonzalez’s short track record indicates he’ll draw the top assignment.
The Jets losing Aaron Rodgers has understandably resulted in modest production for Wilson. But the receiver has been scary efficient, converting on five of eight catchable targets and scoring two touchdowns. So no matter who’s at quarterback, Wilson cannot be slept on.
Only Tyreek Hill has more receiving TDs than Garrett Wilson and only Puka Nacua (!) has more yards after contact
Excellent at the top of routes, is guaranteed at 1+ catch he has no business making per game, and can take short catches the distance pic.twitter.com/MlUrP0IaqB
— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) September 19, 2023
Last season against the Patriots, Wilson caught all eight throws in his area, including six 1st downs and three gains of 15+ yards. He mostly faced off with Jalen Mills, who did a solid job, but Gonzalez’s elite athleticism and sound technique should present a bigger challenge for the receiver.
Ja’Whaun Bentley vs Breece Hall and Dalvin Cook
Ja’Whahun Bentley has become one of the league’s best linebackers over the past two seasons. His intelligence, rare physicality, and reliable play in coverage make him a force in the middle of New England’s defense.
Ja'Whaun Bentley vs a couple future Hall of Famers pic.twitter.com/O4S6WJInQi
— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) September 11, 2023
That said, the defense’s leading tackler had a down week against Miami’s dizzying offense, missing two tackles and appearing slow to react at times. He’ll have a chance to bounce back against the Jets, who feature a more downhill run scheme and the fewest motion snaps in the league.
Bentley being at his best will be paramount against second-year back Breece Hall, who leads all backs with an astonishing 9.8 yards after contact per rush (minimum 10 carries) and ranks 5th in missed tackles forced per rush this season.
Breece Hall: still very good at making people miss pic.twitter.com/Ac700togau
— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) September 14, 2023
Hall may not have the homerun speed he boasted before his unfortunate injury last season, but he can still win in a phone booth and break off long runs if defenses let him slip past the second level. Bentley will need to diagnose plays quickly, get to the point of attack, and wrangle the elusive back before those opportunities can present themselves.
Calvin Anderson vs John Franklin-Myers and Bryce Huff
Despite Mac Jones having the league’s 3rd-fastest average time to throw at 2.34 seconds, the Patriots have allowed the 6th-highest pressure rate and are the only unit to allow four sacks in fewer than 2.5 seconds. Starting two rookies at guard in Week 1 and being without Trent Brown in Week 2 have been major factors, and Cole Strange is getting up to speed after missing most of training camp as well as the season opener. But one player on the line has stood out as a significant liability the past two weeks, and that’s right tackle Calvin Anderson.
In fairness, the free agent signing missed the entirety of training camp with an undisclosed illness and was projected to be a backup/swing tackle early in the offseason. But with Conor McDermott’s release after being placed on injured reserve and Riley Reiff out for at least two more weeks, he’s been thrust into a starting role and is one of just two tackles to play over 100 snaps this season.
The results haven’t been great, as Anderson’s allowed the 7th-highest pressure rate among tackles with at least 75 pass-blocking snaps.
The #Patriots have been a bottom-5 pass-blocking team by several metrics
From what I can tell, the biggest culprits are Calvin Anderson 1-on-1 and interior stunt/blitz pickup, especially from Cole Strange pic.twitter.com/e9PYRjE9As
— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) September 20, 2023
Despite getting some reprieve last week with Jaelen Phillips being inactive, Anderson had his hands full against Andrew Van Ginkel. Things aren’t going to be much easier this week against a deep and disruptive Jets front. Anderson will spend most of his time against John Franklin-Myers and situational pass rusher Bryce Huff, who present a similar challenge to the Eagles’ one-two punch of Brandon Graham and Haason Reddick.
Calvin Anderson’s got a couple tough matchups this week in John Franklin-Myers (left) and pass rush specialist Bryce Huff (right)
JFM’s a power rusher who uses the threat of his bull rush to win outside
Huff’s a speed rusher who does a great job reacting to how OL attack him pic.twitter.com/5eSlT6xMYm
— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) September 20, 2023
Anderson’s actually held up well against power through two games, but he’s run into trouble when defenders time up and counter his strikes or execute counters off of bull rushes. Franklin-Myers’ savvy hand use and Huff’s electric rush style will test whether Anderson can build off of two shaky performances. It should help if the offense can be more balanced and stay ahead of the chains, but the veteran tackle also needs to hold up in gotta-have-it moments where the down and distance aren’t in his favor.