The Patriots and Giants offenses have quite a bit in common. Both teams’ playoff aspirations are in the rearview as they race for a top draft pick. They’ve been competitive at times, thanks to outstanding defensive tackles, playmaking safeties, ascending linebackers, and dual-threat backs, but they’ve also been blown out by Dallas. New York ranks last in the NFL in points per game (13.5), with New England (14.1) one spot ahead. Their defenses have also been leaky, with the Giants allowing the 5th-most points per game (25.9) and the Patriots (23.8) allowing the 9th-most.
But New York does have two advantages. They’ve protected the ball better than New England, who rank bottom-10 in turnover differential (-6, 27th), while the Giants sit top-10 (+3, 9th). Big Blue also entered this week knowing who their quarterback would be, a luxury Mac Jones threw away on his final pass against the Colts.
Patriots coaches and players haven’t disclosed whether Bailey Zappe will get a shot at the starting job. Jones told reporters he’s preparing to be the starter but avoided definitive statements, indicating he’s still QB1. But, Zappe mixed in with the top offense in the media-access portion of practice, and reports indicate some in the locker room have lost faith in the status quo at quarterback. With Jones being New England’s most talented player at the position and the only one with a reasonable shot of contributing next season, I’ve said he should only be benched for two reasons:
But if Jones no longer has his teammates’ confidence, it may be out of the coaching staff’s hands as they fight to retain buy-in.
Whoever is under center for the Patriots, it’s safe to assume they won’t be featured in Sunday’s game plan. But believe it or not, there are some fun matchups in this battle of bottom-tier teams. And while New England should throw in the towel for a top passer in April, there’s no tanking between the whistles, and player evaluation is still relevant as New England looks to rebuild.
Here are my three keys to the Patriots reclaiming some pride in New York.
Don’t Let Dexter Lawrence Wreck the Game
This heading was inspired by a David Andrews quote where he also called Dexter Lawrence a really good three-down player. Lawrence Guy took the praise a step further, calling the second-team All-Pro dominant player who doesn’t get the attention he deserves. Guy isn’t wrong, as Lawrence is putting together a Defensive Player of the Year-type campaign.
Excelling against the run comes with the territory for most nose tackles, but Lawrence’s ability to terrorize quarterbacks at 340 lbs is truly special. He plays with an incredible blend of power, athleticism, and technique, exploding off the ball and shedding blocks with frightening efficiency. Don Martindale’s scheme, which leans heavily on 5-down fronts and blitzes, creates ideal matchups that pit Lawrence against overmatched centers. But the second-team All-Pro can plow through double teams and put guards on skates.
The Patriots could minimize their use of true dropbacks against the Giants, but recent issues against top defensive tackles must be addressed.
New England gave up five sacks in the 1st half in Week 10, mainly because Jones had nowhere to step up. Andrews has understandably struggled against explosive rushers when left on an island. Cole Strange has reduced his mental errors from earlier in the season, but poor footwork and balance led to ugly losses against DeForest Buckner and Jonathan Allen. And while Sow’s pass-blocking impressed from Weeks 6-9, he gave up several 1-on-1 pressures in Germany, including his first career sack allowed.
This entire section could be wasted words if New England dusts off their 3-pass script from the 2021 Buffalo game. But if New York gets a lead and forces the offense to throw, the interior will need its best performance this season to keep Dexter Lawrence from feasting on [insert starting quarterback here].
Run the Dang Ball
Nothing hides a bad quarterback situation like a good run game. We saw a glimpse of this against the Colts when New England ran on six straight plays to open the 3rd quarter. Throughout the 2nd half, Mac Jones only recorded three dropbacks in manageable early down situations. The offensive line’s awful start played a big role, but Jones’ poor decision-making in the Red Zone didn’t inspire confidence.
Whatever the reason, it led to the ground game’s best through ten weeks. The Patriots set season-highs in rushing yards (167), conversions (11), and missed tackles forced (6) against Indy. Their two highest rushing averages have also come in their past two games, including 5.6 in Week 9 against the Commanders and 4.6 in Germany. Strange’s return and Sow’s rise have helped, but Rhamondre Stevenson’s second-half surge has been the primary catalyst for this success.
Stevenson is looking better every week after a quiet start. In Week 10, he turned quick penetration into positive gains with his short-area quickness and routinely punished tacklers with angry finishes.
Ezekiel Elliott is also stacking good performances, running through contact with great pad level, and showing more burst than he did earlier this season.
As formidable as Dexter Lawrence has been in the middle, New York’s run defense ranks among the league’s worst. They’re 4th-lowest in yards allowed per game (135.1), 6th-lowest in DVOA (2.4%), and 7th-lowest in positive EPA per play rate allowed (41.5%). They’ve also allowed the 8th-highest rate of missed tackles (14%). Luckily for New England, the Giants have been gashed on concepts the offense uses weekly.
The Patriots avoiding and getting strong double teams on Lawrence will be key to maintaining its hot streak in the ground game. We could also see them attack outside the tackles, where they had success for the first time in weeks against the Colts.
The rushing attack will likely be forced to carry the offense on Sunday, but it’s trending upwards at the right time. There’s also very little chance this game turns into a shootout, meaning a quicker game! Good news all around.
Contain Saquon Barkley
Few teams have stopped the run better than the Patriots this season. They’re top-10 in DVOA (-17.7%, 6th), yards per game allowed (97.7, 9th), and stops (157, t-7th). New England is also the only team to miss fewer than 10% of tackles. The defense aced its biggest test thus far two weeks ago, shutting down Jonathan Taylor after allowing a touchdown on the opening drive, and they’ll be tasked with wrangling another All-Pro in Saquon Barkley.
After rushing for fewer than 4.0 yards per carry from Weeks 6-8, Barkley has averaged at least 5.0 in each game since Week 9. Over that span, only Jaylen Warren (13) and Devin Singletary (9) have more 10+ yard runs than Barkley (8), and only Warren (16) has more conversions (12). New York’s had most of their success on outside zone concepts, where Barkley uses his speed to attack the perimeter of the defense or punish them for over pursuit.
As great as New England has been stopping the run, they haven’t been immune to the occasional explosive play. Jahlani Tavai has struggled against these plays when up on the line of scrimmage, and Ja’Whaun Bentley has been inconsistent in chasing down ball carriers. If either is caught sleeping against Barkley, it could quickly become an explosive gain. Corners and safeties must also be aggressive but disciplined when filling their gaps.
The run game isn’t the only area where Barkley can impact defenses. Brian Daboll and his staff did an excellent job maximizing the dual threat against Washington last week, involving him in different ways and using his presence to spring others.
New York generated a pair of explosive passes on hard run fakes with Barkley in the backfield, turning one into a long touchdown.
Barkley also showed his receiving prowess, making two highlight-reel grabs downfield.
The Patriots rarely ask linebackers to cover explosive players 1-on-1, usually keeping them in zone coverage. That said, we saw Bentley get burned on a scramble against James Cook in Week 7, an opportunity the Gianst should look to replicate. I’d expect Jabrill Peppers and Kyle Dugger to get the bulk of these assignments but don’t be surprised if New York schemes some mismatches on early downs.
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