After clinching the AFC East, the New England Patriots travel to East Rutherford to face the low-flying New York Jets. While the Patriots still have a first-round bye and home field advantage at stake, the Jets are playing out the string. Reading the Jets Numbers reveals a team in turmoil with two struggling quarterbacks and a head coach perhaps on his way out, but one still capable of giving opponents fits.
Jets on the Ground
In their 27-25 loss to New England in October, the Jets used a punishing ground attack (218 yards rushing on 43 carries, 5 yards per carry) to dominate the time of possession battle (40:54 to 19:06) and keep the score close, but they could not overcome the Patriots’ quick-strike offense or kick-blocking skill.
The Jets run the ball 47.1% of the time, not counting kneel-downs, fifth-highest frequency in the league. They also average 147.1 yards per game on the ground and 4.7 yards per carry, both second-best in the NFL. Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson share the bulk of the workload, with 70% of the team’s carries and 65.6% of its yardage. Quarterbacks Geno Smith and Michael Vick combined handle 17% of rushes and gain 17.7% of the Jets’ yards. For comparison Tom Brady accounts for 6.9% of New England’s runs and just 2.5% of their yardage. “The quarterback is a good runner,” said Bill Belichick this week without specifying the signal caller referenced, as both Smith and Vick may see action on Sunday.
New York faces a revamped New England defense after a full week of practice: the previous meeting was a Thursday night game in which the Patriots were adjusting to the loss of Jerod Mayo to an injury in the previous game. Since then, they have added Akeem Ayers, Alan Branch, and Sealver Siliga to their front seven. In this week’s article on DVOA rankings, Aaron Schatz at Football Outsiders noted that the Patriots had the second-best defense in the last six weeks, a major turnaround from being the 20th-ranked unit through the first nine games.
Jets in the Air
Smith had one of his few good passing games this season during the meeting in Foxborough: 20 completions on 34 attempts for 226 yards and one touchdown. He did not throw an interception, so despite completing just 58.8% of his passes he ended with a respectable 88.6 passer rating.
For the season, Smith has been one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the league. Here’s how he ranks among the 34 qualified QBs (minimum 196 pass attempts, according to Pro Football Reference):
Even with these terrible numbers, Smith leads Vick in all categories except interception percentage. Due to the limitations of their quarterbacks, the Jets passing offense ranks last in the league with 185.7 yards per game and second to last in completion percentage (56.1%).
The Patriots defense ranks 22nd in the NFL with 248.7 passing yards allowed per game, but sixth-best in opponents’ completion percentage at 59%. Three of the top four passing games against New England came from Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, and Andrew Luck.
Attacking the Jets Defense
The Jets defense was built to stop the run, and it shows: they rank fourth in rushing yards allowed per game (87.5), third in yards allowed per carry (3.5), and fifth in rushing touchdowns allowed (7). They are vulnerable through the air: 20th in passing yards allowed per game (242.3), 27th in passing yards per attempt (7.8), and 29th in passing touchdowns allowed (29). They are particularly susceptible to the deep pass, ranking 31st in yards per attempt (17.0), and 31st in touchdowns allowed (12). Opposing quarterbacks have an aggregate 120.8 rating when they throw the ball 15 yards or more against the Jets.
Brady has a 78.7 rating this season going deep, with Rob Gronkowski responsible for one-third of the catches and yardage. Against the Jets in October, the QB went 5-for-9 for 129 yards and 2 touchdowns, including a 49-yarder to Shane Vereen. Brady ended up with a 140.0 rating on long balls in that game.
Despite their disappointing 3-11 record, the Jets still present a few challenges for New England. The Patriots will need to contain the New York running game, as the Jets were able to keep the score close by pounding the ball in the previous game. With an improved run defense and more time to prepare, the Patriots appear primed for a convincing win.
All statistics from Pro Football Reference, unless otherwise cited.
Follow Douglas Storms on Twitter @stormsorama.