Tom E. Curran's Patriots vs. Jets preview and prediction originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
Would one consider this a “must-win” game? One could. But I always counter “must-win” with “or what?” They gonna disband the team? Relegate ‘em?
There will be 15 more games after Sunday’s game in Northern New Jersey against the retooled Jets. The Patriots can fail to win and still get where they want to go. But holy hell, back-to-back losses in the division to Miami and the Jets to start the year? With a visit from New Orleans and then from You Know Who and the You Know Whats in two weeks?! After Robert Kraft got turned upside down and shaken until $250M worth of contracts came loose in the offseason? Against a Jets team with a rookie quarterback, rookie head coach, missing left tackle and five decades of almost uninterrupted futility? The cocoon the Patriots would need to keep a region’s howls of indignation and a nation’s howls of derision out? Can you imagine???? No. I cannot. No way.
When the Patriots have the ball
Young Mac Jones looked terrific for a kid making his first NFL start. All we said he’d been doing since we started seeing him actually play back in May translated. He’s good. High floor. Given he went against a very aggressive, confusing defense with an exceptional secondary and -- in what was the first “real” game as Patriots for many of his offensive teammates -- rarely looked flustered, this week should be easier.
The Jets run the Cover-3 defense made vogue by the Seahawks a decade ago. Whenever the Patriots see it, they do pretty well. The key is hitting the backs and tight ends in the passing game. In the Jets opener last week, Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey had 30 touches for 187 yards from scrimmage. He caught nine for 89. James White should have a large role in this one.
Tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith also figure to get more chances this week. The chances to press the ball downfield that weren’t there against Miami may be there against the Jets, so look for Jones to be a little more aggressive. After fumbles by both of their “between-the-tackles” backs last week, we’ll see if the Patriots reduce carries for either and make J.J. Taylor active. I hope the first part doesn’t happen. I’d expect the second part to occur.
When the Jets have the ball
Zach Wilson took too much punishment in his first Jets start – six sacks and a pick, pressured on 46 percent of his dropbacks. The Patriots would probably like to see that happen again. BUT! They could opt to play coverage and see if Wilson is adroit enough to think his way down the field.
Corey Davis is New York’s big-play receiver and he had a great opener with five catches for 97 yards and two TDs. Will the Patriots try to match-up and play man all over the field as they would do if Steph Gilmore were playing, letting J.C. Jackson chase Davis? Or will they play zone which, last week, gave Tua some easy throws? Hard to predict how the Patriots will play it in coverage.
The Jets managed just 45 yards on 17 carries in their opener. The Patriots kept the Dolphins from running effectively over the course of the game -- 23 carries, 74 yards allowed -- but did give up some key first downs. The Patriots just have to be on their assignments a lot better in Week 2 than they were in the opener. There’s no reason Tua should have had the production he did. Don’t expect Wilson to repeat it.
The kicking game
Interesting story here is that the Jets punter out of camp, Braden Mann, got hurt against the Panthers and kicker Matt Ammendola stepped in and was real good on six punts. Thomas Morstead was added this week. Wily vet. Gunner Olszewski averaged 6.7 on his three returns for the Patriots last week. He remains someone for whom one holds his breath with his breakneck return style.
Braxton Berrios is the Jets returner. Brandon Bolden was active last week as the Patriots main kick returner. We’ll see if he stays active or if the Patriots shuffle their running back room and someone else is up as the KOR guy. Jake Bailey had an uncharacteristic gaffe on his first punt of the season with a touchback on a plus-50 punt. Nick Folk remains steady, steady, steady.
Patriots medical report
K Quinn Nordin, Abdomen
LB Kyle Van Noy, Throat
T Trent Brown, Calf
T Yodny Cajuste, Hamstring
LB Ronnie Perkins, Shoulder
TE Jonnu Smith, Hip
Jets medical report
LB Jamien Sherwood, Ankle
WR Keelan Cole, Knee
WR Jamison Crowder, Groin
OL Chuma Edoga, Illness (Non-Covid)
CB Isaiah Dunn, Shoulder
Game within the game
How much can the Patriots defense scramble the mind of Young Zach Wilson? Most presumed the Patriots defense was going to dine on Tua On a Stick. Instead, the Dolphins quarterback got it out fast and accurate against a cushiony Patriots defense and ran it nicely, especially on the first two drives of each half.
Will the Patriots pressure Wilson? Will they play coverage and make him think, dink and dunk his way down the field?
Jets gotta stop
“Hello, Cover-3 defense … it’s me, Jim. You’re screwed.” As discussed, when the Patriots go against a “Do what we do…” defense, they are inviting you to beat them. And the Patriots know how to beat a Cover-3 defense. That’s to throw it about 15 times to their sub-back.
Patriots gotta stop
BRAXTON BERRIOS?!?! Braxton Berrios. Here’s why. The Patriots will take away the Jets' best wideout, Corey Davis, with coverage and pressure. Too many humans around him. Too much heat coming on Wilson to wait for him to uncover. But the darty little Berrios, a former Patriots slot-in-waiting, will be in a position to see plenty of throws from Wilson. Jonathan Jones vs. Braxton Berrios. Good camp matchup circa 2019 takes the main stage.
The winner is...
Patriots 23, Jets 9