The Patriots and Jets meet on Monday Night Football with both teams looking to get a much-needed win. With a combined record of 2-13, the Jets have yet to win a game, while the Patriots are mired in their first four-game losing streak since 2002.
No, it's not exactly the kind of matchup we're used to, but these are two teams that almost always play each other tight no matter the records and that should make for a competitive game.
It almost looked like the Patriots would escape last week with a victory in Buffalo, but once again, giveaways had a major impact on the game. The Pats offense has yet to play a clean game this season, and while they were on track for most of the game against the Bills, Cam Newton's game-sealing fumble was more than enough to dramatically impact the game.
The Pats seems close to getting over the hump, but they have to stop hurting themselves.
The Jets meanwhile are floundering at the bottom of the league, showing a lifeless offense that ranks at the bottom of the league in most important stats like points scored, third-down conversion rate and in the red zone. But their defense aren't exactly pushovers. Gregg Williams has a tough and aggressive squad that boasts some of the best rankings on the team, including a rush defense that is ranked 10th in the NFL in DVOA.
That is where the key matchup will be, as the offenses have two of the lowest-ranked passing attacks in the league, with the Patriots coming in at 30th in DVOA and the Jets at 32nd.
What do the Patriots need to do to break their losing streak and send the Jets to the depths of 0-9? Here are the Keys to the Game presented by Carmax!
Trench Warfare (Part one)
Lost in the Patriots 2-5 record is that they have one of the most effective ground attacks of their recent offenses. Whether it's Sony Michel, Damien Harris, Rex Burkhead or James White, all have provided critical plays this season and they'll be counted on for their best game of the season against the Jets.
With Michel back at practice this week, it could give the Patriots their full stable of backs for the first time all season.
New England must win the battle up front to get their ground game going, otherwise this one is going to be a 60-minute challenge. Gregg Williams' defenses need to be taken seriously, they'll play with good scheme and energy, putting the focus on the Patriots offensive line to set the tone.
With rookie Michael Onwenu at right tackle, the Patriots appear to have some continuity this week along the line, a rarity this season. That bodes well for their chances against players like Quinnen Williams, who is a force in the middle and linebacker Neville Hewitt, the Jets leading tackler.
If the Patriots offense is to be productive, it all starts with the big five blockers up front, controlling the line if scrimmage and setting an early tone for the Patriots rushing attack.
Trench Warfare (Part two)
The Patriots defense has given up over 190 rushing yards in back to back weeks and has seen their rushing defense rankings crater. They can fully expect the Jets to employ running backs Frank Gore and La'Mical Perine is a variety ways meant to test them early and often.
Mounting injuries put an even bigger target on the Patriots run defese.
The Jets are in a similar position to the Patriots, they'd love nothing more than to be able to lean on their ground game to aid their sporadic passing offense, and though New York doesn't have the same horses the Patriots have carrying the ball on offense, we thought the same about the Bills last week.
The Pats defensive front has looked out of sync, opening creases that have gotten them gashed and unable to play to their strengths on third down. If the Jets have that kind of early down success, this game will be the kind of tight divisional matchup we're all too familiar with, despite the two team's current records.
The run defense needs a resurgent effort and it won't come easy as they continue to manage multiple injuries and wait for reinforcements to become available.
Can the Patriots take advantage of a Jets pass defense that ranks close to the bottom of the league? Definitely not if their ground game can't get going, but a complementary attack should give the Patriots opportunities to throw the ball like they haven't been able to since the Seahawks game.
Williams won't make it easy on Cam Newton. The Patriots quarterback is still wrapping his head around the playbook and Williams' disguises and aggressive approach should challenge Newton's processing power in new and challenging ways. Newton is 1-2 against Williams' defenses in his career.
Jakobi Meyers will be counted on again, while they could also use more consistent production from Damiere Byrd. Could new practice squad vet Donte Moncrief step right in? He could be needed immediately and it's asking a lot for him to contribute with just a few practices, but that's the position the Patriots are in.
There are things to exploit in the Jets passing defense and now we'll see if the Patriots are able to attack them.
Finally, a clean game
Josh McDaniels made a point to mention the Patriots offense still hasn't had a turnover-free game yet this week. "Our number one goal right now as an offense and in this week of practice and going forward is going to continue to be playing a turnover free game, which we haven't done yet," said McDaniels.
The impact of the turnovers are obvious over the course of the four-game losing streak, none more glaring than the one fumble against the Bills. After 11 giveaways in their previous three losses, it wasn't the quantity against the Bills, it was the quality of the one critical mistake.
What is this Patriots offense without giving the ball away? We don't know exactly, but it should certainly be one that is more effective than what we've seen. They can't give the Jets a chance to stay in the game with bad ball security, it's the easiest way to give them a needed and unnecessary boost.
Let's find out what happens when the 2020 Patriots don't beat themselves.
Even at the height of the Patriots dynasty while the Jets were mired in losing seasons, these matchups often seemed to end up closer than anyone thought they'd be. How do things chance now that the two teams have just two wins between them? It's probably going to be close yet again, as the two teams mirror each other in some ways and it's uncertain who will be able to take advantage of the other's weaknesses.
Still, the Patriots are due for a clean football game and their ground game looks poised to hit a new level of effectiveness. That should be enough to give the Patriots control of the game, whether they keep it depends on their run defense and whether they start giving the ball away again.
The Jets put up a first-half fight, but the Patriots get the winning score late.
Patriots 20, Jets 17