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Keys to the Starting Lineup presented by CarMax: Week 3 - Patriots vs. Jets

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The 2-0 Patriots welcome their winless AFC East divisional rival the New York Jets on Sunday in a matchup that has the Pats as overwhelming favorites. New England is off to a fantastic start, led by a defense that has given up just three points total through two games.

Meanwhile, the Jets have been devastated by both injuries and a sickness for promising second-year quarterback Sam Darnold. Now down to their third quarterback Luke Falk, the Jets have the unenviable task of facing a Patriots team that has steamrolled their first two opponents.

What do the Pats need to do to get their second divisional win of the season by dispatching their green rivals? Here are the Keys to the Starting Lineup!

Finding the offensive identity

Despite turnover at receiver and tight end, as well as injuries along the offensive line, the Patriots offense is still dripping with potential that hasn’t quite been realized yet. That’s a good thing. Finding an offensive identity can often take an entire season, but the new-look offense has been effective right out of the gate. They should only get better.

They had their sputtering moments over the first two weeks, especially in the run game, which was better in Week 2 but still far from where it was at the end of the 2018 season. It might never get back to that level, especially without James Develin.

Now, without Antonio Brown, the Patriots will look to Phillip Dorsett and perhaps Jakobi Meyers to join the top duo of Josh Gordon and Julian Edelman and chip in with timely and reliable plays. This is now the ride or die core, who could also look to N'Keal Harry's return in November.

Finding an identity is about knowing your strengths and playing to them. Once the Pats do that we could see the offense hit a new level and, though the Jets traditionally play them harder than expected, that new level could come this Sunday.

Patriots.com's Mike Dussault shares his players to watch during the Patriots Week 3 matchup against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, September 22, 2019.

Figuring out the offensive line

With Isaiah Wynn headed to IR and Marcus Cannon still on the injury report, the questions at offensive tackle are bigger than ever. Marshall Newhouse and Korey Cunningham did a solid job in scrambling relief against the Dolphins and should be better prepared with a week of starter’s reps in practice.

But let’s face it, if there’s a weak spot on the Patriots right now, it’s their offensive tackles and you’d expect the Jets to throw everything they have Newhouse and Cunningham. Two new players protecting the edges for Tom Brady after arriving in early September is disconcerting to say the least.

What are Cunningham and Newhouse good at? Can they get the running game going? Are they liabilities in pass protection? The sample size from last week is admittedly small and the two players were available for acquisition for a reason.

The great hope? That Dante Scarnecchia can make magic happen like he has done so many times before. This might be his greatest challenge yet. Of course, Cannon will return sooner than later and Wynn should be back for the most important football, but until then all eyes will be on the tackle play.

Feasting on the Jets offense

How good does the Patriots defense want to be? Because they’re off to one of their best starts in team history and have yet to give up a touchdown. They likely won’t get much credit for shutting down a Jets offense on their third quarterback, but it’s another chance to show how dominant they can be.

LeVeon Bell is the best weapon the Jets have and he’s got to be the focal point of their attack. That could mean more of nose tackle Danny Shelton, who has been a disruptive force in his second season with the team. With Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler playing on either side of Shelton in the odd three-man front, the trajectory of the game will likely be determined how the trio plays early on.

If the Jets get behind and are forced to play catchup, they will be playing right into the strength of the Patriots defense – the shutdown secondary and rotating madhouse of linebackers. The Jets can’t ask Luke Falk to win this game, so shutting down Bell early and often must be the key focal point. Once that box is checked off, the turnovers could flow like electrolyte water in the Brady household.

Kick the ball through the uprights

Three missed kicks last week, along with misses in three of the four preseason games, has left Patriots Nation jittery about the field goal operation. Stephen Gostkowski, holder Jake Bailey and long snapper Joe Cardona were flawless on seven kicks - three field goals and four extra points - in Week 1 at home, so let’s not jump off the 300 level just yet.

Was it the snaps in Miami? The holds? The kick mechanics? The grass instead of turf? We can speculate endlessly, but all that matters are results and all those involved in the process know they have to be better this week.

Sony in HD

Everyone wants to see what a fully functional Edelman-Brown-Gordon offense looks like, but it would be more exciting to see Sony Michel running wild all over the Jets. Michel got off to a good start in Week 2 after an unimpressive performance in the opener, but found less success once Isaiah Wynn went out on the second drive. He capped off the game in Miami with a bad fumble, just the second of his career.

Michel’s strong summer hasn’t translated into regular season success yet and, with James Develin potentially unavailable with a neck injury, it won’t get any easier for him without his big blocking fullback to clear running lanes for him. If there’s one way to protect Tom Brady and the two fill-in tackles, it’s an effective run game. The Pats will need Michel at some point no matter how good their passing game becomes and this would be a good week to see him get on track.

Prediction

The Patriots offense hits a new level as the defense continues their hot start to the season, surrendering just one field goal for the second week in a row.

Patriots 42, Jets 3

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