The Patriots and Jets divisional rivalry has been one-sided over the last six seasons, and really in the last two-plus decades.
New England has won 12 consecutive games over Gang Green, with the last Jets win over the Patriots coming in a Ryan Fitzpatrick-led overtime victory as the quarterback for Todd Bowle's Jets in 2015.
New York is on their third head coach, second general manager, and has started ten different quarterbacks since the last time they beat the Patriots on that late December afternoon.
Even in the post-Brady era in New England, Bill Belichick's team is 4-0 with an average margin of victory of over 19 points and an aggregate score of 137-60 against the Jets.
The recent history between the two longtime AFC East foes is one-sided, to put it politely, but the tides could be turning in favor of a red-hot Jets team that has won four-straight games.
Under general manager Joe Douglas and head coach Robert Saleh, the Jets roster is rapidly improving thanks to hits in the draft, retaining the right players through the rebuild, and a well-orchestrated approach in free agency to build the team in Saleh's image.
Although there are still questions about the quarterback, the rest of the Jets roster is filled with young, talented players who are great fits in Saleh's systems, especially on defense.
To understand how the Jets built their upstart defense, let's give a little background on their 43-year-old head coach. Saleh's upbringing as an NFL head coach was primarily working under longtime NFL head coach and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. Bradley's career took off as the architect of the Legion of Boom under Pete Carroll with the Seahawks, and the Seattle-3 system took over pro football due to its success.
Saleh worked for Bradley during the Seahawks back-to-back trips to the Super Bowl in the early 2010s and followed the now Colts DC to Jacksonville as the linebackers coach for the Jags.
Eventually, Saleh got his chance to run a defense for four seasons with the San Francisco 49ers and made the Super Bowl as their defensive coordinator, which landed him the head job with the Jets.
With his roots in the Seattle-3 scheme, Douglas and Saleh have focused on adding players that fit that style of defense. First, they retained two studs on the defensive line, Quinnen Williams and John Franklin-Myers, through the rebuild. Since Seattle disciples don't blitz much, generating pressure with four rushers is critical, hence the importance of keeping those two in the fold. Next, they added linebackers who can play zone defense in C.J. Mosley and Quincy Williams, and then the final piece of the puzzle came at the top of the 2022 NFL Draft.
The Jets selected a Richard Sherman clone in Sauce Gardner with the fourth overall pick in last year's draft, and the rookie cornerback has not disappointed through his first seven games.
Gardner, who is nearly 6-foot-3, has perfect traits for Saleh's system: excellent movement skills for his size, length to disrupt at the catch point and clog zone passing lanes, and impressive route recognition to read out threats and play positionally sound at his left cornerback spot.
Sauce is allowing a stingy completion percentage of 42.5 with a 51.1 passer rating into his coverage, leading the NFL with ten pass breakups in his first seven games as a pro.
With all the pieces in place, a very young Jets defense has climbed to tenth in Football Outsiders' DVOA metric and is second in expected points added per play since Week 4 (-0.15).
Now that we have the blueprint, let's watch how the Jets defense wins on passing plays:
As you probably guessed, the Jets most used coverage is cover three on 28.5 percent of their coverage snaps. However, they use both a traditional spot-drop zone and Seattle's famous cover-three "buzz" mable structure.
With buzz schemes, the coverage starts as a two-high safety shell pre-snap and then rotates into a single-high safety structure after the snap. On the backside, Gardner is locked into man coverage on the X receiver, while the outside corner to the passing strength has the deep third as he would in a traditional spot-drop cover-three zone.
To keep offenses honest, the Jets will also stay in split-safety zones with quarters and cover six structures accounting for 37.6% of their coverages.
Although the Jets mostly stick to zone coverage, their third-down package has more variety. New York has their five-man rush package where they'll put five defenders on the line of scrimmage. Sometimes, they'll stay in man coverage (man free) with a five-man rush, while in other instances, they'll drop defenders off the line to fall into zone coverage.
For the Patriots to move the ball through the air, expect to see crossers from the passing strength to the exposed backside (with the X taking Garnder up the field), flood concepts conflicting zone defenders, vertical routes to push the zone downfield to hit throws underneath, and hopefully, more play-action and motion, which always give zone defense problems.
With second-level defenders having both coverage and run-fit responsibilities, play-action is effective against zone defenses. Plus, motion can bump defenders out of gaps since there isn't one player assigned to the motion player as there is in man coverage.
The Jets defense is playing at a high level, with budding stars Quinnen Williams and rookie Sauce Gardner setting the tone in Robert Saleh's zone-heavy system.
Moving the ball against this Jets defense will be challenging, so New England's offensive coaching staff needs a bounce-back as badly as the players do on Sunday.
Patriots Defense vs. Jets Offense
New York is skyrocketing on an upward trajectory defensively, but the Jets still have major question marks at the quarterback position and holes to fill along the offensive line.
With offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur at the helm, the Jets subscribe to the Shanahan outside zone and play-action (bootleg) system with run-pass options sprinkled in on early downs. Their third down package then features a "choice" route runner in shotgun concepts.
Although the Jets have used significant resources to upgrade the skill positions, their issues in pass protection have exacerbated quarterback Zach Wilson's struggles under pressure.
|Stat (via PFF)||Zach Wilson - Under Pressure||NFL Rank (out of 43 QBs)|
|Turnover Worthy Play %||13.3||42nd|
This season, Wilson is near the bottom of the league in every meaningful statistic while under pressure, and his kept-clean splits are eye-opening.
When Wilson is kept clean, he averages 9.1 yards per attempt with an 89.6 PFF grade. But with pressure, that drops to 1.7 yards per attempt and a 23.0 overall grade. As you can see above, pressure often results in errant throws, especially high passes, for the Jets quarterback.
After having issues orchestrating an effective pass rush against the Bears, Wilson's mobility is better than average but not on the same level as Justin Fields.
Like the Pats have done in years past, they should come after the Jets QB. The Jets offensive line is struggling with picking up three-man stunt schemes that the Pats major in, and we wouldn't rule out a few zero blitzes to speed Wilson up and force bad decisions.
With the Jets defense playing well, the Patriots defense needs to control the game and put the offense on short fields as much as possible.
1. Pats LG Cole Strange vs. Jets DT Quinnen Williams
Tough, tough matchup for the rookie this week. Williams moves around but typically lines up over the left guard as a one-three technique player. Explosive, flexible, and excellent play recognition. Williams likes to use a punch-dip, where his power can get the guard on skates before he turns the corner. The Jets interior rusher can take over a game. Ask the Packers.
2. Pats RT Marcus Cannon vs. Jets DE John Franklin-Myers
Longer frame, long strides, and a long arm. Franklin-Myers likes to dent the pocket using a long arm bull-rush. Sort of Deatrich Wise-like. Cannon had issues last week with changing directions to counter inside moves. Expect Franklin-Myers and the Jets to test him on stunts and one-on-one pass rushes.
3. Pats EDGE Matthew Judon vs. Jets LT Duane Brown
As mentioned above, the Patriots defense needs to control the game by pressuring Zach Wilson into making mistakes. If they're going to do that, they need a vintage Judon game. He should have opportunities against these Jets tackles.