By: Russ Goldman
Leading up to this game I have heard many opinions about the New England Patriots and the New York Jets. Most media members I think base their opinions of these clubs around statistics. Well, I believe there is more to analyzing a team than just looking at numbers. I always first go by the “eye test”. My eyes tell me that the Patriots and the Jets are the two best teams in football, period. I think statistics are helpful in backing up an opinion, but do they tell you the entire story? I just don’t believe after what we’ve seen this season that statistics are able to paint the entire picture of the Patriots and the Jets.
Let’s first take a look at the Jets. The most important statistic to look at is this team is 9-2. It doesn’t matter how they got there, that record says a great deal about this club. I have heard they have been lucky to win some of their games. My eyes tell me they are winning games late just like the 2003 New England Patriots. In crucial situations this team is coming through. Situational football as we have learned in New England is important, and the Jets are doing a nice job taking advantage of opportunities to win games.
On offense they have decent statistics. They rank 18th in passing and 2nd in the league in rushing. In rushing, what the stats don’t tell you, is how they are running so effectively. Ladainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene are getting yardage on stretch plays rather than the power game they possessed last season. Tomlinson has an average of 4.5 yards per carry. My eyes tell me he has been more valuable picking up key first downs and extending drives than that statistic shows. I had my doubts when they signed him, but he’s proven me wrong. He has been a difference maker in that offense.
In the passing game Mark Sanchez I feel has improved tremendously this season. However, his overall numbers do not indicate just how well he is playing. He has one statistic that is very below average. His completion rate is 55%, which most wouldn’t consider that part of his play to be at an elite level. However, my eyes tell me that in the 4th quarter and in overtime he is stepping up to make key passes to lead the Jets to a victory. I watched the end of the Texans game, and was impressed by the throws he made to give the Jets a victory. I don’t care what his stats say, when it counts, Sanchez is playing at an elite level.
The Jets defense I believe is still one of the best in the league. They are ranked 4th against the run and 12th against the pass. I think the pass ranking is a little misleading, because Darrelle Revis seems to be just now getting back to playing at an all pro level. I have also read that the Jets pass rush is not the same as last season’s. Well my eyes tell me that this defense still puts pressure on the quarterback. The statistic that is down is sacks, yet they’re still getting in the backfield and disrupting the passing game.
I think they are doing it in different ways. Against the Patriots, in the second half the Jets made an adjustment and dropped more players into coverage. This halftime change made all the difference in the world against Brady. He had a hard time finding open receivers and forced the ball to Randy Moss. In some ways I think this defense could be more diverse than the unit that played the Pats last season.
Now let’s look at the Patriots. On offense if you look at the statistics you might think they are very average on that side of the ball. In the NFL they are ranked 13th in passing and 16th in rushing. However, in scoring they are number one so they must be doing something right. Well, how are they able to score so many points when the numbers say they are average in the league?
My eyes tell me that in the passing game Brady has been able to move the team horizontally rather than vertically since Moss left. Brady is finding the receivers in the areas of the defense that are open. It is very surgical right now how he is moving the team down the field. He is utilizing all of his weapons now rather than focusing on two wide receivers. The tight ends have become vital pieces to the offensive puzzle. The open man is his favorite target now.
In the running game my eyes tell me that Benjarvis Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead have been a very nice compliment to the passing game. In key situations these running backs have made yardage to extend drives and score touchdowns. Their numbers won’t jump out at you. However, in situational football these two players are excelling in key areas of the game. They are clutch and they run hard.
On the Patriots defense, the statistics make it easy for the “so called experts” to say this unit stinks. They are 31st in the league in yardage. They are 16th against the run and 32nd against the pass. Well, what do my eyes (and yours) tell us?
They tell us that against the run the Pats defense is solid. Where they are vulnerable seems to be in sub-packages and in draws. Offenses are taking advantage of a defense that is looking to stop the pass. When the Pats are looking to stop the run I feel they do a great job. My eyes tell me that this run statistic is very misleading. If the Pats want to stop the run they can do it. How did this unit perform against Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice? They stepped up against those elite backs.
In the passing game my eyes tell me that this defense is young and improving. They are giving up huge amount of yards in the passing game. However, ask yourself when are many of these yards being given up? The Patriots, when they have been ahead by a good amount, their pass defense has been easy to move on. For example, this happened against the Bengals, Chargers, Steelers, and Colts.
But, in all of those match-ups how did the defense perform when the game was really decided? The Pats defense stepped up in crucial situations to help lead the Patriots to big leads. This defense is young, and has not figured out how to slow down an opponent when they are in a prevent defense.
I don’t care what the numbers say, my eyes tell me this defense is improving and making a difference. Whether it is a turnover or a key stop in many situations they are getting the job done. I would rather have this Patriots defense than the 2009 version, and I think they definitely have a lot to do with the 9-2 start for the Patriots.
So, I want to make sure that I am clear on statistics. I think they are helpful in analyzing a team’s performance but as I said they certainly don’t paint the entire picture. Both of these teams are the best in the league, and I’m definitely curious to see how it all unfolds tonight when they finally settle it on the field.