Just like the offense in yesterday’s 30-23 win over the Jets, the Patriots defense made just enough plays to win. And like the offense, it wasn’t easy and it wasn’t always pretty but they got the job done and it was New England standing alone in the division when the final gun sounded.
The Jets entered the game with a pounding rush offense averaging 146 yards per game. Chris Ivory missed one game but was averaging 120 yards per game in those he did play, all Jet victories. There’s nothing cute or fancy about the Jets running game; they line up and drive you backwards and wear you down. And when the defense has to cheat up to slow up the running game, they play action pass and take advantage of an improved wide receiver core.
The Patriots entered the game with a somewhat suspect rush defense. I say somewhat because people tend to look at numbers and ignore what the focus of the defense was in the games that transpired. But you could certainly make the argument that the front four of the defense hasn’t done a great job of containing the run.
As we pointed out in our pre-game matchups, the Patriots game plan on Sunday was to limit and slow down the Jets running game and force the game into Ryan Fitzpatrick’s hands. The thought was, if they force Fitzpatrick into throwing 40+ passes on Sunday, it is a game that New England’s chances of winning increase exponentially.
Fitzpatrick has been a turnover machine against the Patriots, in the previous four games against the Patriots defense; he’s thrown 11 interceptions and always made that critical mistake that led to a New England victory.
It is the hallmark of Bill Belichick’s teams that they always attempt to take away what you do best and force you to beat them in other ways. On Sunday the focus was on the Jets running game, specifically Ivory pounding the rock inside. Those three and four yard attempts in the first half, usually result in big gains in the second halves of games.
For the Patriots having linebacker Dont’a Hightower back was a tremendous shot in the arm for the defense. The big physical run-stuffer and blitzer was a much needed cog in this week’s game plan. He missed the previous game due to a rib injury, but was active on Sunday…and ever. Hightower was immense in the middle of the Patriots defense, shooting the gaps, stuffing running lanes and generally being a pain in the butt of the Jets running backs.
But the front four of rotating lineman did a great job; Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Dominique Easley and Sealver Siliga battled the Jets talented offensive line to a draw up front and weren’t allowing a push. That allowed Hightower and Jamie Collins to make plays.
Hightower finished with 10 tackles and was a huge factor in the Patriots stifling the Jets running game, something which was considered remote prior to the game. Jets running backs averaged only 2.5 yards per attempt for the game. Ivory, somewhat limited by a balky hamstring had little room to run and had only 41 yards on 17 carries, a 2.4 YPA average. Zac Stacy had just 19 yards on 7 carries, a 2.7 YPA average. Only Fitzpatrick, who did some impressive scrambling out of the pocket, ran well. Fitz ran for 29 yards on five carries when the Patriots had some issues with containment. But if you asked Belichick if the Patriots could hold the Jets to 89 yards rushing on 29 carries, he’d take that all day long.
The part of limiting Fitzpatrick in the passing game didn’t go down as smoothly. Early in the game, the Jets were eviscerating the Patriots coverage with short crossing routes as Gang Green completely dominated the first quarter. Fitzpatrick did turn the ball over once on the Jets first possession, a strip by Hightower, but never threw any picks on the day.
The Patriots certainly had some chances; they batted four passes at the line of scrimmage, including three by Rob Ninkovich. But the Patriots weren’t able to turn aby of those into interceptions as the ball bounced straight up in the air on a couple of occasions.
Fitpatrick and the Jets put together two beautifully constructed drives that each netted a touchdown. First, he led a 14-play, 80 yard drive that took more than seven and a half minutes off the clock in the second quarter and then a 13-play, 80 yard drive in the third to give the Jets the lead.
Third down was a particular trouble spot for the Patriots as the Jets converted on 8-14 third down attempts. Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker each had some big catches on the day, especially on third down but something to remember is that Marshall entered the game with 100 yard receiving days in each of the Jets last three matchups. Marshall finished with just four catches for 67 yards. Decker was obviously the third option after the running game and Marshall and finished with 6 receptions for 94 yards.
The Patriots cornerbacks Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan and Justin Coleman, didn’t have a great game. When Belichick replays the tape on this one, they’ll find plenty of fault. The coverage wasn’t near tight enough. But the overall scheme of the defense and the game plan of Belichick and Matt Patricia worked. They limited the Jets running game and forced the game into Fitzpatrick’s hands. And the Patriots are 6-0.
Plenty of work remains to be done, but there is no arguing with the results thus far.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: 2015 NFL Season Bill Belichick Chandler Jones Chris Ivory Dont'a Hightower Jets ground game Malcolm Butler New England Patriots New York Jets NFL Patriots Patriots edge rushers Patriots rush defense Rob Ninkovich Ryan Fitzpatrick Tom Brady Zac Stacy