The Jets managed to escape Week 1 with a win, but there is still a long uphill climb before the team will be blessed with relevancy.
Both of these teams hardly resemble last year's squads. With a brand-new quarterback and without their star defensive player, Darrelle Revis, the Jets are forging a new identity on both sides of the ball.
After losing a slew of key skill position players in the offseason, the Patriots appear to be as vulnerable as they have been in years. Coming off a last-second win over the Buffalo Bills, the Patriots may be following the offseason script after all.
Still, no matter who is lining up at wide receiver for New England, beating Tom Brady in his own building is a tall order for any team.
The Jets have quite a daunting task ahead of them, but a win over their division rivals would not only signal that they deserve to be out of the AFC basement—they could be true contenders this season.
All but one AFC East team came away victorious in Week 1, with the Bills losing a heartbreaker to the Patriots to open the season.
The Jets have a pretty extensive injury report coming out of the first game of the season (via Matt Ehalt of ESPNNewYork.com):
Quinton Coples and Mark Sanchez being out is expected, although Coples may be back in the conversation to play again next week. Santonio Holmes will likely play in some kind of limited role this week, as there has been no reported aggravation to his foot injury.
The biggest injury to keep an eye on is Jeremy Kerley, who failed his concussion test. Losing him would be a huge loss, as Kerley would have been able to feast on a thin New England secondary. With Clyde Gates also dealing with an injury, the jets may need to use some more of Ryan Spadola next week.
Meanwhile, while Nick Mangold was held out with an elbow injury, he was able to finish the game last week, which is always an encouraging sign.
The injury news for the Patriots is regarding running back Shane Vereen, who will reportedly miss the game because he needs wrist surgery, according to ESPN.
Vereen had a huge day in place of the fumble-prone Stevan Ridley last week, running for a career-high 101 yards. The Patriots are already without a handful of their top offensive weapons, but losing Vereen is just one less player Rex Ryan needs to account for.
What Must Improve
Beating Josh Freeman at home with a miracle field-goal attempt is not going to be enough to get by the Patriots.
The Jets need to make significant improvements to their third-down defense and running game to spend less time defending and more time sustain offense and keeping the ball out of Tom Brady’s hands.
Locking Down on 3rd Down
On defense, the Jets took care of the hard part by bottling up Doug Martin, who averaged just 2.7 yards per carry. This resulted in the Buccaneers facing a lot of third-and-longs—a situation in which Rex Ryan usually feasts on quarterbacks.
However, as up-and-down as Josh Freeman was throughout the game, he was relatively sharp in these difficult situations. While the Bucs' success rate (6-for-16 on third downs) suggests that the Jets were solid in such situations, those numbers should have been much lower based on the situations the Jets were in. Plus, when the Jets did get burned, it was usually for a long gain.
Freeman deserves credit for his poise amid pressure, but the Jets must hold up better on the back end to increase the effectiveness of their third down blitz packages.
On this play, the Jets have chosen to place Antonio Cromartie on Vincent Jackson—a logical matchup. However, the Bucs plant Jackson in the slot, which may as well be on an alien planet to Cromartie.
Cromartie relies on the sideline to play press coverage, but in the slot, he must respect the fact that the receiver can go either outside or inside, which throws off his technique.
Cromartie chooses to give Jackson a few yards of cushion, likely because he does not trust himself enough in the slot to play in a more aggressive stance.
His tactic backfires. Instead, Cromartie makes an unfavorable situation worse by trying to get a hand on Jackson several yards into his route, which is not going to stop a receiver as strong as Jackson. As a result, Cromartie keeps his feet motionless which allows Jackson to run by him as if he wasn’t even there.
The play results in a huge gain that flips field position and would have been a touchdown if Dawan Landry were not deep in coverage to make the tackle.
It is easy to pick on Cromartie in this situation, but the defensive coaching staff shares equal blame. Cromartie is an excellent cornerback, but unlike Darrelle Revis, he has some limitations in terms of what types of schemes and roles he can play. Forcing Cromartie to play in a foreign position was a recipe for disaster against a receiver as dangerous as Vincent Jackson.
There are a few ways the Jets can prevent this from happening. For one, they can use a player like Kyle Wilson or Darrin Walls that may not be as accomplished as Cromartie but are more comfortable in the slot.
Plus, with the pass rush looking better with each passing week, the Jets can dedicate more resources in coverage that can stop such a big play from happening in these critical situations.
Creating Space in the Run Game
Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory don’t exactly make up the most terrorizing running duo in the NFL, but they got minimal help from their offensive line in the run game.
The Buccaneers did not beat the Jets with any kind of unique scheme. Rather, they just manhandled the Jets up front, allowing linebackers to fill gaps and stuff runs with ease.
Notice how the defensive tackles gain leverage on this play, driving the Jets’ offensive lineman backwards. This opens up wide-open lanes for the Buccaneers’ linebackers to fill.
However, the linebackers don’t even need to come up and make a play. The defensive tackles are able to cleanly shed their blocks, stopping the run before it ever had a chance.
The Jets get the same result on a similar play near their own end zone.
Both Vladimir Ducasse and D’Brickashaw Ferguson give up pressure, swallowing up the running lanes. Gerald McCoy in particular get great leverage underneath Ducasse to get into the backfield in a hurry.
Within seconds, Ducasse is pushed all the way to the middle of the line, giving Ivory nowhere to go.
There is no magical formula of blocking scheme that can fix this. The Buccaneers are a tough team to run against (they were the top rushing defense last season), but they will have to create more room up front to keep take some of the pressure off of Geno Smith.
This game is a huge opportunity for a Jets team that is supposed to be doing nothing but losing games this season as they enter full-rebuilding mode. Already deemed a dead-man walking and a lame-duck coach, Rex Ryan has a chance to silence his defeating critics with one more signature win against the franchise’s biggest rival.
This game is certainly not a “must-win” this early in the season, and the Jets will still have a lot of work to do if they do come out with a victory. A win on Thursday night, however, can erase the dark clouds that have been following the franchise for far too long.
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