Turnovers Hold the Jets' Key to Victory vs. Patriots

Erik Frenz@ErikFrenzSenior Writer IOctober 19, 2013

Sep 12, 2013; Foxborough, MA, USA; New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith (7) reacts during the fourth quarter against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Jets are 2-0 after suffering a loss in 2013. If they want to make it 3-0, they'll have to fix their problems with turnovers on both sides of the ball.

The offense has put the team in holes with 14 turnovers, the fifth most in the NFL through six games. The defense, however, hasn't helped matters with just three turnovers of its own. That's the fourth fewest in the NFL. A turnover differential of minus-11 is the third worst in the league at this point.

Coincidentally, minus-11 is also the Jets' turnover differential in their past five games against the Patriots—all losses. Rex's Jets are 3-1 against the Patriots when they win the turnover battle or finish in an even split, but they are 0-6 when losing the turnover battle.

Jets vs. Patriots since 2009
YearResultJets turnoversPatriots turnoversTurnover differential
2009Jets win, 16-9110
2009Patriots win, 31-1451-4
2010Jets win, 28-1403+3
2010Patriots win, 45-330-3
2010Jets win, 28-2101+1
2011Patriots win, 30-2101+1
2011Patriots win, 37-1630-3
2012Patriots win, 29-2621-1
2012Patriots win, 49-1951-4
2013Patriots win, 13-1040-4

"We made too many mistakes to beat them," an exasperated Rex Ryan said, via NewYorkJets.com, after a 29-26 loss in overtime in 2012, where the Jets turned the ball over twice, including on the final play of the game.

"We helped them, and they clearly outplayed and outcoached us," Ryan said, via the Boston Globe, 32 days later after his team turned the ball over five times leading to 35 Patriots points in the infamous "Buttfumble" game.

"You turn the ball over four times against the Patriots, I bet we can go back several years on that one, there is no way you are winning that one," he said after the Jets' 13-10 loss at Gillette Stadium on Sept. 12.

Is there an echo in here?

The Patriots have a 33-game streak of forcing at least one turnover in each game. In the same 33-game stretch, the Jets have turned the ball over at least once in 30 of those games. Jets quarterback Geno Smith has thrown two or more interceptions in four of his first six starts.

Are the Jets asking him to do too much? He has a big arm, and the Jets are wisely trying to make use of it. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), 15.8 percent of his throws have traveled 20 yards or more through the air (fourth-highest deep-attempt percentage in the NFL), but four of his 10 interceptions have come on deep passes.

On this play, Smith was asked to throw a deep post against the Tennessee Titans' Cover 1. The problem, though, is that the safety in the middle takes that throw away. The other receiver running a route on this play, Santonio Holmes, was covered as well. 

Part of the blame falls on Smith for making a bad decision to pull the trigger on a throw that was covered, but notice there are only two receivers running routes on the play—everyone else is in pass protection. 

Not even a checkdown? Maybe one of the blockers was supposed to peel off after getting a chip on the rusher, but if so, that never happened.

Bmy count, five of Smith's 10 interceptions have involved a bad decision, so what about making it easier for him? Give the Jets credit for making use of Smith's big arm, but they don't have to go deep all the time.

You don't have to be an elite route-runner to get open on a quick slant, but it would help if the Jets had more than two receivers (Holmes and Jeremy Kerley) who qualified as even solid route-runners. Newly acquired wide receiver David Nelson could give them something in that regard, but neither Joshua Cribbs nor Stephen Hill are known for their route-running savvy.

The offense has to hold up its end of the bargain. It's hard to ask much more of the defense when it ranks first in the NFL in yards per rush attempt and eighth in yards per pass attempt, but there's no better way to help the offense than to give it great field position with a key turnover.

The last time the Patriots faced the Jets, there was a lot of attention given to the Patriots' continued offensive struggles. The Jets, not surprisingly, felt slighted and that their performance and ability to slow down the Patriots had been overlooked.

"It had nothing to do with us, I understand, we were just out there," Ryan sarcastically said. "Certainly, that was well-reported and all that. We'll get to see. We'll get to see if some of those issues exist this week."

If the Jets want people to stop talking about the Patriots' dropped passes, the defense needs to catch at least one. Holding Brady to less than 50 percent completions is unheard of (except this year, as he's now already been held to such numbers twice), but can they count on four dropped passes again?

Holding the Patriots to just 4-of-18 on third down is great, but can they count on that kind of output after letting the Steelers go 6-of-16 on third down last week?

"Rex told us 6-of-16 is not how we play Jets defense," defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson on WFAN.

If Smith can't corral his tendency to make bad decisions with the football, the Patriots defense will surely come up big at some point. The Jets defense needs to match the output.

"That's what Rex preached to us last week and preached to us again," said Wilkerson. "We have to get strip attempts and the ball has to be ours if its in the air."

However, asking for even one turnover from the Jets is dicey at this point. They have just three turnovers on the season, and two of those came against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 31st-ranked offense.

The Jets never had fewer than three interceptions through six games in team history, but have just one pick through six games this year. 

The thing is, the Jets defense is good enough to force more turnovers. The defense generates a respectable amount of pressure, forcing the issue on 34.9 percent of opponents' drop-backs and bringing the quarterback down 20 times, the fifth-most sacks in the NFL.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, when under pressure (83 times) has completed just 47 percent of his throws, has thrown two picks and has a passer rating of 59.6.

Make no mistake, the Jets don't need four turnovers to beat the Patriots—and history says they won't get that many, since they've only matched or exceeded that number 15 times since 2007 (112 games). They could, however, find themselves pleased with the result if they're able to reach that number; the Patriots are 6-9 in those 15 games.

Let's tame the expectations, though.

Without at least one turnover on defense, and at most one on offense, the Jets could find themselves on a familiar end of the final result on Sunday.


Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases.


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