The Patriots and Jets rivalry will start a new chapter today as rookie QB’s Mac Jones and Zach Wilson face off for the first time. Both teams hope they have their guy of the future, and this will only be the first installment of head-to-head battles for the next fifteen years. But the Jets hope the new faces of the franchise breathe some competitiveness back into the rivalry as they haven’t beat the Pats since an Eric Decker overtime touchdown in 2015.
Both teams got off to slow starts to the 2021 season. New England dropped its opener at home to the Miami Dolphins by a score of 17-16, while the Jets lost on the road to the Panthers and old friends Sam Darnold and Robby Anderson by a score of 14-19. While both games were low-scoring, the feeling after watching the coaches’ tape could not be more different.
The Patriots were in their game from kick-off to the final whistle, humming along with an efficient offense and a defense that largely controlled the game. The Pats racked up 393 total yards but were hampered with turnovers and struggles in the Red Zone. The Jets put up 252 total yards and largely seemed to be stuck in preseason mode, capitalizing on a late touchdown drive to make the score more respectable than the game. The Jets were only able to rush for a measly 45 yards as Wilson seemed uncomfortable operating under center. Every rivalry game is a tough fought affair but looking at this one on paper looks like a mismatch.
Thoughts for the Game
- The Jets’ offensive line looked a mess before losing starting left tackle Mekhi Becton to injury in the third quarter. While Cam Newton bemoaned the fact the QB must set his protection in New England, it looked like no one was setting it in New York week 1. The Jets’ offensive line struggled to win one on one matchups, giving up 6 sacks to the Panthers’ defense. The Panthers pass rush was able to completely confuse the Jets’ offensive line with stunts and twists by its defensive line. Belichick is known for his affinity to manufacture pressure with games up front rather than having a one-on-one matchup nightmare. Expect the Patriots’ defensive line to be very active and give the Jets multiple looks.
- While getting pressure on a rookie quarterback is generally viewed as a victory for the defense, Wilson showed off his ability to play off-script last week with mixed results. He possesses top-shelf arm talent in line with Russel Wilson or Aaron Rodgers; one of those guys that can effortlessly flip the ball 50+ yards while off-platform.
- The Jets’ first touchdown of the season came on a play the Wilson extended after facing initial pressure. Rolling to his right he was able to find Corey Davis all alone in the right mid of the end zone. Wilson was a mixed bag when extending plays; occasionally making the “wow” play before quickly following it up with a head-scratcher. Wilson finished the game 20/37 for 258 yards with 2 touchdowns and 1 INT. Wilson had a couple more turnover-worthy throws that the Panthers’ defense couldn’t complete.
- The Jets offense was forced to operate out of the gun for a majority of last Sunday as Wilson looks to continue to gain comfort operating a more traditional offense. If the Jets play out of similar formations against the Patriots, it will be playing into the hands of the defense. Operating a rushing attack out of a spread formation while teams don’t yet fear your QB is a tough way to make hay in the NFL.
- The Patriots offensive line lost starting RT Trent Brown last week. They will continue to operate in his absence as he did not make the trip with the team. Instead of shifting Onwenu over to right tackle, where he played last year, the Pats have been giving offseason trade acquisition Yasir Durant most of the snaps at the position this week in practice. After the game on Sunday, it was questioned why the Patriots didn’t insert high-priced offseason addition Ted Karras at left guard and flip Onwenu over to the right side. The Patriots’ coaching staff often goes with a “best five” approach when assembling the offensive line. Starting Durant and letting Karras ride the bench seems counter to this approach. The thought here is the Patriots are looking to maximize the continuity up front with a lot of season left ahead of them. Brown’s injury is considered day to day, meaning he has a good chance of returning next week, and the Pats don’t want to unsettle the building chemistry for a single week this early in the season.
- Hunter Henry missed almost all of the preseason due to a shoulder injury and when he was on the practice field it was often with Cam Newton at quarterback. Through the first half last week it was apparent Henry and Mac were still finding their on-field chemistry, however, Henry began to find the ball coming his way in the second half as he caught all three of his second half targets for 31 yards. Expect the chemistry between these two to continue to grow. It certainly can’t hurt that the quarterback-tight end tandem are neighbors.
- Mac was known for his aggressiveness at Alabama, something that earned him the nickname “The Joker”. His willingness to go for the kill on any given play and his competitiveness across the field was apparent to teammates and opponents alike. His debut last week was a little different than a maniacal comic villain as he routinely took the check down and kept the offense on schedule. I preached all offseason that the Patriots’ offense is a schedule-based attack, one that needs to stay ahead of the chains. After watching the All-22, there were some opportunities for some shot plays if Mac had waited a half-second longer before delivering the ball. The Jets found themselves playing quite a bit of zone coverage last week and may keep that up this week. If so, expect Mac to hang in and start pushing the ball downfield.
- After preaching all week in the lead-up to the season opener that the team needed to carry Mac and not vice versa, it was notable that many of the veteran leaders spoke about letting Mac down in his season debut. If the team can play up to their potential and Mac continues to look strong, the Patriots revival will happen a lot quicker than 31 other fan bases had hoped.
- Speaking of playing Patriots football, if the team comes close to getting 8 penalties against them against the Jets, Belichick will force them to walk home after the game.
- Ball security was an issue last week with four total fumbles, two that were lost. Belichick likely slathered everything and everyone in Crisco this week at practice to put a high priority on ball security. The Pats for years let opponents take the penalties and then would capitalize on a takeaway, but the Dolphins beat them at their own game last week.
- A week after ex-Patriot Braxton Berrios paced the Jets in targets (tied with Corey Davis for 7) the Jets will be getting reinforcements at the position in the form of Jamison Crowder. JC Jackson should be shadowing Davis throughout the game while the mix of Mills/Jackson/Williams cover the WR2 and WR3.
- The Pats signed Brian Hoyer to a 1-year deal on Saturday, meaning no more practice squad elevations for him. Quin Nordin was placed on IR on Friday; Folk was elevated for the game but may be looking at a more permanent position on the 53.
With how porous the Jets’ offensive line was last week against the Panthers’ defense, the Patriots’ strength in their front seven should be on display early and often. Wilson will make a couple of wow plays with his immense arm talent, but it won’t be enough to keep the Jets in it for long. Mac will find a few more downfield shots as he gets more comfortable as a professional QB.
Patriots win 31-14.