The New England Patriots were last spotted getting manhandled by the Tennessee Titans 34-10 prior to their bye week. The Patriots trailed 17-3 after one quarter, 24-10 at halftime, and then were outscored the Packers 10-0 in the second half for their third loss of season by 10 or more points. For New England, after a 1-2 start including losses to Jacksonville and Detroit, the Patriots had won six straight games before their letdown the week before the bye.
Looking back at Tennessee, New England was due for a letdown. However, it was again a motivated home team matching the Patriots’ aggressiveness and not backing down. Credit Mike Vrabel and the Titans for coming up with a solid plan on both sides of the ball and getting their players up to play in what was a huge game to them and their head coach.
Predictably, like the Jaguars and Lions before them, Tennessee showed why they are not a legitimate playoff team by building off all that momentum by going into Indianapolis and getting spanked 38-10.
Jacksonville followed up their “AFC Championship Game Rematch” by losing seven of their next eight games after beating the Patriots. Former Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia followed up his win over the Patriots by losing to Dallas the next week and their weak performance on Thanksgiving versus Chase Daniel and the Bears to fall to 4-7.
There was much concern with the traditional media, on social media, and the talking heads on radio and television with the Patriots losing. New England was battered on the offensive line and that showed up with Tennessee disrupting Tom Brady all game long. With no Shaq Mason (who has been having an All-Pro season at right guard) and Trent Brown, Marcus Cannon and primary blocking tight end Dwayne Allen all dealing with injuries, it was ugly up front.
On defense, the Patriots failed to generate any turnovers and the pass rush was non-existent. After overpowering Green Bay’s offensive line, the Titans had a strong performance up front. Stephon Gilmore–who had been a top five cornerback all season–had his worst performance since early 2017 as Corey Davis lit him up. Patrick Chung also had a poor performance trying to cover Jonnu Smith.
This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4 in greater Boston and on WPRI Channel 12 in the greater Providence area. Ian Eagle will handle play-by-play duties with Patriots Nation once again subjected to Hall of Fame quarterback (but well past his prime television announcer) Dan Fouts as the color analyst. Evan Washburn will work from the sidelines.
Sunday’s game will be broadcast to a national audience on ESPN Radio. Up-and-coming midwestern broadcaster Adam Amin will call the game with former University of Oklahoma and Chicago Bears nose tackle Dusty Dvoracek providing analysis (no East Coast bias here).
Locally, the New England Patriots are on the radio on 41 stations throughout the six states in New England, New York and Florida and will feature broadcasters Bob Socci doing play-by-play and local media member and former Patriots backup quarterback and talk radio star Scott Zolak adding color analysis.
Each week the game comes down to the match-ups. These are the top match-ups on offense that will determine if the Patriots are the team which emerges victorious on Sunday.
The loss to Tennessee broke a six game winning streak and was the third game this season where New England allowed more than 30 points to a non-Kansas City Chiefs offense (all statistics from Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise noted).
At one point the defense was ninth in points allowed and 16th in yards allowed. The unit has dropped back down to 15th in points allowed and 24th in yards allowed. The true defensive problem in New England is clear on third down as they are ranked 25th in the league in third down defense allowing their opponents to convert 43.1% of the time (56 of 130).
Coming off a bye week is often a good omen for the Patriots. They are an NFL best 22-4 (84.6% winning percentage) including playoff bye weeks since 2003 in their first game after a bye (per TeamRankings.com). They have the young New York Jets in their crosshairs after a long, grueling first half of the season.
How do the Patriots plan to get back their defensive momentum against the up-and-down offense of the New York Jets?
NO RUNNING ZONE:
The New York Jets have been–to put it nicely–anemic on offense in 2018. They are 24th in points scored, 29th in yards, 31st in first downs, 29th in passing yards and 20th in rushing yards. Not surprisingly, when the Jets can run the ball, they tend to win. They are 3-1 in 2018 when they rush for more than 85 yards and 0-6 when they rush for under 85 yards.
The Jets have three wins and in each the offense scored 34 or more points. They scored 48 points versus Detroit in week one rushing for 169 yards. In week five they put up 34 points on Denver and rushed for a ridiculous 323 yards. Finally, in week six against Indianapolis they scored 42 points and rushed for 107 yards.
Those seven losses? They scored 12, 17, 12, 17, 10, 6 and 10 points. They rushed for 42, 107, 34, 71, 57, 73, and 83 yards in those seven games. Whether Sam Darnold (who is unlikely to play) or Josh McCown behind center, the Jets offense needs Isaiah Crowell to have a big game.
New England catches a break with Bilal Powell on injured reserve. Powell seemingly always plays well against New England and it is always puzzling why he was never a bigger part of the game plan for New York over the past six seasons.
Crowell had one amazing game against Denver in week five (15 rushes for 219 yards). Outside of that game, he has 99 rushes for 333 yards. He topped 100 yards in week one against Detroit (102 yards on ten carries) but other than those two games he has not rushed for 50 yards in a game or for 4.0 yards per attempt.
Part of the problem is the offensive line in New York. Left tackle Kelvin Beachum and right guard Brian Winters are both above-average. Left guard James Carpenter is past his prime (which wasn’t all that great to start with), right tackle Brandon Shell is not starting quality, and the center position is a hot mess with the Jets playing both Spencer Long and Jonotthan Harrison there.
This is a game that the New England defensive front needs to dominate. Both massive men in the middle Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton have underperformed and fortunately Lawrence Guy has been fantastic at defensive tackle against the run. Linebackers Elandon Roberts, Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy need to be tackling well and containing Crowell early and often.
There is one other thing the Patriots’ defense must do against New York this week on the road:
START STRONG AND FORCE TURNOVERS:
Against Tennessee was the first game the New England defense failed to create a turnover. The Titans scored on their first three possessions and took a 17-3 lead into the second quarter. The New England defense never got that one big play to turn momentum and help out the offense with great field position (or even put some points on the board).
The New York Jets have coughed up the ball 22 time in ten games (the Patriots have turned the ball over just 13 times in ten games for comparison). Although the defense has just 17 turnovers for the Patriots, they have been a big boost for the team and not creating that key turnover against the Titans was a huge part of the Patriots not being able to come back.
Just like at Tennessee, the Patriots fell behind early against Jacksonville and Detroit. The Jaguars led 24-3 before a late rally by the Patriots made the score look closer than the game actually was. The Lions were up 13-0 before a field goal before halftime. Although New England got close after halftime, the Lions pulled away after being up early.
In all three of those losses, the defense gave up long, back-breaking drives. One timely turnover could have changed the whole complexion of those games. Whether punching the ball out of the running back’s hands or stepping in front of a pass (and not dropping the interception–I wish I was keeping track of all the passes clanging off New England defenders’ hands), these are the plays the Patriots need to make to win.
The game plan is simple for the Patriots: get off to a fast start–particularly on defense. Do not give the Jets offense any hope to make it a ballgame. Put New York behind early, force them to abandon the running game, and use your running game to set-up play-action and take the pass rush off of Tom Brady.
The question is whether the Patriots can come out on the road and execute.
-Hal Bent is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @halbent01