New York Jets need to tread water in the areas where New England overmatches them
Despite having two more wins than their division rival, the New York Jets are 1.5-point underdogs to the New England Patriots this week.
There are good reasons for that.
Here are three areas where New England has a significant advantage.
Patriots EDGE Matthew Judon vs. Jets RT Cedric Ogbuehi
With Alijah Vera-Tucker out for the season, the Jets are turning to Cedric Ogbuehi at right tackle – making him the sixth player to line up at one of New York’s two offensive tackle spots this season. If you include Mekhi Becton, Ogbuehi is the Jets’ seventh option at the tackle spot.
Ogbuehi’s first start comes at a bad time. His primary matchup on Sunday will be Patriots edge rusher Matthew Judon, who currently leads the NFL with 8.5 sacks.
Judon rotates between both sides of the line, so he will see some of Duane Brown as well, but Judon primarily lines up on the left side of the defensive line, as he is playing 78% of his snaps on the left side this season. That means he will spend most of his time battling against Ogbuehi.
In addition to holding the league lead in sacks, Judon ranks fourth among edge rushers with 32 pressures. He is also 20th at the position with eight run stops. The man is a handful for any offensive tackle, let alone a team’s Plan G. (If you didn’t catch my meaning, G is the seventh letter of the alphabet.)
Ogbuehi wasn’t too bad in his first appearance with the Jets. Against the Broncos, he only allowed 1 pressure (including zero sacks or hits) over 23 pass-blocking snaps in relief of Vera-Tucker.
Still, one game is not enough to cancel out a career-long track record. Ogbuehi is a former first-round pick who has bounced around the league due to his underwhelming production in pass protection. For his career, Ogbuehi has allowed pressure on 8.5% of his pass-blocking snaps, which is significantly higher than the 2022 league average for tackles (5.3%).
Ogbuehi needs to have a big game to keep Zach Wilson safe. Early on, the Jets should test the waters and see if Ogbuehi can hold up without help. It would be an enormous victory if he proves capable of consistently winning against Judon on an island. You want to be able to send your weapons out on as many routes as possible rather than having to continuously ask them to block.
But if Ogbuehi struggles to stop Judon early on, the Jets must adjust quickly and supply him with help from the tight ends.
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Patriots’ interior offensive line vs. Jets’ second-string interior defensive line
New England is running the football effectively this season. Rhamondre Stevenson leads the Patriots’ backfield with 487 rushing yards (69.6 per game) on an efficient 5.0 yards per carry. Damien Harris complements Stevenson with 265 yards (44.2 per game) on 4.4 yards per carry. They have also combined for seven rushing touchdowns.
Overall, the Jets’ run defense has been very good. New York ranks third-best in the NFL with only 3.9 yards allowed per rush attempt.
However, the primary weakness of New York’s run defense coincides with the primary strength of New England’s rushing attack.
The Pats are especially good at running the ball between the tackles. On carries directed toward “left guard”, “middle”, or “right guard” (based on how it is labeled in the official play-by-play), Stevenson and Harris are averaging a combined 5.0 yards per carry. Stevenson ranks third among all running backs with 302 rushing yards on carries in one of these three directions.
This success is thanks to a strong trio of interior offensive linemen: left guard Cole Strange, center David Andrews, and right guard Michael Onwenu.
New York’s starting defensive tackles will be up to the task. Quinnen Williams is enjoying an All-Pro caliber season that includes consistent dominance in the run game. Next to Williams, Sheldon Rankins has been putting together a remarkable bounce-back season, featuring massive improvement in the run game.
The problem for the Jets is their second-string duo of defensive tackles, Nathan Shepherd and Solomon Thomas. When Williams and Rankins are on the sidelines, the Jets’ run defense is far more vulnerable due to the run-stopping struggles of Shepherd and Thomas.
Among 115 qualified defensive tackles, Thomas ranks 67th in run-stop rate (5.5%) while Shepherd ranks 104th (2.9%). Thomas also got called for a defensive holding penalty on a run play against Denver last week, and Shepherd is no stranger to being called for that same ultra-rare penalty, either, as he had two of them last season.
With Thomas on the field this season, the Jets are allowing 4.22 yards per carry on non-quarterback rush attempts (283 yards on 67 carries). With him off, the Jets are allowing only 3.84 yards per carry (369 yards on 96 carries).
If I were the Patriots, I would pound the rock straight down the Jets’ throats whenever I see Williams and Rankins on the sidelines. Strange, Andrews, and Onwenu against Thomas and Shepherd is an enormous mismatch in the ground game.
But here’s the catch: A key injury levels the playing field. New England’s starting center, David Andrews, will miss this game due to a concussion. That leaves the Patriots’ backup center, James Ferentz, in Andrews’s place.
Ferentz is undoubtedly a downgrade compared to Andrews, who is a very good center, so the severity of this mismatch has certainly been lessened due to Andrews’s absence. With that being said, the Pats do still have an excellent guard duo in Strange and Onwenu while their running backs are powerful up the middle. This is still an area of the game where I would expect New England to be strong, and the Jets must be ready – especially Shepherd and Thomas.
Patriots’ defensive scheme and cornerbacks vs. Jets QB Zach Wilson
Teams have been challenging Zach Wilson with a lot of single-high coverage. He has faced single-high coverage on over 70% of his pass attempts in all four of his games this season, whereas the NFL average this season is only 53%. In each game, the Jets’ opponent played single-high more often than their season average.
This strategy is working. Over the last two weeks, Wilson has struggled mightily against single-high coverage, going 16-of-31 (51.6%) for 130 yards (4.2 yards per attempt). Wilson threw the ball much better against two-high coverage over this span, completing 10-of-13 passes (76.9%) for 101 yards (7.8 yards per attempt).
The exorbitant percentage of single-high coverage faced by Wilson is a sign that teams don’t respect him right now. They are more than comfortable with putting one safety in the box to help stop the run while daring Wilson to challenge them deep along the sidelines, as he is simply not doing that.
Maybe Wilson is playing it uber-safe thanks to the elite defense and strong run game he’s been able to lean on. At some point, though, a game is going to come down to Wilson’s arm, and he must show he can beat single-high coverage when that happens.
Single-high coverage is a problem for Wilson since it usually involves man coverage from the cornerbacks on the outside. Wilson currently lacks the confidence to challenge tight windows down the field – especially on vertical routes along the sidelines, which is supposed to be a weakness in single-high coverages.
So, when teams drop a safety in the deep middle and play man coverage in front of it, Wilson is getting rattled. This type of coverage often results in Wilson denying his first read or two and then escaping the pocket when it’s unnecessary. He will look to try and make something happen off-schedule despite having good options within structure if he just hangs tough in the pocket and attacks one-on-one matchups on the outside.
Wilson is doing much better when teams drop two safeties deep and make him play the short-to-intermediate game against zone coverage. Compared to the early portion of his rookie year, Wilson does seem more willing to take checkdowns when they are presented to him, so he is doing nicely when teams play soft against him. I also think he processes defenses fairly well, so when the windows aren’t tight, he looks more comfortable at scanning the defense and finding the best option.
Unfortunately for Zach, New England is likely going to attack him in a similar way to the Jets’ previous four opponents.
The Patriots are playing single-high coverage on an NFL-leading 75% of their plays. They also lead the league in man coverage, playing it 49% of the time.
New England’s cornerback group excels in man coverage. Jack Jones has allowed the second-lowest passer rating in man coverage among all cornerbacks at 26.2, while Jonathan Jones ranks third-best at 35.6.
This Patriots defense is perfectly constructed to continue exploiting Wilson in the same way he has been exploited over the past two weeks. If the Jets get the same version of Wilson we saw in Green Bay and Denver, it could be another ugly day for the Jets’ passing attack.
But Wilson has the talent to break free of this curse. He is capable of making teams pay for playing him the way that they do.
Wilson needs to start demanding respect from NFL defenses. To do it, he must get out of his own head and play loosely, letting his special gifts shine. Don’t worry about making a mistake. Stand calm and let it rip. Allow your natural talent to take over. Trust your guys to make plays in tight-window situations.
Once Wilson shows defenses that he will punish them for playing aggressive man coverage, they will start to back off, and from there, everything will get easier for Zach and the Jets’ offense. The box will lighten up, helping the run game. And for Zach himself, he will get to face more of the two-high coverage and zone coverage that he tends to play better against.
By now, Wilson has seen four teams try to stop him in very similar ways. He should be prepared if New England comes out with the same gameplan.