Week 5 brings the next installment of the Jets-Patriots rivalry, the first meeting since New York’s 28-21 victory in last year’s AFC Divisional Playoff game.
The chess match between head coaches Bill Belichick and Rex Ryan drives the matchup between strengths when the Patriots have the ball. Much of the week’s attention has been focused on how the Jets will slow Tom Brady’s passing game. However, the Jets' offense against the Patriots' defense is an equally intriguing matchup, as both units have had sluggish starts to the season.
Here are three statistical areas to watch for Sunday against the Jets:
* The first time the Jets played the Patriots last season, they sent secondary pressure on 18 dropbacks, and Tom Brady struggled. Brady completed 10-of-18 passes with an interception in a 28-14 Jets win. When the teams met in Week 13, the Jets sent secondary pressure on 13 dropbacks, and Brady had far more success. Brady completed 7-of-10 passes with two touchdowns, averaging 14.1 yards per pass attempt against the blitz in a 45-3 Patriots win. When it seemed Brady had solved the Jets blitz, Ryan threw him a curveball in the playoffs. The Jets sent secondary pressure on only eight snaps, and rushed four or fewer rushers on 88 percent of Brady’s dropbacks. Additionally, Ryan devised a zone-heavy game plan, a significant deviation from the man-to-man coverages Ryan traditionally uses. That shift in philosophy rattled Brady enough (25-40, 248 yards, 2 TDs) for a 28-21 Jets victory. Where does Ryan go from here? If it’s back to extra pressure, the Jets have had good results through four weeks. However, defenses trying the same with Brady haven’t fared as well.
* The injury to Jets center Nick Mangold and inconsistent play from Shonn Greene has made it difficult for New York to run the football. The Jets have attempted only 92 rushes, fifth-lowest in the league. Greene’s power-running style hasn’t yielded the desired results, as Jets rushers ranked 30th in the NFL in yards gained after contact (117). As a result, 65.6 percent of New York’s plays from scrimmage have been passes through four games, a significant rise from 2010 (51.6) and 2009 (42.5). The Jets have called a pass (including sacks and scrambles) on half of first-down snaps, compared with 36.3 percent last season. New York’s production on first-down passes ranks near the bottom of the league in most statistical categories, and Rex Ryan has emphatically declared a return to a “Ground and Pound” offense. The Patriots have allowed a league-worst 11.8 yards per pass attempt on first down, so that may be welcome news.
* The Patriots are among the NFL’s most conservative defenses, sending four or fewer pass rushers on 82 percent of snaps this season. Mark Sanchez’s accuracy issues have manifested against conservative defenses. Sanchez ranks near the bottom of the league with a 65.6 completion percentage and 5.9 yards per pass attempt against four or fewer rushers. However, it’s not just against conservative pass rushes. Overall, Sanchez has regressed this season, even compared with his rookie year. Sanchez posted a 30.9 QBR in 2009, and improved it to 47.4 last season. Sanchez, now in his third season in the league, has posted a 20.0 Total QBR this season. That’s almost 35 points below the league average, and far worse than even his rookie season. The Jets need Sanchez to show some signs of progression, or Ryan’s patience may start to run thin.