The Sam Darnold-led New York Jets welcome in the Tom Brady-led New England Patriots on Monday night. ESNY brings you the statistical scouting report.
Throughout the season, I’ll be previewing the New York Jets‘ opponent each week with a look at their greatest strengths and weaknesses from a statistical standpoint.
Let’s dive into some key numbers on the New England Patriots heading into this Monday night’s crucial AFC East battle.
Strength: Pass protection
The Patriots have fielded a strong passing attack thus far in 2019, ranking fifth in passing yards per game (284.8), fifth in passing offense DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) and sixth in passing offense EPA (estimated points added).
Driving New England’s elite aerial assault has been the pass protection of their offensive line. Tom Brady has had all kinds of time to scan the field. He has been pressured on just 26.1 percent of his dropbacks, the third-lowest rate among the top-32 qualified quarterbacks. New England’s allowed sack rate of 4.5 percent ranks seventh-best in the league.
Left guard Joe Thuney has had a particularly great season. He has allowed only six pressures across 241 pass-blocking snaps, placing him fifth among guards in pass-blocking efficiency. Thuney should see plenty of matchups against Leonard Williams, who leads the Jets in pass-rush snaps from the right side of the defense (136).
The Jets front seven came to life against Dallas last week. They racked up eight hits on Dak Prescott while pressuring him on 54.8 percent of his dropbacks, the highest rate of Week 6. Jordan Jenkins‘s return gave the edge unit some life, while the absence of Cowboys starting tackles La’el Collins and Tyron Smith opened things up for Gregg Williams’ unit.
To pull off another home upset, the Jets will need to create that level of pressure again. If Tom Brady comes off the field with a clean jersey, then he probably picked the other team apart — and he’s left most of his games this year with a clean jersey. The Jets cannot allow that to happen on Monday night.
Weakness: Run game
The ground attack has been an issue for New England. They are ranked 18th in rush offense DVOA, 21st in rushing yards per game (101.5), 27th in yards per rush attempt (3.5), and 31st in rush offense EPA. Those rankings resemble huge drop-offs from where the Pats placed in 2018, when they were fifth in rushing yards per game (127.3), ninth in rush offense EPA, ninth in rush offense DVOA, and 17th in yards per rush attempt (4.3).
Part of the issue has been a lack of elusiveness from Sony Michel. The second-year back ranks last in yards after contact per rush attempt (2.0). A lack of avoided tackles is a reason for Michel’s after-contact struggles. He has forced a missed tackle once every 12.5 rush attempts, third-worst among qualified running backs.
Fortunately for New England, they have started to show some signs of life on the ground over the past two weeks. Against the Giants and Redskins (granted, two very bad defenses), the Patriots averaged 122.0 rushing yards per game, 4.0 yards per rush attempt, and scored a total of four rushing touchdowns. Michel is hot, averaging 88.5 yards per game and 4.7 yards per attempt over his last two games.
Against a Jets run defense ranked fifth in fewest yards per rush attempt allowed (3.5), this battle is going to be crucial. Will Michel stay hot? Or will his performance look more like it did in his last clash with the Jets, when he ran for 11 yards on nine carries back in Week 3?
Strength: Pass defense
This is a Patriots defense that has been historically dominant against the pass. Let’s run through a few of their most impressive all-time records:
- Most consecutive pass attempts faced to start a season without allowing a touchdown pass (191)
- Lowest passer rating allowed in NFL (42.6) — 19.9 points better than the second-ranked 49ers and the lowest allowed through six games since the Super Bowl-winning 1996 Packers
- Lowest passer rating allowed versus league average (-48.6) through six games
- Most interceptions (14) whilst allowing fewer than two touchdown passes through six games
- Second-most sacks (25) whilst allowing fewer than two touchdown passes or less through six games (trailing only the 1976 49ers)
Nobody has been able to crack the Patriots defense, which is allowing 4.5 points per game to opposing offenses. The most points an offense has put on them in a game this season? Ten, which the Bills did back in Week 4.
Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, Devin McCourty, Jonathan Jones, Duron Harmon, J.C. Jackson and Patrick Chung make up what is on track to become one of the greatest secondaries in the history of football. Sam Darnold and Adam Gase have their work cut out for them.
Weakness: Run defense
New England’s run defense is great, but it isn’t quite as good as their pass defense. They are ranked third in rush defense DVOA, third in fewest rushing yards per game allowed (73.7), 10th in rush defense EPA, and 16th in fewest yards per rush attempt allowed (4.2).
Yes, a third-ranked DVOA rush defense is New England’s weakness on that side of the ball. They have been that good all-around. The Pats defense sits at the top on third down, in the red zone, in takeaways, and most importantly, in scoring per drive.
The Patriots hit a rough patch in run defense from Weeks 4-5 in games against the Bills and Redskins, allowing two rushing touchdowns and 144.0 yards per game on 6.7 yards per attempt. They rebounded against the Giants, holding them to 52 rushing yards on 3.3 yards per attempt.
Over New England’s other four games outside of Weeks 4-5, they have allowed no rushing touchdowns and just 40.5 yards per game on 2.5 yards per attempt.
Special Teams tidbit: Placekicking a surprising issue in New England
The Pats faced a shocking crisis early in the season, as the usually elite Stephen Gostkowski got off to a brutally poor start.
Gostkowski had made 97.0 percent of his extra-point attempts since the 2015 distance change, missing only six out of 198 regular season point-after tries. Out of nowhere, he lost his touch on extra points, missing four of his 15 tries to start 2019 (73 percent conversion rate). He also missed a 48-yard field goal.
In turn, the Patriots cut ties with their all-time scoring leader after only four games. From 2013-18, Gostkowski was the highest-scoring player in the league and was one of only two kickers (along with Justin Tucker) to make over 90 percent of his field-goal attempts and 97 percent of his extra-point attempts (minimum 100 tries on each).
New England turned to Mike Nugent as Gostkowski’s replacement. So far, the results have been shaky. Nugent missed his first extra-point attempt with the Patriots, but he rebounded to make his next eight attempts. He also missed a 40-yard field goal in his second game.
Overall, Nugent posted a scoring percentage of 82.4 percent over his first two games with New England (14 points scored out of 17 possible), slightly below the league average of 84.5 percent. That’s nearly identical to the scoring rate posted by Gostkowski over his first four games, which was 82.0 percent (32/39).
On Monday night, the Patriots will hope to break their active streak of five straight games with at least one missed kick.