New England Patriots: Stopping the Running Game is Key on Sunday at New York Jets


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The New England Patriots face off for the second time in 2015 against the surprising New York Jets. For the Jets, it is a must-win home game with their playoff hopes hanging by a thread. For New England, it is another week short-handed in the secondary and at the wide receiver position.

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New York Jets head coach Todd Bowles may not be the favorite for coach of the year with Carolina still undefeated, but he has done wonders for the Jets. He had served as an interim head coach in Miami but they made a decision many in Miami regret passing on keeping Bowles and instead hiring Joe Philbin before the 2012 season.

Bowles has turned around the Jets on and off the field. This is a team which has been loaded with individual talent but who took on the persona of their head coach and played sloppy, undisciplined and inconsistent football. After years of the boasting and braggadocio of Rex Ryan in New York, the Patriots instead face a team which mirrors Bowles: disciplined, under-control and a winner.

The Patriots are thinking about being healthy in January; the Jets are trying to get to January. For the Patriots, the key is stopping the passing attack of the Jets with Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. However, the best way to stop the Jets passing game is to first take away the running game.

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The New York Jets offensive philosophy has swung away from the ground-and-pound offense of the past and instead is a passing offense that leans heavily on a running game to open up options. The running game in New York remains centered around their starting running back Chris Ivory.

Ivory leads the Jets with 951 yards on the ground in 13 games (all stats from Pro-Football-Reference unless otherwise noted). The Patriots will have their work cut out for them trying to stop Ivory who remains one of the most difficult running backs to bring down with a head of steam. The running game has been inconsistent topping 150 yards on the ground four times in 2015, but also gaining less than 75 yards on the ground five times.

When the Jets run the ball well, it is due to strong play up front. Left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson and center Nick Mangold are longtime stalwarts although Ferguson appears to have slowed down a bit and and Mangold has had health issues. Right tackle Breno Giacomini was joined by former Seahawks linemate James Carpenter and the duo are driving run blockers although they can struggle in pass protection.

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Veteran right guard Willie Colon was a surprise early in the season but a knee injury put him on the injured reserve. Brian Winters has stepped in for Colon and is a powerful blocker who struggles with inconsistency. He can be dominant in the running game one week and then pushed around the next.

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New England has invested in their front seven this offseason but will be without penetrating defensive tackle Dominique Easley who is out for the season on injured reserve with a thigh injury.  However, the Patriots have impressive rookie Malcom Brown inside alongside veterans Alan Branch and Sealver Siliga who usually serve as the early down run-stoppers.

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Siliga has seen his playing time dwindle as Brown and the impressive Akiem Hicks continue to collapse the pocket and pressure quarterbacks. However, he may be playing more if Chris Ivory gets going on first and second down. Hicks and Brown have played so well that Siliga and Branch to a lesser extent are relegated to role players on the defensive line.

Defensive ends Jabaal Sheard (who missed the first Jets game due to injury), Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich will have to set the edge and turn Ivory back inside to the linebackers and defensive tackles. While Ivory is primarily an inside the tackles runner, he has the ability to get outside the tackles and make big plays as safeties and cornerbacks struggle to bring him down.

At linebacker, the Patriots have a healthy Jamie Collins and there is a chance they will add Dont’a Hightower to the defense. Jonathan Freeny, who played over 30% of the snaps against the Jets in their October showdown is out. Jerod Mayo, who only played on special teams against New York, has become a regular contributor and his run-stuffing ability could be huge for New England on Sunday afternoon.

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The New England defense held the Jets to 89 yards on the ground in their first contest. Ivory was injured on the first play of the game and struggled to get in rhythm. The Patriots are tenth in the NFL in yards allowed rushing with just 1,339 yards, but with a lead much of the time New England often has teams throwing the ball to try and catch up.

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  • When the Patriots have tried to stop the run, they looked good. Other than against Denver and Philadelphia where they missed Dont’a Hightower, few teams have been able to run at will against New England. At the goal line, their jumbo package has been impressive in stopping runners short of the end zone and forcing teams to throw the ball.

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    However, during the game on Sunday, until the Patriots can prove that they can slow down and stop Chris Ivory on Sunday, the Jets will be featuring him all afternoon to set-up their dangerous play-action passing attack. For New England, the key to winning against the Jets will require they stop the ground game with their front six or seven and put the Jets in third-and-long to slow the passing attack.