Patrick Chung vs Bilal Powell
The New York Jets’ offense rebounded in week 14 when starting running back Matt Forte was limited to six snaps and third down back Bilal Powell was forced to carry the load. Carry it he did as Powell rushed for 145 yards and two touchdowns, easily outpacing Forte’s best of 100 yards this season.
Powell was a lone bright spot last week against Miami as he rolled to 82 yards rushing on just 16 carries. He added 11 receptions for 78 yards and often seemed to be the only player on offense giving maximum effort. Forte had a few bright moments this season but Powell looked to be a game changer the past two weeks.
For the Jets, the misuse of Powell over the past two seasons (sitting behind Chris Ivory previously) has likely cost them victories. He is showing an ability to pound between the tackles, get outside and make defenders miss, and remain a threat in the passing game.
To defend him, the Patriots will turn to what is traditionally the eighth man in the box, but with their nickel (three cornerbacks) and big nickel (three safeties) packages as their primary defensive looks, they are often lighter in the box to start with than most defenses. That makes undersized strong safety Patrick Chung the seventh man in the box and a key component against opposing rushing attacks.
Chung has an interesting history in New England having been a high draft pick taken with the pick at the top of the second round received from Kansas City for quarterback Matt Cassel. Chung spent four up-and-down seasons in New England primarily playing free safety as the second man back in the cover-two defense. He left in free agency after the 2012 season and signed with former college coach at Oregon, Chip Kelly, in Philadelphia. After another rough season at free safety led to his being cut by the Eagles, Belichick re-signed Chung on the cheap before the 2014 season.
Moved to strong safety (and with New England playing more press-man coverage with a traditional single-high safety with Devin McCourty) Chung surprised in 2014 playing tight coverage of backs and tight ends and strong and sure tackling in the running game. Seen by many as a fluke, he has earned a contract extension and is a key player on defense for the Patriots.
As the Jets rarely employ a tight end on offense for anything other than blocking in the running game, Chung should be busy accounting for Powell on Sunday. Chung will have to prevent big plays with Powell coming out of the backfield as well as keeping him contained in the running game.
With two oft-overlooked players who are now in a key role for their respective teams, the match-up in coverage and in the running game of Patrick Chung on Bilal Powell could be the most entertaining part of Saturday.