Another week and another key divisional matchup for the Patriots as they head to the Meadowlands looking to pick up their first win of the season against the New York Jets. The Patriots desperately need a win on Sunday as they look to make it 15 in a row against the Jets so here are three key matchups to watch.
1. Patriots front seven vs. Jets rushing game
Through two games, the Patriots rush defense has not been great, giving up 4.4 yards per attempt (21st in the NFL) and an average of 121 yards on the ground (23rd). Granted, these numbers come against two excellent offenses in the Philadelphia Eagles and the Miami Dolphins, but the front seven needs to play better in order for the Patriots to win games.
With the struggles of Zach Wilson, the Jets would rather keep the ball on the ground to limit the number of mistakes their third-year quarterback can make. The return of Breece Hall from an ACL tear and the addition of Dalvin Cook gives the Jets a one-two punch that can change the game, and so far, they rank second in the NFL with 5.4 yards per attempt.
However, 83 of those yards came on one Hall run in week one against the Bills. You take that out, and they are only averaging 3.5 yards per attempt, so the Patriots will need to limit the big plays on the ground and try to let Wilson beat them with his arm.
2. Patriots offensive line vs. Jets front seven
This will be a crucial matchup every week until the Patriots' offensive line proves not to be a complete liability. The unit has been both injured and ineffective through two weeks, not a great combination. However, they received good news today as it looks like left tackle Trent Brown will make his return from a concussion to play on Sunday. Still, the Patriots have not been able to run the ball through two games, and Mac Jones has been consistently under pressure when dropping back to pass.
Seemingly, the Patriots play a good defense each week, and this week brings maybe the best defense they'll see yet. The Jets came into the season boasting to be the best defense since the '85 Bears, and while they aren't quite there, they do pose a bunch of problems. Mainly, the pass rush has given teams, including the Patriots last year, fits.
Mac Jones was sacked 12 times in the two matchups of these teams a season ago as the Jets' front seven had their way. The Patriots will need to contain Quinnen Williams, John Franklin-Myers, and the rest of the vaunted defensive line to have a chance on Sunday.
3. Patriots tight ends vs. Jets linebackers/safeties
The Patriots receiving corps has been a revolving door of mediocrity so far this season, but one area where Mac Jones has found comfort has been with his tight ends, especially Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki. Part of that stems from the fact that the wideouts have trouble creating separation, and part is also due to the line's inability to block for more than a second or two. Either way, the two tight ends have made an impact early on and are arguably the most reliable unit on that side of the ball.
The Jets come into the game having given up the sixth-most fantasy points to tight ends in the NFL, so this could be an area where the Patriots can create an advantage in a game that figures to be low-scoring. If Jones is constantly under siege, look for Henry and/or Gesicki to have big days in order for the Patriots to win.