While it's still early in the season, we can look back at last week's game to get a handle on how this Patriots team compares to those of the past few seasons.
After the jump, I break down the positional groupings (BGA-style!) to try and highlight what the Jets need to look out for.
Other than a scare in preseason, when he suffered a knee injury in practice, it's been business as usual for Tom Brady, who led the Pats to a fourth quarter comeback win in the opener and threw for 288 yards and two touchdowns. However, he was uncharacteristically inaccurate by his standards, hitting on just 56% of his passes - a number he surpassed in all but one of last season's games.
The talk is that his talent in terms of receiving threats surrounding him has been downgraded, but he's always succeeded in the past regardless of who was with him. In the opener, Brady was without his top five targets from last season, a group that accounted for over 80% of his completions, yardage and touchdowns.
Still, there do seem to be some early season chemistry issues and while we can expect Brady and the Patriots to overcome these in the long run, it might be something the Jets can exploit. Injuries could exacerbate this problem even further because 75% of his targets last week went to Shane Vereen (who is out), Danny Amendola (who is doubtful) and Kenbrell Thompkins (who is healthy, but could play a reduced role if he doesn't improve).
As we know, the Jets usually try to pressure Brady up the middle and that's something they're equipped to do, even with Quinton Coples out. Against the Bills, Brady was pressured 19 times and his QB rating dropped to 51.3 on those plays. New England should counter with a no-huddle attack. In the Bills game, both teams went with plenty of no-huddle and the Patriots ended up running 95 offensive plays.
The offensive line is a solid group for the Patriots. Tackles Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer and interior linemen Logan Mankins, Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly have all been with the team for several years and should have good chemistry. There's no real weaknesses in that group and plenty of versatility to reshuffle the deck in the event of an injury issue.
I marveled last year at how backup tackle Marcus Cannon could go from looking so bad in preseason to ending up looking solid when called upon for regular season action. He got plenty of work last week as a jumbo tackle with Solder moving to tight end in those packages.
After Vereen's excellent first game, it's a break for the Jets to see him placed on temporary injured reserve with a wrist injury. This will also ensure he is sidelined when the teams meet again in week seven. However, the Patriots do have some depth at the running back position.
Stevan Ridley actually started the first game and averaged over five yards on nine carries, but was benched after fumbling a couple of times. Like Ridley, LaGarrette Blount is a former 1,000 yard back but he was less successful in his first game with New England, gaining just 15 yards on seven carries.
Brandon Bolden and Leon Washington are also on the roster but were inactive on Sunday. The issue for New England is that none of these backs have the same combination of ball security, pass catching and pass blocking skills that Vereen does, so their offense may lose some unpredictability if they try to use different backs for different things.
Who are these guys? With Danny Amendola doubtful, New England will have to rely on rookies Thompkins, Josh Boyce and Aaron Dobson (who was inactive last week). Thompkins, an undrafted free agent who turned heads in preseason, did catch four passes for 42 yards in his first game, but he was targeted 13 times and wasn't always on the same page with Brady. Boyce and Dobson are yet to record their first NFL catch. The Patriots also have utility man Julian Edelman - a more than capable receiving threat, but not regarded as a number one receiver and all-pro special teamer Matthew Slater (who has one career catch) on their roster.
If Amendola can play, then that will provide a boost. He's one of the better possession receivers in the league and capable of being extremely productive. I wouldn't be surprised to see Isaiah Trufant draw the assignment if Amendola can go.
Normally, injuries at receiver wouldn't be a big deal for New England because they can lean on their tight ends, but they have issues there too. All-pro Rob Gronkowski is working his way back from injury and listed as doubtful. If he can't play, they have veterans Michael Hoomanawanui and Matthew Mulligan - both of whom are known more for their blocking skills - and rookie Zach Sudfeld, who had no catches in his first game last week. Jets fans will of course be more than familiar with Mulligan.
While their offense is riddled with injuries, the Patriots defense is healthy for the most part and their starting lineup actually looks pretty solid.
The unit is led by Vince Wilfork, who might not be the player he once was, but is still a disruptive force. Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones are the ends. Ninkovich is not an elite player, but has made plenty of big plays against the Jets in the past. As for Jones, he got off to a great start as a rookie but fell off in the second half. His performance last week was good, suggesting he's going to get off to another strong start.
The only new starter on defense is Tommy Kelly, who joins the team after nine years as a Raider. The 32-year old has always been solid and is another guy who has troubled the Jets in the past. Depth-wise, there is less certainly. Rookies Joe Vellano and Michael Buchanan rotated in on Sunday.
At linebacker, the Patriots again have continuity with Dont'a Hightower, Brandon Spikes and Jerod Mayo. They all played well last year, but the Bills game showed you can run on them if you can get a blocker on Mayo. Look for Vladimir Ducasse to target him at the second level on some plays, leaving Nick Mangold to try to handle Wilfork or Kelly one-on-one. Tommy Bohanon's role should also be key, although in the past, the Jets have had better success against teams like New England by running from three wide sets.
The only other linebacker to get any reps last week was another rookie, Jamie Collins, who played just two snaps. Veteran Dane Fletcher is another option. New England will sometimes revert to a 3-4 look with Ninkovich and/or Jones on the outside.
At corner, the Patriots field two guys with off-field issues in Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard. Dennard was a surprise bright spot as a rookie and Talib was an important mid-season acquisition. Kyle Arrington will play the slot and, in fact, played every snap against the Bills. Yet another rookie, Logan Ryan, is the next man up and New England can also lean on ex-Jet Marquice Cole, if required.
At safety, the Pats have former first round corner Devin McCourty who has settled well into his role as a deep safety. Steve Gregory provides a solid veteran presence beside him, starting 12 games last year. Third round pick Duron Harmon could move into a starting role eventually, but he missed the first game with an injury. Tavon Wilson is currently the third safety.
This is a strong unit for the Patriots, led by all-pro coverage man Slater. It looks like they downgraded at punter by letting Zoltan Mesko go. Rookie Ryan Allen replaced him and produced underwhelming numbers in the first game. Steven Gostkowski is a reliable kicker, who beat the Jets in overtime last year. In the return game, they have Leon Washington, but he was inactive on Sunday, so Edelman returned punts and Blount returned kickoffs.
I'll be back tomorrow to recap the game!