This year’s Jets are not the typical doormat that the Patriots face twice and year and have beaten in 14 straight matchups.
But after losing quarterback Aaron Rodgers to a torn Achilles, the 1-1 Jets are a beatable team for the 0-2 Patriots and serve as an opportunity to get right before another difficult matchup in Week 4 against the Cowboys.
Here are the Patriots’ four most important players in Sunday’s early afternoon game.
The Patriots pretty desperately need some speed and play-making ability in their pass-catching corps. Douglas was benched after the first quarter of Sunday’s loss to the Dolphins when he lost a costly fumble.
The Patriots could have used their rookie wide receiver, who showed off his impressive agility on two catches early in the Week 2 contest, but head coach Bill Belichick wouldn’t put him back in on offense.
Surely he’s learned his lesson a week later.
The Liberty product shared snaps out of the slot with wide receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster and Kendrick Bourne in Week 1. Smith-Schuster hasn’t shown much of a burst early in his Patriots career as questions about his knee persist. Quarterback Mac Jones has struggled to connect deep with Bourne so far this season.
The Patriots loved Douglas this summer. They proved that with his playing time in the first five quarters of the season. Now they can allow him to build his confidence back up with regular playing time in Week 3.
If there’s a cornerback on the Jets to attack, it’s slot man Michael Carter — not either of their outside corners, Sauce Gardner or D.J. Reed. Douglas will do most of his work against Carter.
The entire offensive line could be listed here because the Patriots have struggled to move the ball on the ground through two weeks, averaging just 3.5 yards per carry so far this season for a 22nd ranking in the NFL.
But Strange is really the key to the Patriots’ potential offensive line turnaround. The Patriots have a pretty good idea of what they have in left tackle Trent Brown, center David Andrews and right guard Mike Onwenu. Right tackle could be a question mark all season whether Calvin Anderson, Riley Reiff, Sidy Sow, Vederian Lowe or Tyrone Wheatley Jr. playing in that spot. But Strange is the X-factor. He struggled for most of his rookie season, and the expectation was that he would improve after a full offseason.
Except he had an abbreviated summer. Strange missed almost all of training camp after suffering a knee injury in the team’s first padded practice. He goes against Jets defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, which is not a fun matchup, on Sunday. The hope is that Strange performs better in Week 3 than he did in his season debut.
Jets running back Breece Hall is averaging 9.7 yards per carry this season. In his two-year career, he averages 6.4 yards per clip. It’s a wonder why he only got four carries last week in a 30-10 loss to the Cowboys.
Breece’s playmaking ability is a potential issue for a Patriots defense that let up a 43-yard touchdown run to Dolphins running back Raheem Mostert.
One-fifth of Hall’s touches this season have gone for 20-plus yards. He has eight 20-plus yard touches in his nine career games.
“Breece definitely is able to make something out of I would say nothing at times. He’s able to make plays happen,” Bentley said Wednesday. “We’ve got to make sure we rally to the football. It’s always good to have 11 hats to the football, kind of being able to rally and tackle. Tackling is probably the biggest thing. Just got to make sure we get him to the ground.”
Bentley is not the last line of defense for the Patriots, but he is their primary communicator and defensive play-caller at middle linebacker. He leads the team with 15 tackles.
It is imperative for the Patriots to get pressure on Zach Wilson. The Jets quarterback was the NFL’s worst passer under pressure last season, based on PFF’s grading. He was the only QB worse than Jones in that situation.
Wilson has started this season 8-of-21 for 96 yards with one interception while facing pressure. He was just 25-of-83 for 349 yards with one touchdown and six interceptions in 2022.
Uche is off to another torrid pace to the 2023 season from a pressure perspective. He ranks third in PFF’s pass-rush productivity metric and fourth in pass-rush win rate among qualified edge defenders this season.
Uche ranked first in pass-rush productivity and seventh in pass-rush win rate last season.
If Wilson gets pressured, bad things happen for the Jets offense. And the Patriots’ defense will need to lead the way on Sunday.
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