The Patriots defense was supposed to have turned a corner after winning in Tampa Bay. Instead they came out ten days later and had one hell of an ugly drive to start the game against the Jets. Yes, they partially righted the ship and came through on the final drive so it wasn’t as bad as we’ve seen this season, but it’s hard to play much worse on third down than they did on that opening drive.
With any more drives like this one the Patriots betting odds for the next game will drop like a rock facing last year’s MVP Matt Ryan. Third down is where games are won or lost and in this contest, especially out of the gate, the Patriots were out of sync and overthinking.
Let’s take a look at three of the third down conversions on that opening drive and try to figure out what was going on out there.
1. Third-and-10: 23-yard pass to Robby Anderson
This is a four-man rush by the Pats and the Jets keep two backs in to help with the protection. So that leaves…entering data into football computer… three Jets receivers being covered by…wait for it… SEVEN Patriots defenders, yet somehow Anderson is WIDE OPEN. How exactly? Malcolm Butler, playing off man coverage, turns his hips toward the middle of the field as Anderson takes it outside. Bad technique by Butler as the other two receivers are covered.
2. Third-and-8: 16-yard scramble by Josh McCown
Again we’ve got a four-man rush here, but they’re breaking the cardinal rule of Bill Belichick pass rush school. No, it’s not “don’t get pressure” you jerks, it’s that the worst place to be is behind the quarterback and both Wise and Marsh look like they’re headed to a two-man meeting in back of McCown. Even Adam Butler almost rushes right by him as well. This opens up the lane for him to tuck it and easily pick up the first down.
As I pointed out in the Posits, this is a good example of FNGs (fucking new guys) making mistakes in critical spots. The coverage in the secondary is good, it was just a lack of discipline by the pass rushers.
3. Third-and-6: 30-yard pass to Jeremy Kerley
This one was the most maddening because we actually saw some progress from the pass rushers. Marsh clearly makes a point this time to NOT run behind McCown, however he overplays it and loses contain on the QB this time. Butler makes an excellent move up the middle, breaking free from his blocker and destroying any chance McCown had of stepping up into the pocket. Wise wins too on the edge, but neither him nor Butler can finish, a recurring theme in this game and the previous one in Tampa.
McCown is flushed out past where Marsh was just standing and gets off the pass while on the move and Kerley makes a terrific leaping grab over Butler. Kerley was pretty perfectly covered by Butler and it’s hard to see how this was completed when you see below how not open he was. Still it was the little things that hurt, though you have to give the Jets credit for a tough throw and catch.
The final third down, a third-and-one ended up being a one-yard touchdown pass and capping off one of the ugliest drives of a season loaded with them. A stop at any of those third down would have left us half-smiling, thinking of the Bend-Don’t-Break and telling ourselves these are the same old Patriots. But no, they weren’t just third down conversions, they were explosive plays.
Here I was preaching about “finishing” in the gameplan and they did the unexpected…forgot to come out of the locker room for the start of the game. Add it to the list of problems that need to be eliminated.