There is an inevitable reality in the AFC East as long as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are active participants, the New England Patriots are the team to beat if you want to win the division. Until the New York Jets find a way to get past them in the standings, they will be forced to scrap for a wild-card spot and win three straight road games if they ever want to appear in a Super Bowl.
In Rex Ryan’s first two seasons as the Jets head coach, they were able to go 3-2 against the Patriots including a memorable playoff upset. In these games, the Jets were able to overcome Bill Belichick’s countermove to their talent at cornerback by building his offense through Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, thanks to terrific game planning and timely big plays from their offense.
They weren’t as fortunate last season as the Jets lost both games and never seriously threatened the Patriots for the division. On defense, the Jets couldn’t scheme around their deficiencies and they never got the needed big plays from their offense.
Why could the New York Giants beat the New England Patriots twice last year? They could hit the quarterback and they could make big plays in the passing game to take advantage of their weak secondary.
We have seen the Buffalo Bills sign Mario Williams and Mark Anderson to improve their ability to get after Tom Brady. Whether their passing game can generate big plays remains to be seen but at a minimum New England will have a difficult time protecting Brady and he shouldn’t have time in the pocket to distribute the ball to Gronkowski, Hernandez and recently signed Brandon Lloyd.
When you look at the Jets current roster, they are still yet to address their gaping hole at pass rusher. There is only so many blitzes you can throw at Brady until he beats you, hence the team’s need for a player who can simply beat his man one on one to the quarterback. There aren’t many players, if any who can adequately match up on the Patriots tight ends in single coverage. The Jets certainly aren’t equipped with them as they are still woefully undermanned at safety. They are going to need as many people in coverage as possible, meaning they don’t have the luxury to continually throw their extra defensive backs on blitzes.
The rumors have the Jets addressing their hole at pass rusher through the draft. How aggressive Mike Tannenbaum pursues the need remains to be seen but something needs to be done to enhance the speed and athleticism of the front seven.
On the other side of the football, you need to make plays in the passing game to beat New England. Think about the Jets victories over the Patriots in recent years. In 2009, Jerricho Cotchery gashed them for big plays down the middle of the field in the second half to lead a comeback victory. In 2010, Braylon Edwards and Dustin Keller ripped apart their secondary in the regular season victory and in the playoffs it was Cotchery and Edwards who again did the damage.
Last season the Jets didn’t have Cotchery ripping off a 58 yard reception in the 4th quarter or Edwards hauling in a 37 yard grab down the sideline to set up a touchdown. The big plays were nowhere to be found.
They must return this year, whether it comes from Dustin Keller being used properly, Braylon Edwards returning or the Jets finding another big play receiver.
It certainly could create a dilemma for the Jets on draft day. If you are sitting at number 16 with Melvin Ingram and Quinton Couples off the board, staring at either Courtney Upshaw or Michael Floyd, what do you do? Upshaw’s stock as a 3-4 player has fallen due to his size and potential issues with his knee while Floyd’s stock is climbing every day as a big play receiver. It seems at this point that Floyd would be much better value at that spot but is the need too big to ignore at outside linebacker or can you justify taking Floyd by saying you need to replace the big plays in the passing game that allowed you to beat New England in previous years?