A conversation with our good friend Mike Dussault of Pats Propaganda previewing the New York Jets and New England Patriots for 2015. Make sure to give Mike a follow!
JC: While I hate to admit it, New England is still the favorite in the AFC East regardless of what happened this off-season. Do you agree but more importantly what team do you think is the biggest threat to finally knock them off?
MD: Well of course I agree, Joe! When I look at the rest of the AFC East they are all so similar, with good defenses but quarterbacks and offenses who need to take that next step. As you’re well aware, the Pats-Jets have been extremely competitive in recent years. Throw out the Buttfumble game and the last five games have been decided by a total of 13 points, including two games that went to overtime. Now you bring in the new secondary this year and it’s hard not to see the Jets really giving the Patriots problems. As for the Dolphins, I’m not convinced their defensive depth in back of their front four will be enough for a full season to really challenge for the division. With the Bills I think their QB situation is the worst in the division, though obviously Rex seems to always give Brady problems and get his team up to play New England.
That feeds into my first question for you — the Jets (save two games) always played the Pats tight in Rex’s years. No other coach has consistently given Brady and his offense so many problems. I know Todd Bowles brings a similar attacking defensive philosophy, but is it more than that? There have been other defenses with similarly talented fronts but none of them ever seemed to get up to play the Pats like Rex’s Jets did. That is one thing I am most interested to see. Do the Bills now give us those kind of problems? And does Bowles know how to scheme and use his players to confuse Brady like Rex did?
JC: Rex is always going to have his team ready to play New England but then also potentially be ready to have his team go on vacation the following week (the Jets have losses by 21, 40 and 20 the past three years after close losses to the Patriots). Yes, they always seemed to show up for those games but the reality is Rex was 1-7 against New England over his last four years with the Jets, even Joe ‘freakin Philbin has a better record than that. I’d predict the Bills get a split in year one with Rex and I’m hoping the Jets can manage the same.
It is hard to project what Bowles will do against Brady. He did coach one game against New England back in 2011 when he was the Interim Head Coach for the Dolphins and lost 27-24 but that was awhile ago. It is fair to assume the AP Assistant Coach of the Year, who made chicken salad out of chicken crap with a Arizona unit decimated by injuries and suspensions in 2014 can cook something up. The addition of Darrelle Revis, Buster Skrine, Antonio Cromartie and Marcus Gilchrist paired with the Jets defensive line talent will certainly help. If all else fails, we know Jeff Cumberland, who is terrible for 14 games per year will be able to beat Patrick Chung for his yearly touchdown or two.
Throwing it back to you, tell me why you aren’t worried about the Patriots secondary this year despite the cornerback depth chart looking ready for ACC competition, not NFL competition? (I joke, I joke).
MD: I wrote a piece this offseason how, aside from a couple one-year big money deals, the Patriots have never invested in cornerbacks, especially long term. So this year they’re starting over again, but they have two promising young guys, Logan Ryan who had five interceptions as a rookie before becoming the biggest target in the secondary last year because his name wasn’t Revis or Browner, and Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler, who was making plays on the ball from training camp all the way through that defining play. Ideally I think they want those two guys to step into the starting roles, but if they falter the Pats have stuck by their old tradition of giving castoff vets one-year deals to see if they can recapture their magic. Bradley Fletcher, Robert McClain and Terrell Brown are this year’s projects and if you go back a couple years all three were promising starters. Somewhere in there they’ll find their starting trio.
But clearly the pressure is now on the front seven to get consistent pressure because they’re not going to be able to play as much man defense as they did last year. If everyone stays healthy, this is the most talented and deepest defensive front seven the Patriots have had in a long time. It’s littered with first and second round picks who are just hitting their prime. If the last two first rounders, defensive tackles Dominique Easley and Malcom Brown, find their stride we could see a lot different front than what we were accustomed to with Vince Wilfork as the primary chess piece. The other big key is Jerod Mayo staying healthy for the first time since 2012. His presence opens the door for Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins to be a lot more flexible attacking the quarterback.
But I can’t lie, matching up with Marshall and Decker with no good-sized corners is not ideal.
What do you think the Jets have to do to get over the hump in New England? Because I really think that is the key, you have to beat the Pats in Foxboro on 10/25. How do you attack us? (I promise not to tell Belichick.
JC: If you do tell Belichick, I will have Tom Brady destroy your cell phone…
I think you need to play aggressive. On paper, the Jets should be able to attack outside the numbers in the three step passing game to Marshall and Decker, while also giving them opportunities on quick developing screens. The ball needs to be getting out of Geno Smith’s hands early in the play, as the Jets offensive line won’t regularly hold up against the Patriots front seven on deeper drops. You need to challenge the Patriots corners to regularly make tackles in space on the Jets pass catchers with size.
Defensively, it is about keeping the pocket muddled and hitting Brady early. If he gets into a rhythm in the short passing game, he is nearly indefensible. I’d like to see Darrelle Revis utilized against Julian Edelman, who is quietly a top 20/25 WR in the NFL while letting Antonio Cromartie worry about Brandon LaFell. There is no right answer for Gronk but it certainly isn’t leaving him one on one with Calvin Pryor. The Jets likely need to bracket him, maybe with some combination of Dee Milliner and Marcus Gilchrist.
Overall, just keep attacking. Go for it on 4th and short. Take a vertical shot once per quarter. Throw the ball up into the end-zone when inside the 20, instead of going underneath and hoping somebody misses a tackle.
With the #DeflateGate news dropping mid conversation, I have to ask a Garoppolo question: How confident are you in him the first four games and what is your expectation for the Patriots in that stretch?
MD: Yeah, the “just keep attacking” approach is a good one because we’re all aware it takes a full 60 minutes to beat the Patriots on most days, even if they’re flat. And yes, Gronkowski is the difference maker for this offense. No easy answer on him and certainly worth extensive game planning for him if you’ve got Edelman and LaFell taken out of things. With the turnover at running back it will be interesting to see where they’re at in mid-October, because I wouldn’t rule out flooding the field with DBs and making them beat you running the ball. With youth along the interior line and not many proven guys at RB, that seems a good way to consider.
Secretly, I’m excited about Garoppolo and somewhat see the (potential) Brady suspension as a long-term positive. Am I just looking at this with rose colored glasses? Perhaps. But Garoppolo fits the Brady offense better than any backup who has come before him. His quick release is superlative and he showed very good deep ball accuracy and escapability in last year’s preseason.
Still, it’s not like I expect him to step in and shred a tough early schedule (vs. Steelers, at Bills, vs. Jags, at Cowboys). He’ll have to take a page out of Brady’s early career — taking what the defense gives you and don’t be forced into mistakes. Of course that is much easier said than done, but when you’ve got a tight end like Gronk it certainly helps things a lot. I think people will be surprised with his deep ball and he’ll deliver some explosive sideline plays we haven’t seen much of in recent years.
We’re all probably at least penciling in a win over the Jags and let’s not forget this team was 2-2 last year with Brady so I think that’s kind of the cusp. Pull one out against the Steelers, Bills or Jags and set the table for Brady to once again hand it off a bunch of times en route to running all over the Colts and the Pats should be back on track. Again, assuming Brady does actually sit these first four games.
Speaking of game managing, what’s the feeling on Geno Smith for this year? He’s had plenty of close ones with the Pats, and with more zone defense this year he should be able to move the ball. The big question of course is avoiding the mistakes, that seems like 75% of beating the Patriots defense. We saw Ryan Fitzpatrick throw for well over 300 yards against us a few times, but it was always the costly interceptions that gave the games to the Patriots. Does he or Geno have it in them to play a mistake-free game in Foxboro? Sanchez had one!
JC: I harbor more optimism for Geno Smith than most Jets fans. He has been a roller coaster of inconsistency through two years but hasn’t exactly been placed in the most ideal situation. It is common to be excited about a new Offensive Coordinator, particularly when it leads to Marty Mornhinweg going far away but Chan Gailey does have a history of getting production out of middling talent at QB. Smith has talent but can Gailey help him find a way to avoid turnovers and put him in a system that will play to his strengths? The jury is very much out despite the boost Brandon Marshall, Devin Smith and James Carpenter should provide. If Smith can be the player he was the final four weeks of 2014 (and 2013 for that matter), the Jets will be a playoff team. If he is continues to be a turnover machine, we should be seeing Ryan Fitzpatrick sometime between week 6-8.
Fitzpatrick is of course the most popular guy in town (as most backup quarterbacks are) and I do think he was the best veteran to switch teams this off-season, apologies to Josh McCown, Brian Hoyer and Matt Cassel. However, there is a reason he has been on four different teams in four seasons. The best case scenario for the Jets is that Smith plays to his potential and they avoid having to lean on Fitz and his magnificent beard.
Final question for you and this pains me to ask but what is the feeling like approaching the season after winning the Super Bowl? Obviously you are experienced with this (shivers) but is there a “grace period” or less anxiety surrounding the off-season and early season games?
MD: This Super Bowl was special for me because, while I was a fan of the team since I was a kid and nothing can take away the shock and awe of winning the first three, there’s something different now with me blogging about the team and becoming so much more invested in a visible way. Plus, and I know no one will feel bad for me, but there’s something extra excruciating about getting so close so many times and falling just short. We know Belichick and Brady aren’t going to be around forever, the window is certainly getting closer to closed so it was very gratifying to get that one more title.
That said, it’s been hard to sit back and just enjoy the offseason. Losing Revis, Browner, et al and then dealing with all the Deflategate stuff wasn’t exactly a blast. Most of all I just enjoyed watching physical press man coverage and now it looks like we’re back to more zone. I’ve always enjoyed watching how good Revis is and it was nice to cheer for him for a season and see that kind of defensive football. Not looking forward to having to beat him again.
I think the pressure is off a bit, but after Deflategate I still think there’s a feeling of having something to prove. I don’t really buy into Brady being “extra extra mad and focused” now, he’s always been pretty locked in, but I do think this team has some external sources for motivation that defending Super Bowl winners don’t usually get.