The New England Patriots will seek to improve to 7-0 for just the third time in franchise history against the New York Jets on Monday Night Football.
Down Josh Gordon, Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo, and Rex Burkhead, the New England Patriots will still seek to find a way to win their fourth away game this season and extend their overall undefeated record to 7-0 on the year. The Pats already have road wins against the Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills, and Washington Redskins in their back pocket.
Because of those victories, this 2019 team already has the same number of wins away from Gillette Stadium as the 2018 squad did all of last year. That version of the Patriots went 3-5 on the road and still managed to win their sixth Super Bowl title – unforgettably traveling to Arrowhead Stadium and winning the AFC Championship in overtime along the way – so it bodes well that this current incarnation seems to be playing well away from home in the early stages of the season so far.
New England’s schedule has undeniably been fairly soft up until this point, however. The Patriots’ opponents through the first seven weeks of the season have gone a combined 12-30 for a .286 winning percentage, which makes New England’s schedule the second-easiest in the league behind the San Francisco 49ers’ schedule (.282).
Similar to San Francisco though, New England’s path forward is about to get a whole lot harder.
After this evening’s game against the New York Jets, the Patriots will take on the Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens, Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, Houston Texans, and then the Kansas City Chiefs in Weeks 8-14. Half of those games come at home (Browns, Cowboys, Chiefs) and half are on the road (Ravens, Eagles, Texans), but none of them should be easy. These six opponents have a combined record of 23-18 (.561) through seven weeks, and three of the six currently lead their divisions (Ravens, Cowboys, Chiefs).
The Patriots would be wise not to overlook the Jets at MetLife Stadium on Monday night, however. Though New England won the first meeting at Gillette Stadium in Week 3 by a score of 30-14, that game was played with a third-string quarterback (Luke Falk) starting for the Jets… and he’s no longer even on New York’s roster. In his place now is the Jets’ intended starter, former first-round pick Sam Darnold, and he presents a whole different set of challenges for this New England Patriots defense.
Darnold is extremely accurate in the pocket, and he also has the presence of mind and the overall strength and sturdy frame to evade would-be tacklers and sack artists while still keeping his eyes downfield for the big play opportunity. With a talented group of pass-catchers at his disposal – including Robby Anderson, Jamison Crowder, Demaryius Thomas, and Le’Veon Bell – Darnold is easily the most dangerous quarterback New England will have faced this season.
The Pats did a nice job limiting Bell to just 35 rush yards and 28 receiving yards in the first meeting between these teams. They’ll need a similar shutdown effort against him on Monday night, as the high-priced free agent addition remains the most talented and explosive dual-threat on the Jets’ offensive roster.
Anderson and Crowder were each held below 25 receiving yards in Foxborough in Week 3, but that was with Falk at QB; having Darnold back at signal-caller should elevate the ceilings for both players and the potential damage they could do. Thomas also will come into this matchup with a chip on his shoulder after recently opening up on the “insulting” nature of his short-lived experience as a New England Patriot; he should be plenty motivated to show Bill Belichick why it was a mistake to trade him to the Jets earlier this season.
Countering this company of threats in the New York offense is arguably the league’s most impressive secondary and linebacking crew in the Patriots defense.
Cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, J.C. Jackson, and Jonathan Jones are all playing at an extremely high level this season, and they each have the talent and wherewithal to win their individual matchups against Anderson, Crowder, Thomas, and former Patriot Braxton Berrios. Safeties Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, and Patrick Chung (if he plays) provide extra added insurance against New York’s playmakers on the back-end as well.
It will be up to Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, and Kyle Van Noy to keep their eyes on Bell throughout this game and minimize whatever damage he hopes to inflict on the New England defense. This “Boogeymen” crew of linebackers is also buttressed by important role-players like John Simon, Chase Winovich, Elandon Roberts, and Ja’Whaun Bentley, each of whom could be the star of the evening if they break out with some game-changing plays.
Make a note of all those names listed above. One of them (or even several of them) could be responsible for a major takeaway, a defensive touchdown, or a special teams highlight that changes the entire complexion of the game this evening. The Patriots defense and special teams units have so far carried the team in 2019, and that momentum will look to continue on Monday Night Football in the Meadowlands.
Offensively, New England will look for a fast start. They came out of the gates swinging in Weeks 1-3 against the Steelers, Dolphins, and Jets, but have since stalled out a bit in Weeks 4-6 against the Bills, Redskins, and Giants. Part of the blame for this offensive malaise could certainly be directed at the offensive line and struggling run game, but it’s also a byproduct of the many injuries suffered by the New England Patriots on that side of the ball.
With many of their top playmakers injured and already ruled out for this contest at wide receiver, tight end, and running back, it will be up to New England quarterback Tom Brady and some of his role-player-type weapons to move the ball effectively on this stingy Jets defense. Look for some combination of James White, Ben Watson, Jakobi Meyers, or Sony Michel to rise up to the challenge and turn in a huge performance if the New England Patriots hope to escape New Jersey with a victory tonight and a 7-0 record this season.