Patriots vs. Jets: Five Things to Watch

The 2-5 New England Patriots take on the 0-8 New York Jets this week on Monday Night Football in a battle between the bottom two teams in the AFC East. With that being said, even with the Patriots struggles this season, there is absolutely no reason they shouldn’t come away with a victory on Monday night. The Jets are unanimously thought of as the worst team in the NFL. Their record reflects that as well, as they are the only winless team in the league.

Furthermore, the Week 9 matchup represents the Patriots’ last chance to turn this season around. Even with a victory, New England will still have an uphill battle for a playoff spot, but with a loss, their playoff chances will be very far fetched.

Here are our five things to watch for in the Patriots vs. Jets Monday Night Football showdown.

Chase Winovich’s Playing Time

Chase Winovich started the season as one of the Patriots’ best defenders but over the past three weeks, his snap count has steadily declined. For example, before Week 6 against Denver, Winovich had played over 50% of the defensive snaps in each of the first four games. He had become a three-down player. However, in Week 6 he played 34% of defensive snaps, 20% in Week 7, and only 9% in Week 8. Winovich seems to be back playing as a situational pass rusher. New England has rarely used him against the run in the past three weeks.

What makes the decision more curious is how bad the Patriots run defense has played the past couple of weeks. Don’t get it twisted, Winovich hasn’t played great against the run, but it’s not like anyone else playing in his place is having better luck. His pass-rush snaps have also decreased, which is strange, as he’s by far the Patriots’ best pass rusher. It’s a very interesting situation that doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. Some have suggested his decreased role could be a result of a disciplinary decision, but Bill Belichick has suggested that not to be true. Hopefully, we’ll see Winovich play a larger role on Monday.

More Josh Uche?

Coming into the season, the biggest concern regarding the Patriots defense was their lack of depth at linebacker. Those concerns turned to reality when the season began. Rookie Josh Uche, who was supposed to help aid some of those concerns, missed time after being placed on Injured Reserve early in the season. Finally, last week against the Bills, Uche made his NFL debut. He didn’t play much, only 12 defensive snaps, but he made an immediate impact (QB pressure and 1 tackle).

Disregarding stats, the most noticeable thing about Uche is his quickness compared to someone like Ja’Whaun Bentley. Plenty of times this season, we’ve seen opposing offenses take advantage of Bentley in space. Uche has the athletic ability to stop some of those plays. Just watch Uche tackle Josh Allen in the open field on a scramble in the clip below.

In his limited snaps, Uche played both on the edge and inside linebacker. It’s still early, but his role could end up being similar to that of last season’s Kyle Van Noy, and Dont’a Hightower. Both Van Noy and Hightower played on the edge and off-ball linebacker.

If it was up to us, we’d start integrating Uche more and more into the defense. Playing the young guys feels like the direction the Patriots should be moving towards anyways.

The Patriots Running Back Situation

The running back room in New England looks to be nearing full strength. Sony Michel was back at practice this week, although that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll play this Sunday, as the Patriots have 21 days to activate him. If Michel does play, it will be very intriguing to see how the Patriots handle the running back situation. Michel was once used as the starting early-down back, but it’s hard to argue that Damien Harris should lose that role. In four games Harris has 279 rushing yards on 5.7 yards per carry. He’s a hard runner and hits the hole with reckless abandon. Harris has been one of the few bright spots on offense this season.

Michel, on the other hand, hasn’t played since Week 3. Ironically, Week 3 was Michel’s best performance of the season. He ran for 117 yards on only nine carries. Some may suggest Michel and Harris should split carries, which could happen. If it does, it will be interesting to see how the Patriots juggle snaps for Rex Burkhead and James White.

In our eyes, we’d like to see Harris remain the lead back. He’s shown a lot of promise, especially against Buffalo, and we’d like to see if he can continue that. We wouldn’t be opposed to getting Michel some carries as well, but it should come in relief of Harris. If everything goes right, the Patriots could have a nice combination at running back.

Will Cam Newton Build off of Last Week’s Solid Performance?

The costly late turnover by Cam Newton clouded the very solid performance he had throughout most of Sunday’s game against the Bills. The criticism for the fumble is deserved, but it’s important to recognize that the offense looked much better last week than what we’ve seen a couple of weeks prior. On Sunday, Newton threw for 174 yards and ran for 54.

Josh McDaniels used more quick throws and quarterback runs to help suit the offense to Newton’s playstyle. Once again, Jakobi Meyers stood out as Newton’s favorite weapon. Moving forward, it’s important that Newton, and the offense, earn McDaniels and Belichick’s trust back. There were situational calls last Sunday that clearly showed a lack of confidence in Newton and the offense. Stringing together a few nice performances should do a lot for that trust to be built back up.

If there was any time for Newton to put together another nice game it’s against the Jets. New York allows 282.2 yards per game through the air, that’s fourth-most in the NFL. The secondary, like most of the Jets roster, lacks talent. Brian Poole is their biggest threat in the secondary. The Jets also have very little pass rush, especially on the edges. The Jets are an opposing quarterbacks dream matchup. Newton *should* be able to put up a strong performance.

Can the Interior Defensive Line Hold Up?

The Patriots run defense has been among the worst in the NFL so far this season. New England gives up an average of 140.4 yards per game on the ground. That’s sixth-most in the NFL. The interior defensive line isn’t to blame for all the struggles against the run, (the edge defenders and the linebackers have all had a ton of issues), but the defensive line is a big concern, especially if Lawrence Guy can’t play on Monday. Guy is New England’s best interior run defender and it’s not particularly close. If Guy is out of the lineup Monday, New England will rely on Nick Thurman and Byron Cowart against the run, with Adam Butler playing as a situation pass rusher.

The Jets are bad at almost every statistical area in the game of football, but the one area they’ve had a little success in is their rushing attack. Frank Gore and La’Mical Perine, will both get a chance to carry the rock. The Jets offensive line has also had some success run blocking. Mekhi Becton, in particular, has been really fun to watch. 

At the end of the day, this is the most important matchup to watch on Monday. New York shouldn’t stand a chance passing the ball, but it’s fair to question if New England can consistently stop the run with this defensive line. Again, the Jets aren’t even at the top half of the league in rushing offense, but it’s their best strength and run defense is the Patriots’ biggest defensive weakness.

Let us know what you’ll be watching for this Monday!

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