Although it was far more stressful than it needed to be, the New England Patriots have one in the win column in 2023. The good news was that despite having issues closing things out offensively, the New York Jets are wholly unserious and only started to get it going offensively in the final 10 minutes. Zach Wilson was exactly who we thought he was, the Patriots played things defensively as such, and paired with a bad Jets offensive front, that was essentially your matchup. Still, lots of good things, some bad though, to go over on film.
The Pharaoh Brown Game™
Months, years, decades, even centuries from now, many will be asking where they were for the Pharaoh Brown Game™. For Patriots fans who had never heard of him before Sunday, Bill O'Brien brought him to the Texans right before he was fired in 2020. Once he was let go by the Indianapolis Colts just shy of a month ago, B.O'B must have put a good word in for him because the Patriots jumped all over him, and boy, did that help them a ton on Sunday.
Pretty standard Cover 1 look here for the Jets, with Adrian Amos shading towards Juju Smith-Shuster's side of the field for obvious reasons. Perfect coverage across the board here...well, except for Jordan Whitehead, who's ultimately responsible for Brown breaking free down the seam. Mac Jones could not have seen this and let it rip quicker than he did, and he put one right on the money. I was surprised that no one caught Brown, but he was strutting and diving for the pylon like prime Ben Coates in the flesh. Then he came out in the third quarter and stiffed arm poor Ashtyn Davis into the earth's crust to start the third quarter. Overall, I loved how B.O'B got him involved frequently as a blocker, both at tight end and fullback (!!!). Hopefully, this wasn't a one-week thing because he looked great all day, and I don't think the run game improvements were a coincidence. More on that later.
Lincoln Tunnel Jam
In no surprise, to me at least, a Jets offensive line, which was objectively bad going into the season, was even worse after they had to do some fire drill switches due to the Duane Brown injury. Alijah Vera-Tucker moved from right guard to right tackle, Mekhi Becton from right tackle to left tackle, and rookie Joe Tippman from Wisconsin slotted in at right guard. Safe to say that tipped the scales in the Patriots' favor even more than they already were in the trench battle. What was a surprise, meanwhile, was to see the Patriots start this game out in a base Cover-1 looks with no Judon or Uche out there on the opening drive until third down. That's your cue that the Patriots do not respect or fear Zach Wilson as a quarterback in the slightest, and I can't say I blame them. Here are those three plays.
It was a rough day for Becton yesterday, and that started on the ensuing drive when he got dusted off the line by Keion White before he got by another two guys to secure a quarterback hit.
Things didn't get much better later on either, as he was beaten badly by Matt Judon to give up that huge fourth-quarter safety. As you can see below, Becton starts to lose him at the point of contact, which allows Judon to make a heads-up spin move, and by that point, it's over. Credit here to Christian Barmore as well for forklifting Laken Tomlinson back into Wilson. He's had a fantastic start to 2023 as a pass rusher himself.
Now, onto the running game at long last. The Cowboys completely smothered both Breece Hall and Dalvin Cook, and the Patriots did more of the same despite getting run on more. Dallas gave up 2.4 a carry on 10 runs from Hall, Cook, and Michael Carter, while the Patriots gave up 1.7 a carry on 21 runs from Hall, Cook, and Nick Bawden. Lots of heavy fronts here, and New England wasn't afraid of getting beat over the top in the slightest. Some of the most unconcerned defensive football I've seen in quite some time.
Failure to Launch
While this was another good performance for Mac Jones, the issues of successfully going deep and getting on the same page with Juju Smith-Schuster persist. Talking about the deep shots, the one McCorkle gets a pass on was the one late in the second quarter going to Pop Douglas. How this wasn't pass interference, I have no idea. Sadly, that's how it goes sometimes, and you move on. Now, should that stop you from focusing on the side judge looking directly at the defensive pass interference in real-time? That's for you to decide.
Now to Juju. He had three targets in this game, including two misses on third and medium coming on the Patriots' third and second-to-last offensive drives of the game. Both plays below are designed for him to make a back-shoulder possession grab. My issue here isn't the play design, in fact, I think both plays are drawn out pretty well. The issue is the guy being asked to do this isn't the best option for this kind of play. Less so with the second play since Juju was in the slot, but DeVante Parker being the guy going for a designed intermediate 50/50 ball feels like it would have a higher chance for success. Flip him and Juju on play one here, and I'd like to think this is a third-down conversion.
Even if Jones puts that second throw on the screws, Smith-Shuster probably isn't making the play since he couldn't get his right arm up after some incidental contact with Michael Carter. In simple terms, he had two chances to make a potentially game-sealing play and went 0-for-2. Juju has taken a fair amount of heat this week, which given Jakobi Meyers' red-hot start with the Raiders, is understandable, but Mac went out of his way on 'EEI to prop up his teammate, saying he wants to get him more involved.
Although the Patriots rushing attack made a notable improvement from the last two games, it was Zeke Elliott leading the charge with 80 yards on 16 carries. More importantly than that, it wasn't just five yards and a cloud of dust every go around, he ripped off a few gains of 10-plus, and you got to see some much-improved run blocking as well.
I wouldn't expect anyone to argue against Zeke not losing a step. Dallas released him for a reason. But what Elliott lacks in tread on the tire, he makes up with craftiness as a runner, vision, and power. A couple of big shoutouts to Vederian Lowe and Trent Brown on plays two and three. Lowe's block at the second level got Zeke a guaranteed 10 yards, and then Trent Brown completely saved that last play. He has to move across the line just to take a shot from C.J. Mosely and fill up the right-side B gap. Mosely isn't exactly a small human being, and Brown just ate the hit like Rocky Balboa was tanking haymakers from Ivan Drago. Unbelievable game for Brown on the whole, nonetheless. No tackle has a higher PFF grade in the league through three weeks.
On that third run specifically, Elliott does an incredible job waiting for Brown to get in position on the pull, then waiting just long enough for guys at the second level to collapse on the line and jet outside the hashes. You may be wondering why Zeke wouldn't just go to the boundary instead of cutting back, but the likelihood of him beating D.J. Reed in a footrace was low. Plus, he still managed to get an extra five yards the hard way. I was very impressed with Zeke in this game, and it's a good thing he's warming up. His revenge game in Dallas awaits this weekend.
We're three weeks in, and once again, Christian Gonzalez had a spectacular day against one of the NFL's best wideouts, this time Garrett Wilson. According to Patriots.com's Evan Lazar, he went up against Wilson on 23 routes (a virtually dead-even split between man and zone), making up five of his nine targets from Zach Wilson. Three Catches for a whopping 18 yards is all that Wilson could put together, and two grabs for nine yards in man coverage (catch No. 3 was a bubble screen out of a bunch set).
The second play is by far the most impressive of the three, and here's why. You can see Gonzalez begin to read Zach Wilson's eyes as he's pulling back. While that gives up all that underneath room to Garrett Wilson, he's taking away his best matchup in Tyler Conklin on Matt Judon (didn't see Red Sleeves do this until I cut up the film, so that was quite the shock in real time). Although he missed the tackle on Wilson, that real-time processing led to a gain of only five yards on what could have easily gotten the Jets out to midfield. Simply unreal instincts by the rookie there.
Moving onto the snaps where Wilson wasn't getting looks, you saw the great things that Gonzalez showed off at Oregon and Colorado: Fluidity in and out of his breaks, the discipline to not bite on double moves/fakes, and simply being sticky in coverage. There was a good reason why the Wilson-to-Wilson connection was non-existent on Sunday.
Through three games in coverage against A.J. Brown, Devonta Smith, Tyreek Hill, Jalen Waddle, and Garrett Wilson, Gonzalez has held arguably 5 of the 15 best wide receivers in football to a combined 10 catches and 104 yards, blanking Hill with a PBU and INT. I said about a week after he was drafted that Gonzalez was Bill Belichick's best first-round draft pick since Dont'a Hightower, and the early returns are somehow underselling it. He's legitimately going to be a consensus top-10 cornerback at worst at the rate he's going at, perhaps even top-five. By the way, PFF has him graded out at No. 4 for those keeping count.
Final Score: New England Patriots 15, New York Jets 10
Gaffney's Three Stars from Patriots-Jets 1
3rd Star - Pharaoh Brown (2 Catches, 71 Yards, 1 TD)
2nd Star - Matt Judon (2 Sacks, 3 QB Hits, 2 TFLs, 1 Safety)
1st Star - Christian Gonzalez (Held Garrett Wilson to 3 Catches for 18 Yards)
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