Almost midway through the year, it’s clear the Patriots defense does not play well with others.
And for that reason, it continues to ace this 2019 test.
The Pats posted their third defensive shutout of the season Monday night, pounding the Jets 33-0 in their own stadium. They’re on pace to allow 110 points for the season, which would shatter the all-time league record. Special teams isn’t far behind in the classroom, having already scored two and touchdowns and a weekly victory in the field position battle.
As for the offense, there’s work to do. Tom Brady was bothered some in New York, which could be explained by an occasionally leaky offensive line. Or rookie receivers not getting open. Or Brady showing small, steady signs of decline.
The truth is they’re all true to varying degrees, overshadowed by the big, bad defense on a historic track.
Here are the position-by-position grades from the Pats’ latest win:
Tom Brady’s sizzling start cooled off quickly after he delivered accurate throws on 84 percent of his first-half pass attempts. Brady had been on pace to set a new season high in passing yards, then limped to a final stat line of 31-of-45 for 249 yards, one touchdown and a pick. Arguably, the interception was on him for holding the ball too long.
Like that play, parsing out blame for Brady’s second-half performance is a subjective task that can lead to multiple reasonable conclusions. Overall, Brady again made decent lemonade given the lack of receiving talent around him, and he remains a victim of his self-created high standards as much as anyone.
RUNNING BACK: C
Sony Michel’s three touchdowns should be celebrated. The rest of the running game should be scrutinized.
James White took five carries for zero yards. Brandon Bolden’s best play was a nifty back-shoulder catch for 28 yards down the sideline. Otherwise, he ran once for two yards. Even conceding the fact the Jets held an advantage in the trenches, Patriots running backs could have done more.
Michel averaged 2.2 yards per carry. Part of that average is a function of his repeated goal line rushes, which naturally drag down any back’s game average. Michel also received several first-and-10 carries that went nowhere. He remains too dependent on clean blocking to create yards and had another drop.
The group effort was enough to win, but when Julian Edelman is your second-leading rusher at 20 yards and Damien Harris’ 12 yards in garbage time rank third-highest on the team, there’s more room for improvement than celebration for the running backs.
WIDE RECEIVER: C-plus
Edelman quietly played his worst game of the season, but thanks to Jakobi Meyers, a long Phillip Dorsett touchdown and the defense, it hardly mattered.
Here was the good: Meyers caught all five passes thrown his way and drew two penalty flags. Dorsett fought through injury for a classic score: 26 yards with a trailing corner choking on his dust. The Pats were comfortable enough to play several snaps of 10 personnel (four wideouts) and Brady effectively picked the best matchup available.
And the bad: Edelman dropped his league-leading seventh pass of the season. He caught just seven of Brady’s 12 targets. Gunner Olszewski was targeted only once on an incompletion.
TIGHT END: C
Finally, a breath of fresh air.
Ben Watson and Eric Tomlinson both infused life into a lifeless position Monday night despite signing less than a week before kickoff. Watson caught three passes, more than Ryan Izzo or Matt LaCosse did in a single game through six weeks. Two moved the chains, including one on fourth down.
Watson also played fullback, as did Tomlinson. The heavier Tomlinson run blocked on almost every snap, and his efforts helped boost the Pats’ success rate at the goal line. These two may already be the best tight ends on the roster.
OFFENSIVE LINE: B-minus
If and when Joe Thuney sits down at the negotiating table with the Patriots as a free agent this offseason, he should flip on Monday’s tape. He was almost perfect.
If you put Brady’s interception on him for clutching the ball for four-plus seconds, Thuney yielded zero pressures. He also moved talented, big-bodied Jets defensive tackles in the run game. He was the Pats’ best player on offense, and it wasn’t particularly close.
Offensive tackles Marshall Newhouse and Marcus Cannon took strides, as Newhouse snapped his personal two-game streak allowing a sack. Right guard Shaq Mason and center Ted Karras have both had better games.
But all in all, Brady wasn’t sacked, and the Pats scored three rushing touchdowns in short-yardage, an area of weakness entering kickoff.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B
If the Patriots could play the Jets every week, their defensive linemen could all punch their tickets to the Pro Bowl.
That said, credit for controlling the line of scrimmage Monday primarily belonged to two players: defensive tackle Danny Shelton and defensive end/outside linebacker John Simon, who recorded the night’s only sack. They enjoyed arguably their best games as Patriots. It was certainly Simon’s.
Defensive end Deatrich Wise played well, too, earning two pressures and flipping between various alignments. On the interior, Lawrence Guy missed a tackle and Adam Butler wasn’t his usual efficient self on passing downs. But again, considering the competition, it didn’t hurt them much
The only Jet that could, running back Le’Veon Bell, was limited early and eliminated quickly with the game out of hand. Solid job by the D-line.
Monday’s game was a classic case of having to dive deeper than the stat sheet.
The Patriots defense officially collected just a single sack, two TFLs and a pair of QB hits in New York, plus Simon’s forced fumble. The Boogeymen, at least statistically, weren’t scary at all. But as Darnold told the world, he was nonetheless seeing ghosts.
That fear began with the linebackers, who bailed in and out of pressure determined by post-snap reads. Often they blitzed all together, but when they didn’t, they would show an initial rush and then backed out into short zones depending on the blocking scheme. That’s how Simon strip-sacked Darnold, who couldn’t avoid his pressure with a quick throw because of the dropping Patriots over the middle.
But game’s end, seven linebackers recorded at least one pressure. They played a savvy, spooky game even if the stats didn’t show it.
DEFENSIVE BACKS A
Four picks, no problems.
In order, Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Stephon Gilmore and Terrence Brooks all intercepted Darnold. The Patriots swiped overthrows, underthrows and stupid throws. Every defensive back credited the Pats’ front for generating pressure postgame, but the truth is all-out blitzes aren’t called without confidence in the secondary.
Most of them joined the pressure party, too. Brooks hurried Darnold on more than half of his pass rushes and hit him once. McCourty’s one hurry led to Gilmore’s pick. While the defensive line and linebackers may have gotten it all started, the defensive backs held up their end of the blitz bargain from start to finish.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A-minus
For the first time as a Patriot, Mike Nugent made every kick, knocking in a 34-yard field goal and four extra points. Punter Jake Bailey dropped four of his seven punts inside the 20-yard line and boomed another for 59. On the returning side, Olszewki broke out for a 22-yard punt return to further boost his season average, which ranks among the best in the league.
And in the dying minutes of the game, captain Matthew Slater recovered a fumble by former teammate Braxton Berrios. The Pats were intent on walloping the Jets in every phase, and special teams was no exception.
It took all of two snaps for Bill Belichick to reveal his feelings about the Jets offense. Without any concern for getting beat deep, he blitzed and blitzed and blitzed, then backed out and blitzed again. Of course, it all worked.
Darnold’s 3.6 QB rating became the lowest ever posted by a quarterback facing the Patriots during the Belichick era.
Offensively, Josh McDaniels called a clever game and controlled play. He dialed up two jet sweeps on the Pats’ 16-play opening touchdown drive punctuated by a fake jet sweep turned pitch. McDaniels changed tempos and mixed his limited personnel throughout, never allowing New York’s defense to get comfortable.
The only score that spoke louder about the work of the Patriots coaching staff than the 33-0 final was the 24-0 lead at halftime. Well done.
HEAD OF THE CLASS
CB Stephon Gilmore Defensively, it’s never a bad day at the office when you make as many catches as you allow.
S Terrence Brooks Brooks was a monster in his return to MetLife. It’s a wonder the Jets never played him much defensively.
OG Joe Thuney A debatably clean sheet for the Pats’ starting left guard. Thuney was sound from start to finish.
BACK OF THE PACK
CB J.C. Jackson Jackson’s three penalties far and away led all Patriots. Worse, they gave New York’s offense its only life in the first half.
WR Julian Edelman Monday was the first time in years Edelman hasn’t gashed the Jets. He had a drop and finished with the lowest catch rate among Pats who earned more than two targets, despite seeing a game-high 12 passes from Brady.
C Ted Karras New York’s defensive front is a tough ask for anyone. Still, Karras allowed a pressure and generated the least push in the run game out of all Patriots offensive linemen.