Patriots Jets Preview - Jets QB Sam Darnold is Playing Well

Darnold Could Give Pats Defense Trouble

INSIDE SLANT: The Pats are 10-5 and have clinched the AFC East. The Pats must win Sunday to earn a first round bye. If the Pats have any chance of going to the Super Bowl, they need the first round bye. With a 3-5 road record this season, the Pats will only have to play at most one road game to get to the Super Bowl if they have a first round bye. Their opponent Sunday, the Jets, has played better lately - having almost defeated the Houston Texans and Green Bay Packers the past two weeks. The Jets rookie QB Sam Darnold has played well since he returned from injury with six touchdowns and one interception. He has a QB-rating above 100.

When the Pats last played the Jets in New York, the veteran Josh McCown (who has mentored Darnold) was the quarterback. The Pats defense played well that day - holding the Jets to only 13 points. The Pats struggled at times against Jermaine Kearse and Quincy Enunwa. Trey Flowers might have had his best game of the season that day as he was effective against both the run and pass. Stephon Gilmore will likely take away top Jets WR Robby Anderson like he did in the first game. The Pats will need to stop Jermaine Kearse who played well against the Pats at the end of November. Enunwa (who did not practice Wednesday) is unlikely to play. The Pats also must do a good job against Jets tight end Chris Herndon who has played well this season.

SERIES HISTORY: 118th meeting. New England Patriots lead series 62-54-1. The rivalry between the Pats and Jets has always been competitive. In Rex Ryan's first two years with the Pats, he went 3-2 against the Pats including a playoff victory in 2010 at Gillette Stadium. Since 2011, the Pats have dominated with a 12-2 record. The Pats two losses were in New York in overtime and the Jets have not made the playoffs during that stretch.

Notes, Quotes: Patrick Chung on the improvement of Sam Darnold "He’s gotten better. He’s gotten better. It seems like he’s calmed down a little bit. He’s making the right throws, he’s making good decisions, he’s doing it really fast and he’s athletic enough to make plays. I mean, he’s definitely come along. It seems like he’s grown up a little bit – not saying grown up in like a bad way, but he’s playing pro football, playing like a good quarterback."

James White on the success of the running game last week. "When you can run the football in this league you can do a lot of things on offense. It opens everything else up. The offensive line did a great job of setting the tone. Sony’s running hard, Rex [Burkhead] is running hard. I try and do my part if I get some carries. We all try and go out there and execute and if you’re running, I think everything else is working too."

James White on whether he is concerned about the passing offense. "We still have a good passing offense, have good receivers, tough guys. They block, catch. Every week is not going to be 400 yards passing. You’ve got to tough it out, slug it out. You’ve just got to find different ways to win."

Jets Coach Todd Bowles on how the Pats offense looks different without Josh Gordon. "They look the same. They just plug and play. I mean, [Chris] Hogan’s a good receiver, [Phillip] Dorsett’s a good receiver, obviously [Julian] Edelman. They’re not losing too much with those guys having played in games before. They run the ball well and they’re throwing it well so they look just as efficient as they have been."

Todd Bowles on the Pats blocking three punts in the last three weeks. "They do a very good job of scheming things up. They’ve got effort guys and real smart football players that understand what weaknesses that they can take advantage of and they do a good job taking advantage of them."

BY THE NUMBERS:

69 - the number of catches by Julian Edelman this season after he was suspended for the first four games. Another great year from Edelman.

0 - the number of catches by Chris Hogan, Rob Gronkowski, and Phillip Dorsett Sunday against the Bills.

5 - the number of straight wins by the Pats over the Jets.

2 - the number of combined sacks and interceptions by Dont'a Hightower this season. An interception of Patrick Mahomes against Kansas City and a blocked punt against Chicago might be Hightower's only memorable plays this season. It is questionable whether Hightower returns in 2019.

275 - the amount of rushing yards by the Pats on Sunday against the Bills. Look for the Pats to keep running the ball against the Jets.

Strategy:

J.C. Jackson: Jackson continues to impress with an interception on Sunday. Jackson is a physical corner who has established himself as a strong second corner after nearly shutting down JuJu Smith-Schuster two weeks ago against Pittsburgh. Jackson has learned to use his hands in recent weeks without drawing penalties like he did earlier in the season. Hard to not to think the Pats have found a steal (given that Jackson was undrafted out of Maryland) who will play a long time.

Rob Gronkowski: Gronkowski had no catches Sunday against the Bills and only two catches the week before against Pittsburgh. He had his best game of the year in Miami when he had eight catches for 107 yards. Pats want to make Gronkowski feel involved before the playoffs start.

Stephon Gilmore: Per the great Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal who charts every throw and to whom is in coverage (surely his wife is happy about this), Gilmore is having a year in 2018 similar to that of Darrelle Revis in 2014. Hard to argue. Other than the Titans game where Gilmore struggled against Corey Davis and allowing the immortal Brice Butler to catch a touchdown pass two weeks ago in Miami, Gilmore has been a shutdown corner this season. Gilmore is probably the best Pats corner since Ty Law. On a defense where the linebacker and defensive line play has been suspect, Gilmore has been reliably excellent.

Player Spotlight: Joe Thuney - Thuney, the left guard, has played every offensive snap this season. Thuney has helped left tackle Trent Brown in his first year in New England adjust to a new team and new position. Brown had been a right tackle in San Francisco. Thuney understands the left tackle position because he played left tackle in college.

Game Plan: Offensively, the Pats face a Jets defense that has two talented cornerbacks in Trumaine Johnson and Morris Claiborne. The Pats needs to get Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett involved before the playoffs start. The Pats might try some bunch formations (with three wide receivers on the same side) to get some open looks for Hogan and Dorsett. The Pats should keep running the ball and build off their success last week as the Jets run defense is below average - giving up 4.6 yards per carry.

Defensively, the Pats must take away Jermaine Kearse (who played against the Pats in the Super Bowl when he was with Seattle). Kearse had a good game the last time these two teams played and he is a shifty and smart player. Stephon Gilmore should have little trouble against Robby Anderson. The Pats must be physical against Jets TE Chris Herndon and the Jets are good at catching the ball out of the backfield so the linebackers must be fast in pursuit.

Quotes on Game: Bill Belichick on the contributions of Jason McCourty. "Jason’s been great. He, again, missed the spring, went to training camp, and then at the end of training camp, really when we were a little light there at safety – you know, Pat [Chung] missed a couple weeks, Jordan [Richards] was gone, Nate [Ebner] was working through some stuff – so he ended up playing safety."

"So, he’s played outside, he’s played safety, he’s played inside in the nickel spot, as well as playing multiple roles in the kicking game. So, we’ve added a lot to his responsibilities. He’s very, very professional, well-prepared, dependable, mature, takes every part of his job very seriously – run force, pass coverage, zone, safety, corner, special teams, whatever it is. I think his leadership, his communication, his professionalism has been outstanding. Been great to work with. Couldn’t ask for any more."

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

-- Pats LT Trent Brown vs. Jets DE Leonard Williams: Whether its Brown or Cannon matched up against Williams, the Pats must prevent Williams from disrupting the passing game. Williams has four sacks this season.

-- Pats WR Julian Edelman v. Jets CB Trumaine Johnson: Edelman will need to get open when he faces Johnson who is having a disappointing season after receiving a big contract.

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