Will Sunday mark the final time Rex Ryan leads the Jets against the Patriots? (Getty Images)
Here are five things you have to know about the Jets, who will host the Patriots Sunday at MetLife Stadium:
They can still run the ball pretty well.
In Chris Ivory (174 carries, 739 yards, 6 TDs) and Chris Johnson (135 carries, 613 yards, 1 TD), the Jets still have some semblance of a ground game. (Johnson also had his long run of 37 yards Sunday against the Titans out of the wildcat.) The Jets actually have three games this season where they’ve rushed for more than 200 yards, including 218 the last time they played the Patriots and 277 this past Sunday in a 16-11 win over the Titans. They’re second in the league in rushing yards per game (147.1) and total rushing yards (2,060), and they’re tied for second with the Saints and Chiefs when it comes to yards per carry (4.7). It’s important to note that much of that rushing yardage has come as the result of good situational football. They’ve run it in the right situations — either in hopes of doing all they could to kill the clock when they’ve had a lead, or when faced with a defense that has occasionally struggled to stop the run. When they do run it, they’re more likely to try and go up the gut — according to NFLSavant, a sizable majority of their running plays this year have gone behind center Nick Mangold, who is accorded as one of the better run blocking centers in the league. (In Week 7 against the Patriots, the majority of the runs came over center.) Given the sturdiness of Mangold, when the Jets do try and run it this week, look for them to try and test the middle of the New England run defense.
They are really bad in the passing game.
Both Geno Smith (58 percent completion rate, 1,957 passing yards, 9 TDs, 12 INTs) and Michael Vick (53 percent completion rate, 604 passing yards, 3 TDs, 2 INTs) have struggled to get much of anything going in the passing game. The Jets are last in the league in total passing yards (2,365) and passing yards per game (169), and they’re 31st in completion percentage (56.1) and yards per attempt (5.9). Wide receiver Eric Decker (62 catches, 100 targets, 720 yards, 4 TDs) is easily the best and most productive receiver the Jets have. After a semi-decent start, rookie tight end Jace Amaro (35 catches on 47 targets, 311 yards, 2 TDs) has trailed off as of late — he’s had just three catches since the start of November, but is still the second-leading pass catcher on the team. Wide receiver Jeremy Kerley (34 catches on 67 targets, 322 yards, 1 TD) and newcomer Percy Harvin (25 catches on 47 targets, 306 yards, 1 TD) have performed well in spurts this season. If you are looking to break down possible assignments when Patriots go man coverage, it’s certainly realistic to think that Kyle Arrington (if healthy) will be on Kerley, who has been the primary slot option for the Jets this year. Meanwhile, Decker and Harvin would draw the Brandon Browner/Darrelle Revis combo, and Amaro would see Pat Chung and/or Jamie Collins.
They have a good front four, but not much else.
The Jets defensive front is still competitive, with Sheldon Richardson (6.5 sacks), Muhammad Wilkerson (4.5 sacks), Calvin Pace (4 sacks) and Quinton Coples (4 sacks) providing the bulk of the New York pass rush that could give the Patriots some issues up front. In the first game between the two teams, the Jets were able to sack Brady once (veteran linebacker David Harris got to him) and hit him seven times, with Wilkerson delivering three of those shots on the quarterback. On the back end, there’s really not much to speak of — per Football Outsiders, entering this past weekend, they were the worst team in the league when it came to defending tight ends and No. 3 receivers. In addition, they’re 16th against No. 1 receivers and 28th against No. 2 receivers. Small wonder that one former AFC scout I spoke with on Monday believes that if he gets just enough time, he should be able to have a big afternoon.
Percy Harvin has given their kick return game a minor boost.
The newcomer — who was acquired in a midseason deal with Seattle — has distinguished himself as a pretty good return man. Including his early-season stats with the Seahawks, he’s 11th in the league and sixth in the AFC in return average at 24.5 yards per opportunity. Kerley is the lead when it comes to punt return work, and his 6.8 yards per return in his 18 opportunities is 23rd in the league. (One other odd little note about Harvin — he’s a perfect 4-for-4 on converting 3rd and 1 chances in the running game. Look for him to get the call occasionally if that situation comes up Sunday.) Nick Folk is a Pro Bowl kicker who started the year really well, hitting 15 of his first 16 field goal chances. But he’s appeared to struggle as of late (he missed a 48- and 45-yarder in a loss to the Dolphins earlier this month), and it was recently reported he’s been suffering from a hip flexor. He’s 26-for-31 on field goal attempts on the year coming into this weekend for an 83.9 conversion rate (tied for 18th in the league). One of those misses came at the end of the first Patriots game this year when defensive lineman blocked a late field-goal attempt to allow New England to escape with the win. Ryan Quigley is averaging 45.9 yards per punt, 14th in the league, and has dropped 21 of his 72 punts inside the 20. (He’s has one punt blocked this season.) New York’s coverage units are middle of the pack — 23rd in average kick return yards allowed (21.9) and 20th in average punt return yards allowed (8.5).
They may not be that talented, but they’re playing hard for Rex Ryan.
It’s not going to be enough to save Ryan’s job, but there’s been some signs of fight in the Jets down the stretch — literally. They mixed up with the Titans in Sunday’s 16-11 over Tennessee. (The first game in NFL history that finished with a 16-11 final score.) An anonymous Jet spoke out in favor of Ryan earlier this month, taking a shot at the front office in the process. They might not be as talented as the Patriots up and down the roster, but this certainly doesn’t look like a team that will go meekly into the offseason for a few reasons, not the least of which is the fact that they like their coach. If this is indeed Ryan’s final game as head coach of the Patriots against the Jets, it should certainly be compelling theater.