FOXBOROUGH — When the New England Patriots have lost, they’ve lost ugly. The team’s three losses this season have featured breakdowns in all aspects of the game, but among the many issues, stopping the run was one of the big constants.
New England allowed an average of 137.6 rushing yards in its losses, including 159 in Week 3 against the Detroit Lions and 150 against the Tennessee Titans in Week 11. The Patriots can’t win if they’re constantly getting gashed on the ground, so coming out of the bye, the defense needed to show it could get stops more consistently.
While it wasn’t flashy, the Patriots run defense clearly took a big step forward on Sunday.
The Patriots held the New York Jets to only 74 rushing yards, with about a third of those yards coming on Josh McCown scrambles rather than designed runs. There weren’t any single outstanding performances powering the effort, the team just played solid, fundamental football and forced McCown to beat them with his arm — something he obviously couldn’t do.
New England set the tone on the first drive of the game. After receiving the game’s opening kickoff, the Jets handed the ball off to Isaiah Crowell, who ran up the right side and was immediately met by Lawrence Guy for no gain. The next play, Crowell tried carrying it up the middle, and this time it was Patrick Chung waiting to stuff him for a gain of three.
The Jets eventually punted, and on the team’s next drive, New York initially struggled on the ground again. Elijah McGuire lost two yards on an outside run to the right after Kyle Van Noy swept across and kept him contained, and McCown scrambled for three on a broken screen play. McGuire eventually picked up eight after a back-breaking holding penalty — eventually leading to New York’s first touchdown — but from that point on, the Jets only rushed the ball one other time for the rest of the first half.
Throughout the game, the Patriots were only beaten decisively on one designed rushing play, a 3rd and 1 rush where Jason McCourty got pancaked while trying to contain Crowell, giving the runner a clear lane to the outside for 12 yards and a first down. Other than that, New England had a clear edge to the point where the Jets essentially abandoned the run even though the Patriots didn’t start to pull ahead until mid-way through the fourth quarter.
Overall, the Jets only ran the ball 15 times, well down from their average of 24.9 carries per game. Once the Jets became one dimensional, the Patriots defense started to shine in other areas.
The pass rush enjoyed its best game in weeks, getting 23 total quarterback pressures on 51 passing snaps (45.1 percent). Trey Flowers in particular was a monster, terrorizing the Jets line while pressuring McCown eight times all by himself.
The secondary did a good job taking away McCown’s first looks, which combined with the pressure led to two sacks and a litany of rushed throws. And during a crucial sequence late in the third quarter, Van Noy got a free rush at McCown twice in a row to bring up fourth down at the end of a long Jets drive. New York had to settle for the game-tying field goal, and the Patriots went on to score 14 unanswered points the rest of the way.
The Jets’ offense isn’t anything special, but this was a good performance for the Patriots defense. The blueprint for success all along has been to contain the run, pressure the quarterback and avoid big mistakes. If the defense can replicate its performance against future opponents — starting with the Minnesota Vikings this weekend — the Patriots will be in it against any opponent it plays the rest of the way.
Mac Cerullo covers the New England Patriots for the Daily News and CNHI Sports Boston. He can be reached by email at email@example.com. Follow Mac on Twitter at @MacCerullo.