NEPD Editor: Oliver Thomas
The New York Jets ran the ball 43 times against the New England Patriots last Thursday night. In the process, 218 rushing yards were gained, and that output marked the most a Jets team had registered versus a Patriots team since 1990.
It could have been the four days of preparation. It could have been the fact Rob Ninkovich and Vince Wilfork had combined for 288 defensive snaps since Week 6. It could have been alignment and tackling technique. Or, it could have simply been the urgency of a 1-5 Jets squad on the road versus a division rival.
Whatever was at play, 14 of New York’s carries went through the right B- and C-gaps of the offensive line to the tune of 87 yards while New England fought for containment.
Seldom did that containment reveal itself. The Jets posed questions and experimented with the Patriots’ answers. If the inside closed, the outside opened; if the second level stayed home, the ball-carrier paid a visit to it.
There were many layers to what New York packed in the suitcase for the trip to Foxborough. But it started the same way it always does – at the exchange.
Quarterback Geno Smith bought time on his own, escaping out right and beyond the defensive linemen in engagement. And he kept the coverage genuine, pump-faking the linebackers before crossing the marker for 30 yards on five tries.
Smith made his way across the sticks, yet much of the damage caused out right came at the hands, and legs, of halfback Chris Ivory.
“He is a violent runner,” CBS analyst Phil Simms said of Ivory during the Oct. 16 broadcast. “He runs like every run is the last time he is ever going to touch the football.”
In line with that sentiment, the 6’0”, 222-pound Ivory ran with vision and conviction against the Patriots. Sharing time with Chris Johnson and Bilal Powell, the Tiffin University standout collected his eighth career 100-yard game and 14th career touchdown over the course of 21 attempts.
Four of those attempts resonated, though. They traveled beyond right guard Willie Colon and right tackle Breno Giacomini for a tally of 53 yards. And in doing so, they sealed what the Patriots could not.
The first of which transpired with 10:36 to play in the first quarter on a 3rd-and-1.
The Jets turned to “22” personnel from I-formation, motioning rookie tight end Jace Amaro into Ninkovich’s vicinity. The Patriots’ side, meanwhile, turned to a 3-4, utilizing No. 50 as the left outside linebacker as Wilfork, Casey Walker, Chris Jones and Chandler Jones aligned to his right.
The inside handoff to Ivory forced the Patriots to commit. Dispersing three defensive tackles from the guards on in would not be enough to change that. There was space to be taken beyond them if the down linemen could not answer.
Smith took the snap and angled back to Ivory seven yards deep.
New England inside linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower crashed the interior as reinforcements. Yet as they did, fullback John Conner delivered a block on Collins, and Hightower shot the left A-gap.
Their efforts were to no avail. Next to them, Wilfork found himself halted in the Jets’ left A-gap. And from there, the Ivory bounced outside. He left Ninkovich with his back to the ball, and he left the rest of the Patriots overpursuing the inside lanes.
Ivory high-stepped out of Collins’ shoelace dive, then he outlasted free safety Devin McCourty. The net was 15 yards down the sideline before strong safety Patrick Chung brought him down.
New York went inside out against the teeth of New England’s defense early and often. The attack continued to do so with Ivory after three scrambles and a one-yard loss between the right B- and C-gaps.
It was 1st-and-10 at the two-minute warning before halftime. The Jets went to “11” personnel with Ivory flanking Smith in shotgun, and the Patriots countered with a 4-2 nickel defense that sent Chung down to the strong side as the seventh man in the box.
Ninkovich put his hand on the turf opposite the inline tight end, Jeff Cumberland.
Smith harnessed the snap and deposited the ball off to Ivory, who was set to make a move at the left hash. Left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson connected with Hightower, and center Nick Mangold did the same with Collins, which created room for the uncovered Jones, Walker and Wilfork to congest.
All three did. But Ivory was patient and decisive, redirecting to his right, where Ninkovich had taken on a double team before Chung arrived to detract tight end.
The back split the void. He cut through the right B-gap as Giacomini powered Ninkovich five yards downfield.
The blocks were airtight. The edge was never set. And Ivory sliced through the difference, getting nine yards closer to the end zone.
It was a similar case as the second half got underway. On 1st-and-10 at the 15:00 mark in the third, New York’s offense assembled in a one-back set with Smith in shotgun and Cumberland at H-back, while the Patriots squared up with the 3-4.
Ninkovich and Jones respected the five-techniques next to them, appearing in position to hold the corners. Yet as slot receiver Jeremy Kerley swept across the backfield pre-snap, attention was dispersed in all directions.
Smith handled the snap. He had Kerley sweeping behind his back, and he had Cumberland following suit in front of him. Those looked to be the ingredients of zone-read play, and in correspondence, Ninkovich gave it the due diligence it deserved.
Only it wasn’t. Ivory grabbed the handoff as Smith misdirection traffic out of the pocket. It took Ninkovich a split second to react to those signs, and he did, veering back between the tackles to where Ivory had ventured.
But Ivory changed his mind and bypassed him when the A-gaps dissolved. He followed Cumberland past Ninkovich and Hightower before McCourty, as well as cornerback Brandon Browner, zeroed in.
A 16-yard run was the byproduct.
Ivory would have one more lucrative carry in the jurisdiction of the right B- and C-gaps versus New England. It would arrive only two plays after his last one, on a 2nd-and-3 with 13:49 to go in the third.
The Jets broke huddle in a single-back set with a tight end over Ninkovich’s three-point stance, while the Patriots broke in the 4-2 with Chung encroaching the weak side. Chung was tasked with blitzing as a free rusher, but the responsibilities of fellow end man, Ninkovich, were different.
Giacomini was prepped to down-block him after he worked with his linemate to combo Wilfork. And, coinciding with that design, Ivory was prepped to trace his right tackle’s lead out of the interior.
It would be up to the linebackers to disrupt that plan.
Smith gathered the snap under center and drifted back towards Ivory. Ivory proceeded to jump inward and plant outward, and that was enough for the Patriots to bite. Ninkovich stepped in between the Cumberland and Giacomini. He had been vice-gipped, and the same went for Wilfork, despite the intentions of widening the strong side to halt the Jets’ rushing trend.
There was no edge defender left to bar Ivory. Only Collins and corner Alfonzo Dennard stood in the way as the fifth-year pro leaned forward and back towards contact. And as approached the near hashes, Kerley misplaced Dennard and Collins misplaced himself.
Collins recovered from overrunning the play and tackled Ivory, but not before the 2nd-and-3 became a 1st-and-10. Ivory had amassed another 13 yards.
Over the final 27 minutes, those extensive runs to the right side continued to minimal success. There was a zero-yard gain and two one-yard gains in the mix, as well as two Smith scampers for four and six yards, respectively.
Yet, in all, New York controlled the point of attack for 41 minutes of possession. The numbers were against New England in what was ultimately a 27-25 victory. It wasn’t solely due to Ninkovich pushed down the line, Wilfork being trapped in the grain, Walker being doubled at the nose, or the linebackers being hesitant in the runways.
It was collective. And for Ivory and the Jets, it was inside out.