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How are the Patriots getting back on track in New York?

The Patriots and Jets divisional rivalry has been one-sided for the past six seasons, and really for the past two decades.

New England have won 12 straight games against Gang Green, with the Jets’ last win over the Patriots being an overtime win led by Ryan Fitzpatrick as Jets quarterback Todd Bowle in 2015.

New York is on their third head coach, second general manager, and has started ten different quarterbacks since they last beat the Patriots this afternoon in late December.

Even in the post-Brady era in New England, Bill Belichick’s team is 4-0 with an average winning margin of more than 19 points and a 137-60 overall score against the Jets.

The recent history between the two longtime AFC East foes is one-sided, to put it politely, but the tide could turn in favor of a scorching Jets team that has won four straight.

Under general manager Joe Douglas and head coach Robert Saleh, the Jets’ roster is improving rapidly thanks to hits in the draft, retention of good players through rebuilding and an approach well orchestrated in free agency to build the team in Saleh’s image.

While there are still questions about the quarterback, the rest of the Jets’ roster is filled with talented young players who are a perfect fit for Saleh’s systems, especially on defense.

To understand how the Jets built their upstart defense, let’s take a look at their 43-year-old head coach. Saleh’s education as an NFL head coach worked primarily under longtime NFL head coach and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. Bradley’s career took off as the architect of the Legion of Boom under Pete Carroll with the Seahawks, and the Seattle-3 system took over professional football due to his success.

Saleh worked for Bradley on the Seahawks’ back-to-back Super Bowl trips in the early 2010s and followed the Colts DC to Jacksonville as the Jags linebacker coach.

Eventually, Saleh got the chance to lead a defense for four seasons with the San Francisco 49ers and made the Super Bowl as defensive coordinator, earning him the job as chief with the Jets.

With its roots in the Seattle-3 scheme, Douglas and Saleh have focused on adding players who fit that style of defense. First, they kept two studs on the defensive line, Quinnen Williams and John Franklin-Myers, throughout the rebuild. Since the Seattle Disciples don’t do much blitzing, generating pressure with four rushers is key, hence the importance of keeping those two in the fold. Then they added linebackers who can play zone defense in CJ Mosley and Quincy Williams, and then the final piece of the puzzle came in at the top of the 2022 NFL Draft.

The Jets selected a clone of Richard Sherman in Sauce Gardner with the fourth overall pick in last year’s draft, and the rookie cornerback hasn’t disappointed in his first seven games.

Gardner, who is nearly 6ft 3in tall, has specs perfect for Saleh’s system: excellent movement abilities for his size, length to disrupt at the capture point and obstruct area passing lanes, and impressive route recognition to read threats and play sound positionally in his left cornerback spot.

Sauce allows a miserly 42.5 completion percentage with a 51.1 passer rating in his coverage, leading the NFL with ten pass breakups in his first seven games as a pro.

With all the pieces in place, a very young Jets defense climbed to tenth in the Football Outsiders DVOA metric and is second in expected points added per game since Week 4 (-0.15).

Now that we have the plan, let’s take a look at how the Jets defense wins on passes:

As you probably guessed, the Jets’ most-used coverage is cover three on 28.5% of their coverage shots. However, they use both a traditional point drop zone and Seattle’s famous three “buzz” mable structure.