Taking down the New England Patriots was always going to be a chore for the New York Jets. How does Cam Newton affect those plans?
For the New York Jets, the evil emitting from Foxboro never vanished…it simply evolved.
The autumn of Jarrett Stidham has instead given way to the summer of Cam Newton, as the eternal defending AFC East champion New England Patriots added the former NFL MVP to their roster on Sunday. Newton’s departure from Charlotte has now given rise to renewed hope for the Patriots, who are, of course, looking to replace the Tampa-bound Tom Brady.
Of course, every New England matter, especially one this major in this period of transition, has ripple effects throughout the east coast, particularly in the New York area, where the Patriots’ green rivals reside. How does Newton’s northeast arrival affect the metropolitan area? ESM investigates…
An Elite Pass Rush Is More Important Than Ever
The halls of One Jets Drive and the Sunday parking lots of MetLife Stadium are graced with the likenesses of New York backfield invaders of yesteryear. Lately, however, the modern Jets haven’t been making Mark Gastineau, Shaun Ellis, John Abraham, Mo Lewis, and company proud with their sack exploits.
Since 2016, the Jets rank 29th in the NFL in sacks and have been haunted by rushing quarterbacks. In that span, only three Jets (Jordan Jenkins, Jamal Adams, Leonard Williams) have accumulated at least 10 quarterback takedowns. It has been enough of a challenge facing off against Josh Allen twice a year, for example, (the Buffalo Bills are 11-3 when Allen scores at least one rushing touchdown) and now they must deal with another multi-faceted threat in Newton, who brings a sense of mobility that Brady never had.
As has been the case with many running quarterbacks, Newton can be neutralized with a relentless rush. Carolina was 3-11 when Newton was sacked at least five times, which includes the merciless onslaught he saw from Von Miller and the Broncos in Super Bowl 50. Rare as it was, Brady (who has been sacked 5+ times on only 10 occasions in a nearly two-decade career) wasn’t immune from pressure-induced yips. Both the Jets and Giants played the trope to perfection in their respective victories in the 2011 AFC divisional playoffs and the Super Bowl XLII. To cap it off, New England’s new quarterback, be it Newton, Stidham, or otherwise, is walking into a decent situation on the offensive line regardless. The Patriots have built a solid foundation in front of their thrower. Marcus Cannon and Shaq Mason bring a combined dozen years of experience to the right side, while All-Pro left man Joe Thuney was franchise tagged. In contrast, it’s very possible Sam Darnold could start Week 1 without a single starting blocker leftover from his rookie season in 2018.
Blocking exploits were understandably the Jets’ top priority on the free agent wire this offseason but they addressed the rush with the very affordable re-signing of Jenkins (1-year, $3.75 million) and will also welcome back fellow linebackers C.J. Mosley and Blake Cashman from injury. Another offseason addition was Baltimore transplant Patrick Onwuasor, who is set to bolster the interior pass rush, as was third-round draft pick Jabari Zuniga, who continues New York’s youth revolution on the offensive line (joining second-year men Quinnen Williams and Kyle Phillips). Battling Brady was bad enough, but if Newton recaptures the electrifying brand of multi-talented football that made him a superstar, the Jets’ New England nightmare could be extended by another year and possibly beyond.
There’s Definitely a Chance to Instill Major Worry in the Patriots
In the grand scheme of things, how much does Newton truly change the Patriots? As we mentioned after Brady’s departure in March, they still had a strong supporting cast to surround whatever poor soul had the unenviable position of walking in Tom Brady’s footsteps. There’s a strong rushing attack left behind in the form of Sony Michel and James White. Even when Brady was starting to show signs of age last season, the defense assured that things remained one-sided (the Jets found this out the hard way in a 33-0 Monday night shellacking last fall that saw Brady post a pedestrian 80.7 passer rating). Newton or no Newton, counting the Patriots before a single 2020 game was played was foolhardy at best.
Still, it’s fair to say there’s lingering doubt in the New England camp if and when the 2020 campaign commences.
While he’s undoubtedly an upgrade over Stidham, there’s no denying that Newton isn’t at the form we saw in his 2015 MVP season. Things probably never should’ve reached “is Kyle Allen a franchise QB” levels in Carolina, but time will tell if Newton can regain his game-changing form.
Every team in the NFL should have an unwritten rule that dictates that they should have a quarterback on their roster that they see as their start in three years. Stidham was a major question mark, but Newton’s impressive resume can at least put the Patriots in a more comfortable spot. The 2020 season is almost one of no consequence to the Patriots. They’re still relatively decent on paper, they’ve accomplished more in the last two decades than some franchises earn in their entire existence, and expectations are lowered with the emerging powerhouse developing in Kansas City. A Cam Newton with nothing to lose, especially one blessed with relative youth at 31, could spell doom for anyone looking to take New England’s crown of NFL dominance.
Having said that, this makes the Jets’ 2020 matchups with New England all the more crucial. Wins must come to knock New England off their perch. Strong performances can not only give the Patriots second thoughts about their current plan of turning over the future Newton or the unproven day-three pick whose NFL impact to date is an Adams pick-six. Any doubt the Jets can plant into the brains of a team that viewed their AFC East slate, including the yearly visit to East Rutherford, as a Sunday drive is good doubt from a metropolitan standpoint.
In the grand scheme of the things, the Jets’ task of a divisional coup doesn’t change drastically because of Newton. That’s not a slight on Newton at all; even if he’s not at 2015 levels, his signing was long overdue and if he’s going to get his career back on track, New England is perhaps the best place to do it.
Looking at the New England dynasty from a wider perspective, the Patriots have been able to be a continuous force in the NFL because they take care of business against divisional foes and reinforcements rising to take the place of a fallen comrade. Newton undoubtedly makes the task of rising up a bit harder, but the Jets’ primary concerns should rely on shutting down Newton’s support staff, one that has already dealt with years of Bill Belichick training.
The best move New York can make when it comes to Newton is upping their pressure and making him as uncomfortable as possible, creating feelings that can leave both an immediate and long-term impact on New England moving forward. Should all go according to NFL plan, the Jets will get those opportunities on November 9 and January 3.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags