FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Yeremiah Bell has seen plenty of Tom Brady and the New England Patriots’ offense over the years.
Nothing quite like this, though.
“In previous years, you could almost paint them as a passing team because that’s what they did,” said the veteran safety, in his first year with the New York Jets after eight with Miami. “They’re running the ball a lot more this year, so it gives them a different look. You can’t always just kind of sit back and play pass anymore. You have to respect the run because they’re doing a good job at it.
“It’s a little different for them.”
And for everyone else, too.
Sure, the Patriots have always been an explosive offense. Brady is still, well, Brady, and he can fling it around the field all day with Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd and his dynamic duo of tight ends in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. But New England is running the ball more effectively than in previous years, with Stevan Ridley leading a ground game that’s averaging 4.2 yards a carry.
Pass or run? It’s anyone’s guess these days, and opposing defenses have had to figure it out fast. New England is playing at a speedy pace these days, an up-tempo offense that’s fast and tricky — and uses the no-huddle to perfection, causing some confusion for defenses wanting to substitute players.
“It’s just another no-huddle, but it is up-tempo,” coach Rex Ryan said Friday. “It is a different thing. They will substitute and still speed it up. Sometimes when they substitute, you’re supposed to be allowed to substitute with them. We’ll see about that, but they move at such a quick pace that you have to be alert and if you have to sub, you have to make your substitution extremely quick.”
The Patriots ran 94 offensive plays two weeks ago against Denver and gained a team-record 35 first downs in a 31-21 victory. They have run 473 plays from scrimmage in six games, an eye-popping average of nearly 79 offensive snaps a game. That’s 39 plays more — over half a game’s worth for most teams — than the Kansas City Chiefs, who are second in the league with 434.
New England’s offense is ranked No. 1 overall with 445.3 yards per game, 29.5 first downs a game and 188 total points.
“I don’t think we’re going to shut them down,” Ryan said. “Nobody is going to shut them down. Obviously, you have to do a good enough job to get them off the field. You can’t let them keep driving the football like they do. It is going to be a challenge.”
Ryan’s defense played its best game a week ago, stopping rookie Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis offense by causing turnovers and holding the Colts to just three field goals. The Jets know things will be different in New England on Sunday, so they have been trying to simulate the Patriots’ up-tempo approach at practice all week, with Tim Tebow playing the role of Brady.
“We’ve practiced it in camp, minicamp, and it’s not our first time we’ve gone up against a hurry-up, even against our own offense,” safety LaRon Landry said. “As far as whether it’ll be a challenge, who knows? Who knows what they’re going to do out of it, and they don’t know what we’re capable of, either. So, we’ll have to see how the flow of the game goes. But as far as hanging our hat on their no-huddle, I’m not going to say that’s the biggest challenge.”
Facing a Brady-led team is a challenge in itself, of course. Especially one that is clicking the way it has this season. New England is 3-3, including a 24-23 loss at Seattle last Sunday, but is a combined four points from being 6-0.
And, a large reason for the success is the same as always: Brady.
He has thrown for 1,845 yards with 10 touchdowns and three interceptions, and his 97.2 quarterback rating is sixth in the league.
“A lot of it is Brady, but on the other hand, they have some good players there,” Bell said. “They’ve got some excellent tight ends, they’ve got some receivers who have been in this league for a while. You can’t just throw all the credit on Brady.”
Some Jets players say it’s the tight ends who make the Patriots dangerous, while linebacker David Harris insists it’s still the Brady-to-Welker connection that does it. Welker is second in the NFL with 48 receptions for 622 yards and two touchdowns.
“Without Welker the last five or six years, the offense wouldn’t be anywhere as good as it has been,” said Harris, who will have the task of calling the defensive signals Sunday. “He’s a great player. And, yeah, they also have two great tight ends who present matchup problems in the middle of the field.”
Gronkowski and Hernandez played at least a small part in the Jets’ decision in the offseason to go after physical safeties in the offseason, bringing in Bell and Landry to patrol the middle of the field to try to take away some of the tight ends’ effectiveness.
“It’s going to be a part of the game, but that’s not our main focus, to stop Gronkowski and Hernandez,” Bell said. “Our main focus is to win the ballgame. We know they’re a big part of the offense and Brady’s going to get them the ball. Are we going to have to step up our game? Yeah, but we don’t see stopping them as what’s going to win us the ballgame. We’ve got to stop everybody else, including them.
“They’ve got a lot of weapons, so we have a lot of people to worry about.”
Maybe more this season than ever before when it comes to the Patriots.
“They’re a very disciplined team and they don’t beat themselves,” Harris said. “But we’re familiar with their personnel — they know us and we know them, so it’s really going to be like a chess match.”
NOTES: Ryan said earlier in the week there was “a possibility” Tebow could play some at running back on Sunday. Tebow would say only that he “practiced carrying the ball a few times.” When asked if he specifically practiced at running back, Tebow smiled and said: “If running back is carrying the ball, then sure.” … RB Shonn Greene was voted the FedEx Ground Player of the Week by fans after he ran for a career-high 161 yards and three TDs against Indianapolis.