By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — If the Jets want to pull the upset against the Patriots, it of course starts with slowing down Tom Brady and the offense. Despite the pedigree of the Jets’ highly touted defensive line, it could be a pair of rookie safeties that really make the difference for them.
The 3-2 Jets turned heads when they went safety-safety in the 2017 draft, first grabbing Jamal Adams out of LSU with the sixth overall pick and following that up with Florida’s Marcus Maye at pick No. 39. Those two have largely impressed in their first five NFL games, and have been as big a surprise as any for a team that may have already foiled its own tanking plans.
But that doesn’t take away from the general consensus that Adams is already emerging as the game-changing, potentially generational talent at safety that he was billed to be ahead of the draft. He’s been credited with bringing infectious energy as well as considerable talent to the defense. His teammate Morris Claiborne believes he and Maye can have the same kind of impact on the Jets defense in 2017 that Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott had on the Cowboys offense in 2016.
This film review shows how Adams can make plays and impact the game in any situation. He was particularly “making plays all over the field” in the Jets’ 20-6 win over the Dolphins in Miami in Week 3, even registering a sack on Jay Cutler. Adams has played more pass rush snaps (27) than the rest of the Jets’ defensive backs combined (20) so far, according to Pro Football Focus, so it’s not just coverage that Brady will need to worry about with him on Sunday.
Maye can be a playmaker in his own right, as he has flashed ball-hawking ability in the early-going as well. He made his first career interception at the goal line against Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer last Sunday. It was certainly a horrendous throw and decision by fellow rookie Kizer, one that Brady likely wouldn’t make – but Maye still showed that he can make big defensive plays when given the opportunity.
The rookie told the New York Post last weekend that it would be a “dream come true” and a “sweet feeling” if he could pick off Brady on Sunday, but it’s certainly not easy to do. Only three of Brady’s 19 interceptions since the start of the 2014 season came from rookies, although one of them was just last week by Bucs safety Justin Evans.
Still, it goes to show that while pressure up front and pass protection are legitimate concerns for Brady and the Patriots right now, the quarterback can also struggle as much as any passer with versatile playmaking safeties like Adams. It’s no coincidence that all those great Ravens defenses gave Brady trouble with Ed Reed manning the middle of the defensive backfield.
There’s still the chance that this Jets defense finally gets exposed on Sunday, despite playing at home against a suspect offensive line and a potentially banged-up Brady and Rob Gronkowski. The Jets have played the Bills, Dolphins, Jaguars, and Browns, and none of those teams exactly have QBs the caliber of Brady. Their only opposing QB so far who even approaches Brady has been the Raiders’ Derek Carr, who lit them up for three touchdowns and no picks with a 136.6 passer rating in Week 2.
But regardless of who has lined up on the other side, Adams and Maye have already proven themselves as a potentially elite safety duo that could give the Patriots trouble for years to come. Sunday’s game – which, by the way, could end up determining first place in the AFC East – is their first chance to make their presence felt.
Matt Dolloff is a writer/producer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, CBS, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.