Adam Gase is out of the AFC East, and his replacement got the better of Bill Belichick earlier this season.
Former San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator and newly-hired Jets coach Robert Saleh is set to face the Patriots twice a year for the next five seasons. Saleh – whose defense ranked fifth in the NFL with 314.4 yards allowed per game in 2020 – headed up a 49ers defense that held the Patriots' offense to six points and no touchdowns in Week 7.
The 49ers also allowed the second-fewest yards per game in 2019, helping San Francisco finish 13-3 and clinch a first-round bye. Saleh's defense allowed 15 points and 252.5 yards per game in the 49ers' two playoff wins leading up to Super Bowl LIV, but let the Kansas City Chiefs score 21 points in the fourth quarter to come back and take home the Lombardi Trophy.
Saleh has been one of the hottest names on the coaching market for two years now, and the Jets were the team to win the sweepstakes and finally steal him away from San Francisco after four seasons there.
Before his stop in the Bay Area, Saleh was linebackers coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars and a defensive quality control coach for the Seattle Seahawks' Legion of Boom.
The Jets' defenses as of late have come nowhere near the accomplishments of Saleh's units in San Francisco or Seattle, as New York allowed the 26th-most points per game and 22nd-most yards per game in 2020. Before the season, they parted ways with All-Pro safety Jamal Adams one year after trading former Pro Bowl defensive tackle Leonard Williams to the Giants.
Saleh had one All-Pro and Pro Bowler on his defense this season – linebacker Fred Warner – but the Jets finished the year with none.
Saleh started his 49ers tenure running the same 4-3 hybrid, Cover 3 defense he ran in Seattle and Jacksonville under Pete Carrol and Gus Bradley. Over time, however, he adapted to use more Wide 9 defensive fronts with Cover 2 or Tampa 2 to adjust to the NFL's increasingly pass-heavy mindset.
The 2021 Jets have less talent than the 2020 49ers – who also had less talent than the 2019 49ers – meaning Saleh will have to improvise yet again.
The impact that will have on the Patriots and Josh McDaniels' offense is to be determined, since the quarterback position in Foxboro remains a mystery.
Back in the days of Tom Brady, the Patriots were able to pick apart most zone defenses opponents threw their way. McDaniels is still in house, so New England has the potential to get back to that type of success, but things could change depending on if Cam Newton, Jarrett Stidham, Mac Jones, Jimmy Garoppolo or someone else is suiting up as the team's next signal-caller.
The zone blitzes Saleh used in San Francisco have been effective in the past, and the corner blitzes especially could cause problems for a Patriots team that lacks experienced and fundamentally-sound blockers at tight end or running back.
Saleh has only ever coached on the defensive side of the ball, so the future of the Jets offense is in the hands of who he hires as his coordinator. That looks like it will be 49ers passing game coordinator Mike LaFleur, according to reports.
When it comes to Saleh's defense and his recent success against Belichick and the rest of the league, as well as the prestige behind his hire in New York, things are looking good for the Jets – at least on that side of the ball.
And that means the Patriots' journey back to boasting a top-tier offense will be all the more difficult.