FOXBOROUGH — When it comes to how the Jets have grown from a bottom-10 offense in 2014 to a top-10 offense this season, there are a lot of variables: a different head coach (Todd Bowles), a different quarterback (Ryan Fitzpatrick), and different schemes and play calls that come along with those changes.
And then there’s Chris Ivory. The 6-foot, 222-pound running back is in the midst of a breakout season, his NFL-best 115 yards per game more than double his average from his first two seasons in New York. Ivory is tied for fifth in the league with 5.5 yards per attempt — up from 4.1 last season — and is tied for third (with the Patriots’ LeGarrette Blount and three others) with four rushing touchdowns.
His 460 rushing yards trail only Chicago’s Matt Forte (507) and Atlanta’s Devonta Freeman (505), both of whom have played two more games than Ivory.
So when it comes to the Patriots’ game plan for a Jets offense that ranks seventh in points per game (25.8) and eighth in yards per game (379.8), you can bet limiting Ivory will be a focal point.
“It really starts for them with the run game, which then has kind of opened up the passing game, their ability to get the ball downfield,” Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said on a conference call Tuesday. “Ivory runs extremely hard, he comes downhill, he’s very fast, he’s got great speed to the edge, he can get open in space, he makes a lot of guys miss tackles. So it doesn’t take much for him to get through the line of scrimmage and burst into that second level and really hit that third level pretty fast.”
Patriots coach Bill Belichick suggested that Ivory’s increased production is the result of more opportunity. Ivory is up to 20.8 carries per game after averaging around 12 the last two years.
“He’s a guy who gets stronger as the game goes on,” Belichick said. “He’s probably had more production in the second half [6.3 yards per attempt] than he’s had in the first [4.8], so I think there is an element of that, whether that’s him or the line or whatever, but he runs hard all of the time.
“He’s hard to tackle in the first quarter. He’s hard to tackle in the fourth quarter. He’s an excellent back and will be a challenge for us.”
Pains and gains
Matthew Slater, who exited Sunday’s win over the Colts with an apparent knee injury, maneuvered through the Patriots locker room Tuesday without a noticeable limp. He declined to speak with the media.
Parlay that with a report that injuries to offensive lineman Marcus Cannon (toe) and defensive lineman Jabaal Sheard (ankle) are minor, and the Patriots might have dodged a bullet.
Cannon, Sheard, and Dont’a Hightower (ribs) were not present when the locker room was open to the media Tuesday. Hightower did not play against the Colts.
The Patriots signed offensive tackle Brennan Williams to the practice squad, according to multiple reports. Williams, an Easton native, is the son Brent Williams, who played in the NFL for 11 seasons, including for the Patriots from 1986-93. Williams was a standout at Catholic Memorial and a Globe All-Scholastic in 2008 before moving on to the University of North Carolina and eventually the Texans, drafted in 2013 in the third round. In Williams’s UNC bio, he divulged the NFL team he’d most want to play for: the Patriots . . . The Jets promoted former Patriots receiver Kenbrell Thompkins to the active roster . . . Former Patriots kicker John Smith, whose field goal won the 1982 “Snow plow game” against Miami, will be honored by the Gridiron Club of Greater Boston at a dinner Thursday. The group’s annual “NFL Legends Night” is raising funds for the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism.