Josh McDaniels: Kony Ealy ‘a big part of the challenge' for Patriots vs. Jets

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The Jets have all kinds of new bodies for the Patriots to smash into on Sunday.

There's the quarterback Josh McCown, who's been in the league since 2002 but has only thrown a pass against the Patriots once in his career back in 2004. There's receiver Jermaine Kearse, who arrived to New Jersey in a trade with the Seahawks just before the season began. 

There are the two rookie safeties, Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye, who have quickly become every-down players. And there's a defensive end who has been arguably the Jets' best defender even after missing Week 5 with a shoulder injury. 

Patriots are pretty familiar with him, though.

Kony Ealy has recorded two quarterback hits, eight hurries, five pass breakups and an interception in four games for the Jets, and he told the New York Daily News recently that he "definitely" expected to be ready to face the Patriots at MetLife Stadium.

“It’s something that’s going to be ready to go next week,” Ealy said on Friday. “Just getting a little extra recovery and doing the things necessary.”

Ealy had a rocky camp with the Patriots after arriving to New England via trade with the Panthers. The Patriots sent a second-round pick to Carolina in exchange for the fourth-year defensive end and a third-rounder. He flashed during training camp practices with the Texans in West Virginia, and he recorded three hurries in that preseason game. 

Yet for every impactful play Ealy made as a pass-rusher, there seemed to be others that opened up holes for running backs (or scrambling quarterback DeShaun Watson). He was released during the last week of August. 

"I do think he was making progress and getting better and was really working hard," Belichick said following the move. "It's just one of those things that didn’t work out or wasn’t going to work out. It’s nobody’s fault. He worked hard. We worked hard. There was a lot of effort put in, but in the end we didn’t feel like this was going to work out.

"It gives him an opportunity about a week ahead of next week to hopefully create a better opportunity for himself. I think he deserved that. He did everything we asked him to do. It just didn’t work out for either one of us like we hoped it would."

Without Ealy, the Patriots have relied heavily on defensive end Trey Flowers as well as rookies Adam Butler and Deatrich Wise. Defensive end Cassius Marsh, who arrived to the Patriots in a trade with the Seahawks just before the start of the season, has played 153 snaps on the edge. Dont'a Hightower has also filled some edge responsibilities when he's been healthy enough to play. 

According to ESPN, the Patriots have been one of the least-efficient teams in the league when it comes to sacking the quarterback through five weeks. They have recorded 10 sacks (tied for 23rd in the NFL), and they have sacks on 5.3 percent of opponent pass attempts (28th).

The Jets seem to be a good fit for Ealy thus far, and if he's healthy enough to play, he'll be one of several players the Patriots have to handle -- along with Leonard Williams and Muhammad Wilkerson -- along the defensive line. 

"He’s certainly been a productive guy for them," Josh McDaniels said of Ealy. "He’s got his hands on some balls at the line of scrimmage. I know he had the one opportunistic interception. He’s created some pressure on the quarterback. He’s one of a lot of guys that they’ve got that can do that . . . 

"They’ve got a lot of length and they can be disruptive off the edge, also. They’ve got a deep group. Kony’s a part of it now, and we certainly are familiar with some of the things with him from being in camp with him, and [he will] be a big part of the challenge that we’ve got to deal with on Sunday afternoon."

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