By: Steve Balestrieri
The New England Patriots return home after two weeks on the road to face the New York Jets. The Patriots (3-1) beat the Oakland Raiders while the Jets (2-2) got manhandled a bit in a 34-17 loss on Sunday night against the Ravens.
The normal bombast and chatter from the Jets camp has been muted…so far, as the Jets have not played exceptionally well thus far, dropping two in a row and are only a Tony Romo meltdown away from being 1-3.
But Rex Ryan is no dummy, so he will take the pressure off of his team later this week as he did in January and put the onus on himself by making some kind of outlandish statement.
This should shape up to be an interesting matchup, neither team is playing well on defense, the Jets running game defense has been poor and the Patriots pass defense has been….atrocious for the most part this season.
So as the week goes on, expect some more of the normal hyperbole to come out as the game draws nearer. And with that it’s off to the matchups:
Patriots Running Game: Surprisingly the Patriots were nearly perfectly balanced on offense last week with 30 passes and 30 runs in Oakland. The running game gained an impressive 180 yards on the ground as BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Stephan Ridley were impressive.
More surprising is the fact the Jets have struggled to contain the run, allowing over 135 yards per game so far particularly to the outside where they’ve been inconsistent on setting the edge. Underrated OLB Bryan Thomas went down with an injury against the Ravens and will be replaced by Jamaal Westerman who is better suited to being a pass rusher than an edge setter.
The running game will be key here, as if the Patriots can get off to an early lead, they will look to pound the ball and mix it up and keep the Jets defense off-balance and not in position to dial up their different pass defense packages.
While getting another 180 yards is not in the cards this week, I do expect them to be able to run some and take some pressure off of Tom Brady and the passing game. And that is the key, they need to establish some good runs mixed in with the passing game to get the offense going.
Patriots Passing Game: The Jets remain one of the better teams against the pass in the league despite not generating as much pass rush as they normally do, only Pittsburgh has allowed less passing yardage this season.
Wes Welker has been unbelievable so far this season already catching 40 passes for over 600 yards. Rex Ryan is a smart defensive coach and will plan on taking Welker out of the equation. The past two games Welker has made 25 catches for 375 yards, Tom Brady has been much more exclusively looking in Welker’s direction.
So how will the Jets plan on taking Welker out of the game? I see the Jets either sliding Darelle Revis over to the slot and going one on one with him, trying to jam Welker at the line of scrimmage disrupting the timing of his routes, or covering him underneath with Kyle Wilson and doubling him over the top with a safety spy on Welker trying to limit his yards after catch.
And of course depending on well the protection holds up, is how much Rob Gronkowski will have time to find holes down the seam. The Raiders did a great job of limiting the Gronk, last week, holding him to just a single catch. He and Hernandez (if healthy) need to have a big game of opening things up for Brady this week. But I expect Gronk to be the Jets second choice on shutting down this week.
So for the Patriots to be successful this week, someone other than Welker or Gronkowski will have to step up early in the game at least to open up some lanes. If TE Aaron Hernandez is healthy enough to play this week, it will be a huge boost for the Patriots passing game. He provides those matchup nightmares for opposing defenses and will find the seams. Both Chad Ochocinco and Deion Branch have been merely afterthoughts the past two weeks. They will both have to step up their games this week for the Pats to be successful.
Jets Running Game: Interesting matchup this week, as the Jets have not run the ball well this season as neither Shonn Greene nor LTII have found much room to run. Part of the problem could be the injuries that have plagued the Jets offensive line, one of the best in all of football.
They should have C Nick Mangold back this week, which should help matters in a huge way. Look for him to be taking on Vince Wilfork or Albert Haynesworth (is there a Big Albert in the house) in the middle.
With Jerod Mayo out, the onus on the running game defense should fall to Brandon Spikes in the middle. Spikes played well overall last week and will be looked upon to duplicate that even more as the Pats will try to limit the Jets running game and force the game into Sanchez’s hands. Look for Dane Fletcher to get a lot of snaps because Gary Guyton has struggled.
Rex Ryan has promised a return of ground and pound for the Jets….don’t see that happening unless they get ahead, but I think the Patriots should be able to hold them in check this week.
Jets Passing Game: This is a key matchup here, everyone has been passing on the Patriots secondary this season, and the pass defense is going to have to be fixed if this team has any hopes of a post-season run.
The Patriots defensive line is not winning any of the one on one battles, they are getting virtually zero pressure on the QB and so opponents have plenty of time to find the open receiver and throw the ball all over the field.
The Ravens completely discombobulated Mark Sanchez on Sunday night, from the opening snap they blitzed from all points of the compass and mixed up their blitzes so that the Jets OL, already hurting with injuries was basically overwhelmed. Sanchez had little time to throw and made mistakes when he did.
Can we expect the Patriots to unleash the same on the Jets? Doubtful, in fact the chances are virtually zero at this point. The team has been unable or unwilling to blitz much and with no pressure coming from the front four, don’t expect the Jets’ offense to resemble anything close to what was witnessed on Sunday night.
Sanchez likes to go to TE Dustin Keller and over the middle is where the Pats are particularly vulnerable. The team took away Antonio Gates two weeks ago by doubling him up and took him out of the game. They may attempt the same with Keller but that would single up Plaxico Burress, Derrick Mason and Santonio Holmes outside.
I expect the Jets will attempt to establish a rhythm for Sanchez early by attempting easy passes to LTII in the flat or on screens, something else the Patriots have been giving up a lot of yardage with this season. That will open up some deep shots down the sidelines. The Pats secondary is hurting, Leigh Bodden and Ras-I Dowling both missed last week and Pat Chung is playing after surgery on his thumb. So the Jets will get plenty of yards this week…again and the Patriots will have to try to force a turnover or two here to get an edge.
Special Teams: The Jets STs are always excellent with coach Mike Westoff and last week, Joe McKnight returned a kickoff for a team record 107 yards against the Ravens. He also had a 50 yard return against the Raiders. Rookie Jeremy Kerley had a 53 yard punt return earlier this season, so the Jets return game is dangerous.
The Patriots return game has been so-so thus far this season and now that KR/WR Julian Edelman is in a walking boot, I wouldn’t expect much in that department. Both teams have strong kicking games, the Pats Stephen Gostkowski and Zoltan Mesko have been solid as have the Jets’ Nick Folk, however P T.J. Conley has been inconsistent but the Jets’ superior return game give them the edge here.
“X”-Factors: The Jets are finishing a three game road trip early this season and have lost two in a row. The Patriots blew a big lead in Buffalo but responded with a pretty solid win in Oakland. They are now 26-2 in weeks after a loss.
As difficult as it seems, it’s possible that the Jets could be staring a three game losing streak in the face as injuries and inconsistent play on both sides of the ball have hurt them. They will be well-prepared this week and will be well motivated to end their losing streak and struggles at the Patriots expense.
The Pats have injury concerns of their own and the defense is struggling badly to find itself. The team can ill afford another division loss this early in the season and would love to hand the Jets their third loss in as many weeks. Someone will have to make plays on either side.
Conclusions: This one should be another great game in the long history between the two teams. Rex Ryan has upped the ante in the rivalry and the Jets are picked by many to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. They can ill-afford to go down two games to New England after just five weeks.
The Patriots have been explosive all season on offense and now that the running game is going, they need to put that to bear on a Jets defense that has been struggling to stop the run. Bill Belichick has paid Ryan the ultimate compliment by building this offense to beat the Jets. Make no mistake, the coaches know that they will play their neighbors from NJ twice possibly three more times this season and know that each one will be difficult.
But I believe that the Tom Brady and the Patriots offense through the establishment of the running game will set the tone and open up some holes for the passing game to get going. The Jets are going to score some points and have a lot more yards than they got last week. But with the offense of New England putting pressure on them to score points, it will inevitably take its toll on Sanchez.
Deion Branch and Chad Ochocinco will have to step up and will, finding some open spaces to the outside as the Jets will attempt to take away the middle of the field as they did in January.
This one will be close for a while but I think at this point in the season the Patriots offense will put too much pressure on the Jets defense as the Pats will pull away with a 35-24 win in Foxboro