By: Steve Balestrieri
The New England Patriots return to Foxboro to play the New York Jets as the teams renew un-pleasantries for the 107th time. The series is remarkably even with the Patriots holding the slimmest of margins with a 53-52-1 advantage all-time.
Of course what would be a Patriots – Jets game without the usual Rex Ryan bombast, “we’re going up there to win,” which for him is rather muted.
But with the Jets beating up on the Colts last week and the Patriots handing one away in Seattle in the last few minutes, both teams come in at 3-3 and both are either tied for first or last depending upon which kind of person you are.
They’ll be no shortage of sound-bytes this week as the game nears, so we’ll dispense with that nonsense and go straight to the matchups:
Patriots Running Game-
The Patriots got away from the running game last week as Seattle shut down the running game. But one area where the Patriots are thriving is feasting upon teams that put in lighter sub-packages to defend the pass.
Stevan Ridley, Brandon Bolden and Danny Woodhead have been very good at getting to the second level this year. The Jets, normally stout against the run have been gashed to the tune of 4.7 yards per carry and 150.5 yards per game this season. The Patriots should be able to run on this defense regardless of whether or not the Jets are in base or sub defenses.
The Patriots run best when running to the left behind Logan Mankins and Nate Solder. They’ll be taking on Mike Devito and Calvin Pace, so that is the matchup to watch in the running game. If Yeremiah Bell and LaRon Landry are forced to over commit to the run in support, then it will open up the passing game with play action.
Jets Running Game-
The Jets wanted to protect Mark Sanchez this season and run the ball first, “ground and pound” was the rally cry this off-season. But they’re only running for 111 yards per game and Shonn Greene is only averaging 3.5 yards per pop.
The Jets are going to try to work play action themselves and run behind D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold but between them is G Matt Slauson who has struggled. They’ll be running at rookie Chandler Jones for the Patriots who has played very well.
The Patriots game plan every week is to take away the run and force teams to beat them through the air, and this week will be no exception. They should be able to bottle up the Jets running game, but will need to be aware of some trick running plays that Tony Sparano and Ryan are bound to have on-tap for this week.
Patriots Passing Game-
This ought to be an interesting matchup, the Jets re-vamped their secondary this season replacing both safeties and bringing in Bell and Landry, two big physical safeties who aren’t the best cover guys. The plan will be to hit and disrupt the Patriots tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez up close to the line of scrimmage which will throw off their timing with QB Tom Brady.
With Darrelle Revis out for the season, Antonio Cromartie will be the top corner for the Jets and draw Brandon Lloyd in coverage. Cromartie has had some good games against Brady in the past and will be ready for this one.
That pits Kyle Wilson against Wes Welker which is a big advantage for New England and the Jets haven’t been particularly good at rushing the passer, where if they give Tom Brady too much time, it could be a long day for the Jets on defense.
Jeff Capellini editor for CBS NY and at WFAN on our PatsFans Patriots 4th and 2 podcast Weds. had an interesting observation, he said he would put Cromartie on Welker since the Patriots offense flows through him. This would bear watching.
Jets Passing Game–
The Jets passing game has been inconsistent this season and it is not all Mark Sanchez’s fault although he’s as shaky as they come. But with injuries decimating their receivers early this season, Santonio Holmes is done for the season; he’s had no one to throw to.
Compounding these issues is that his protection hasn’t been great. But Dustin Keller is back as is rookie burner Stephen Hill. Jeremy Kerley and Chaz Schilens are supplementary pieces of the puzzle. But as inconsistent as the Jets are, the Patriots secondary has struggled worse.
Teams have been lining up and throwing it deep against the Patriots and have been rewarded with too many big plays or penalties for pass interference. The Jets would be crazy to not throw the ball deep to Hill at every opportunity until the Patriots show they can stop it.
The safety position in particular has suffered from poor play, with Steve Gregory and then Pat Chung out the Patriots were forced to play two rookies, Tavon Wilson and Nate Ebner and the results spoke for themselves. The Patriots will need to step up the pass rush this week and Jones who had his first two sack game last week will be looked to, to provide the push.
Look for Sanchez to do what everyone else has been doing and that is to test the waters deep. His QB passer rating has been very good when throwing the ball deep and this makes sense. When that isn’t open, his favorite receiver, Keller will be looked to over the middle where the Patriots linebackers struggle in coverage.
It is said that Joe McKnight may miss this game due to injury, and that would be a blow to the Jets, where he gives them a decided advantage in the return game on kickoffs. The Jets have Kerley returning punts and he is averaging 17.1 yards per return including a 68 TD return.
Kicker Nick Folk and punter Robert Malone are very solid with Malone averaging over 46 yards per punt. The Jets coverage units under coach Mike Westoff are always excellent, allowing less than 20 yards per kickoff and 10.2 yards per punt return.
Stephen Gostkowski and Zoltan Mesko have solid for the Patriots with a few bumps in the road. The team is still searching for answers in the return game, although Welker’s punt returns last week were encouraging, it had more to do with the punts far outdistancing their coverage. The coverage units can’t have another breakdown like last week’s at crunch time allowing Leon Washington to return a punt 25 yards to set up the winning touchdown.
This is always a factor when these teams play, Rex Ryan likes to tweak the Patriots and build up his team for the game, after his earlier comment, he put the onus strictly upon himself and took it off his team, which he usually does in these games. He stated that Bill Belichick is the best coach in the game and that he’s going to give him his best.
It will be interesting to see how the Patriots come out for this game after the meltdown in Seattle. Will they be tight or in the mood to put the hammer down. At this point, neither team really knows what they are yet; the Jets were teetering on the brink after a couple of ugly losses, but rebounded by pounding the Colts last week.
As always, the stakes are high in these games, the winner will be on top of the division, the loser at the bottom. It doesn’t get any clearer than that, and in a year where parity seems to be the rule, every game does count big the last ten weeks of the season.
This one will be entertaining, I fully expect the Jets to throw the sink at the Patriots, expect a lot of the back-up quarterback, trick plays, fake punts etc. With the shaky condition of the Patriots defense, they will be looking to put them on their heels.
Three keys to win the game from the Patriots perspective is:
- Run the ball and stop the run– Balance is the key again, with the Jets allowing a lot of yards on the ground, if the Patriots begin to run the ball well, it will open up play action passes and allow big plays down the field. On defense, regardless of how bad the pass defense has been, stopping the run is still paramount, they have to make the Jets one-dimensional on offense, where throwing the ball hasn’t been a strength for them.
- Finish, finish, finish– The Patriots offense needs to finish drives, another 1-6 in the red zone is a recipe for disaster. Score touchdowns and force the Jets offense to score to keep up. They are not a come-from-behind team; they’re not built that way.
- No huddle becomes a factor again– With the team at home, it will be easier for Brady to run the no-huddle and the offensive line to get their signals straight. The No-huddle attack is particularly more effective against the Jets as they like to substitute a lot of bodies on their defense. In the game in NJ last year, the Patriots wore down the Jets big time using the no-huddle, where they were gassed in the 4th quarter.
I think the Patriots will be able to run the ball on the Jets this week, they can mix it up and with Hernandez back it gives them much better flexibility in the direction they can go on offense. No one knows what to expect from Sanchez, he can be go from very good to very bad sometimes within the same game. The key from the Patriots perspective is to bring heat on him and force him into mistakes.
An interesting take will be watching the Jets defense in this one, they rebuilt it with the Patriots in mind, albeit without Revis. I think the home team holds serve in this one. Patriots 28-17