By: Steve Balestrieri
The New England Patriots return to Foxboro for the 2013 home opener on Thursday night against the New York Jets. Both teams come in a 1-0 escaping with narrow victories in Week 1 of the NFL season.
The Jets were surrounded by the usual media circus all off-season and the team has settled in with new quarterback Geno Smith who has replaced the injured Mark Sanchez. The Jets also have a new GM John Idzik and Rex Ryan has quieted the critics (for now) calling for his head after a big opening weekend victory.
The Patriots were big favorites to walk over the upstart Buffalo Bills, but the game was a dogfight right down to the finish. But in the end, Tom Brady and Danny Amendola showed what veterans do and the Bills were left shaking their heads again wondering “what if” as the Patriots walked away with a last minute 23-21 win.
We here at PatsFans.com are going to try something a little bit different this season. We’re going to run a column, the “Razor’s Edge” to give a quick break down on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.
The Patriots have had their struggles with both the Jets and Rex Ryan’s defenses, but since a disastrous 2010 playoff loss, the Pats have won the last four meetings including an OT thriller in New England and a 49-19 blowout in the Meadowlands.
In scoring 78 points against the Jets, Tom Brady was particularly sharp last season going a combined 44-69 for 582 yards with 5 TDs and 0 INTs in the two wins. The Patriots will be looking for more of that.
Patriots RBs vs Jets Front Seven- Edge Jets
The Jets have a very athletic and physical front seven, starting with Muhammad Wilkerson this is a very tough group to run against. Their linebackers are active and can fill the gaps very well. With Shane Vereen out, Stevan Ridley, LaGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden will have to slog the tough yards inside. Leon Washington may see some snaps trying to give the defense a different look. But running yards will be tough to come by on Thursday.
Tom Brady fires a pass in 2012 against the Jets.
Patriots WRs vs Jets Secondary- Edge Patriots
Danny Amendola had a huge game, especially in the second half and showed some already solid chemistry with Tom Brady. He’s been bothered by a balky groin injury and is a question mark for this game.
So now the onus falls on rookies Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce and TE Zach Sudfeld who have to step up this week with Amendola and Vereen on the shelf. Dobson missed the Buffalo game with a tweaked hamstring but should be available for this one. The rest struggled mightily in their first NFL action, not unheard of for rookie players but will have to answer the bell this week.
The Jets have excellent corners in Antonio Cromartie and Dee Milliner but they struggled last week against Tampa. Don’t expect that to continue, look for the Patriots to target the pedestrian safeties in Dawan Landry and Antonio Allen down the middle.
The Jets’ offense has changed coordinators with Marty Mornhinweg as well as the quarterback (Smith), Shone Green is gone and has been replaced by the talented Chris Ivory who came over from the Saints. They’re lacking playmakers for Smith to throw to and the Patriots defense, stout against the run should be able to make plays through the air tough to come by.
Jets RB vs NE Front Seven- Edge Patriots
The Jets have had trouble running the football this preseason and it carried over to the first game. Chris Ivory has great ability but right now, the Jets passing game isn’t scaring anyone so, the opposition is keeping the linebackers closer to the box.
The key here as in last week are the Patriots linebackers who are big and physical and defend the run extremely well. The Patriots played almost exclusively in nickel last week but this week, I would expect to see more of the Patriots base defense. Expect the front seven to make the ground game tough slogging for the Jets.
Jets WRs vs NE Secondary-Edge Patriots
Geno Smith is only playing in his second NFL game and his first on the road. He’s also probably going to go without his best receiver Jeremy Kerley who suffering from a concussion. For an offense without a lot of playmakers, that is a tough loss.
Stephen Hill is a speedster but is hurting himself and will be matched up with Aqib Talib. Smith’s biggest target will probably be TE Kellen Winslow who had a big game against the Bucs but is hurting himself with a balky knee.
Look for the Patriots to get after Smith more this week, and Tommy Kelly is one of the players to watch. A disruptive presence in the interior, Kelly is matched up with Vlad Ducasse who has struggled with pass protection. This is a matchup the Patriots should win this week.
Special Teams- Edge Patriots
With Kerley likely out, the Jets lose their primary KR/PR threat while the Patriots will still be looking to find that KR guy, Leon Washington, LaGarette Blount and Josh Boyce will all get some looks in that regard. PR Julian Edelman is a solid punt returner who had a big game against the Jets last Thanksgiving.
The Jets have the edge at punter with Malone over Ryan Allen but the Patriots get the edge in the kicking department with Stephen Gostkowski with an edge over Nick Folk.
Player to Watch- Stevan Ridley
Ridley is still the Patriots go-to guy in the running game and being benched in Buffalo due to fumbles won’t change that….for now. Lost in the crush about his fumbles on Sunday was that he was off to a good start in Buffalo, averaging over 5 yards per carry with 46 yards on 9 carries.
Luckily for him, this is a short week, and he has a chance to redeem himself on the national stage against the Jets. Ridley had an excellent 2012 rushing for over 1200 yards. The Patriots aren’t going to forget that, but he’ll have to bounce back and show that he can be counted upon.
Tom Brady came out publicly and praised his mental toughness earlier this week, giving him a little bit of boost of confidence. Thursday night will be a big test.