It’s almost gametime. Where everything that has been said, from Ryan’s “kiss the rings” comment to Kerry Rhodes expressing that he hopes to “embarrass” New England to Rhodes’s ensuing Twitter-fight with Rodney Harrison is out the window. The Jets will have to live up to all the hype that they have brought upon themselves both with their talk and with their play against the one team fans want to beat most: the New England Patriots.
So how will both teams respond? Can the Jets back up the talk or will the Patriots overmatch them and continue their Meadowlands dominance? Let’s look at the matchups, and then I’ll make my final prediction.
When the Jets are on offense…
Bill Bellichick has spent his entire career feasting on rookie quarterbacks. Will Mark Sanchez be his next victim? It’s easy to forget Sanchez’s lack of playing experience given the poise he has shown as the starter, but Bellichick will probably throw everything he can at the rookie to see what he’s got. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer realizes this, so he probably will try to keep it simple early in the football game to ease his quarterback into the game.
That means a lot of runs. Thomas Jones and Leon Washington should get the ball early and often, probably in a 65-35 timeshare. The Patriots know this, so they will probably load the box earlier to try to stop the run and put the Jets in a bunch of third and longs, which is exactly what happened last week against Houston. New England would just need to take the next step and actually stop the pass on third and eight, something Houston didn’t do. The key for the Jets will be to create holes and get bigger gains on first and second down to take pressure off of Sanchez on third downs.
The Patriots’ front seven has suffered a few big losses in the past couple weeks with Tedi Bruschi, Richard Seymour, and Jerod Mayo out of action. This is one of the few times lately in this series where the Jets have the advantage in the trenches, which is a big reason to have faith in an upset.
But can Sanchez make plays like he did last week? On paper, the Patriots secondary looks beatable. Leigh Bodden and Shawn Springs are solid veterans who are strong tacklers, but Jerricho Cotchery and Chansi Stuckey should be able to get open and make a few plays for Sanchez. Bills tight ends Derek Schouman and Shawn Nelson combined for 5 catches for 54 yards and a touchdown last week, so Keller should be able to get involved.
There’s no reason the Jets shouldn’t move the ball on the Patriots’ defense. The questions will be how well the Jets take care of the football and whether or not they can generate points in the red zone. Those two categories as well as third down efficiency will determine the offense’s overall success not just in this game but the entire season. The Jets probably won’t dominate the clock like they did against Houston, but that is their goal.
Sanchez threw one pick in week one, and there were a few more passes that easily could have been intercepted. The Patriots have always been able to capitalize on mistakes, so Sanchez must take care of the football. As good as the Jets’ defense might be, giving extra possessions to Tom Brady is a recipe for disaster. They know that, so Schottenheimer probably won’t take too many chances. That should limit their opportunities to put up a huge point total, but the Jets don’t plan to win via their offense anyway…
When the Patriots have the ball…
…they plan to with their defense. Maybe you’ve noticed this. The defense has been doing a lot of talking after all. But on the field, they still need to get in Tom Brady’s face for any of that talk to mean anything. Kerry Rhodes says they’ll hit Brady “more than six times.” Brady has a knack for moving around the pocket and staying upright, but the Jets are going to throw everything they can at him to throw off his timing.
The Jets completely manhandled the Texan offensive line last week. David Harris and Bart Scott may be the best middle linebacking corps in the game, and the talented Kris Jenkins and Shaun Ellis protect them up front. Still, New England won’t breakdown so easily. The Jets will get pressure on Brady throughout the game, but the Jets may struggle on third downs as Brady has so many weapons to go to.
Luckily for the Jets, Wes Welker has been slowed in practice by a knee injury and may not be 100%. However, Kevin Faulk, Randy Moss, Ben Watson, Chris Baker, and Joey Galloway are all around and all are capable of making plays. Brady likes to spread the ball around, and he will pick the Jets apart on a few screens to Faulk or Welker when they blitz.
Expect the Patriots to try to run more of a spread offense to try to take advantage of Dwight Lowery, Lito Sheppard, and Donald Strickland. If they can force Vernon Gholston into coverage, all the better. New England has the quarterback and the weapons to do just that, and it may be the best chance for them to win.
It’s hard to see the Patriots getting a lot going on the ground. Laurence Maroney, Fred Taylor, Sammy Morris, and Kevin Faulk is one of the weaker rushing attacks in the league, and they struggled to get traction against Buffalo (22 carries for 63 yards for Patriot runningbacks). The Jets have had a stout run defense since Kris Jenkins arrived, so the Patriots’ fate likely rests on Brady’s shoulders.
Last week Brady threw for 378 yards, but the offense only managed 25 points. Something similar could occur this week, as New England will try to throw the ball a lot, but the Jets may not allow a lot of points. You could even see some no huddle early on if the Patriots want to try to throw off the defense’s timing and tire Jenkins.
While the Jets have struggled to find a punter all offseason, Steve Weatherford did a solid job last year, and he may be the answer this year. With that shored up, the Jets’ special teams is one of the better units in the NFL thanks to Leon Washington’s kick returns. He brought back a kickoff for a touchdown last year in New England last season, so the Patriots know how dangerous he can be.
The Patriots special teams are above average in all areas. Stephen Gostkowski is a good kicker, Chris Hanson is a good punter, and Kevin Faulk is a good return man. However, Faulk doesn’t really have the ability to break a long return for a touchdown like Washington, so while the Patriots have the otherwise better unit, the Jets have the wild card factor.
This one’s easy. Rex Ryan already told you the answer: it’s Bill Bellichick and the Patriots! But is it that simple? Ryan has rejuvenated the Jets’ fan base and been the mastermind behind a team that looks primed to have one of the best defenses in the NFL. But until he gets one, maybe even two rings, it’s hard to go against the Hoodie.
It’s no secret the Jets are preparing for this game as if it were the biggest game of the season. The players and fans are sick of losing at home, and Ryan wants to make the early salvo. And while it would appear from the outside that the Jets would have more to play for to back up their talk, in reality, they have nothing to lose. Tom Brady’s team is supposed to beat a rookie quarterback. The Jets should be able to play free and loose to try and back up all their talk during the week.
The home field advantage hasn’t helped in the past eight seasons, but with a more creative defense, a loud crowd should help more than usual. The only worrisome thing is penalties. The Jets had 10 penalties for 80 yards last week after having problems in that category in the preseason. If emotions run wild, that could spill over into some stupid penalties that could help give the Patriots the edge. But in the end, the Jets have a number of things going in their favor to give them the edge.
The Jets’ defense gets a big boost with the return of Shaun Ellis, and as good as Tom Brady and the Patriots are, right now, their offense is one dimensional and the defense has a lot of things to prove. As long as Sanchez takes care of the football, Leon Washington should provide a big play or two to make the difference.
Jets 24, Patriots 20