New England Patriots at New York Jets
September 19, 2010, 4:15 PM EST. CBS-TV
New Meadowlands Stadium
Two of the league's biggest rivals will battle this Sunday at the Meadowlands in an important early season game. The Patriots look to continue their success after dominating the Cincinnati Bengals in their home opener while the Jets hope for their first win of the season. Winning at home is one thing, but going on the road and beating the Jets would assert the Patriots' dominance in this division, giving them an early two-game lead on them. Meanwhile, the Jets want to show that losing at home by 1 to the Ravens is no reason to panic, no matter how bad the offense looked. After talking as much trash as the Jets have this offseason, losing two straight home games to start the season would be an utter disaster. And with a road game against Miami, the other team in the AFC East that thinks it can win this season, looming, this is as close to a must-win as you can get in week two.
When the Patriots have the ball...
Tom Brady is another year removed from injury, and he has as many weapons as he's ever had. Randy Moss and Wes Welker return, despite Moss complaining about not having a new contract and Welker coming off a devastating knee injury just nine months ago. Then throw in Julian Edelman, who caught 8 passes in the opener between these two teams last year, Brandon Tate, who returned the opening second-half kickoff for a touchdown last week, and rookie tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, each of whom had a big play last week, and the passing game should be as dominant as ever.
Darrelle Revis, limited at practice with a tight hamstring, is expected to play, and if he's 100%, he should be able to take Moss largely out of the game. But Brady is as good at finding his secondary options as anyone, particularly Welker. Welker dominated the only game he played last year in this series. The Jets hope Kyle Wilson or Antonio Cromartie can do a better job on him, but last week can't give fans too much confidence just yet.
Still, Cromartie and Wilson both have the raw skills to have big games and play well. And they will need to as Brady will be throwing to his secondary, check-down options most of the day. As usual, the Jets will blitz like crazy. If they get there, this could be a duplicate of last year's home game, where the Jets had just enough offense to win, took Moss out of the game, and New England eventually couldn't move the ball. Welker's presence is huge, but he needs one or two more games like last week to show that he's completely over his knee injury.
The Patriots will run the ball just enough to keep the Jets honest. 34-year old Fred Taylor will be the feature back after perennial underachiever Laurence Maroney was traded this week. The Patriots trust Taylor because he doesn't fumble much, he has pretty good hands, and he runs hard between the tackles. He's far from a gamebreaker, but he's a chainmover who won't screw things up. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, more of a power back, will be his change of pace, along with longtime third-down back Kevin Faulk.
But make no mistake about it, the Patriots want to throw, and that's what they will do. The key is to fluster Brady. It's not easy to do, but the Jets were able to do it once last year. Hit him. Make him throw it early. Make him have to move his feet. Don't let him get comfortable. The Patriots' offense relies on timing, and if the Jets can throw that off, Brady will make more inaccurate throws, and receivers might not be ready for the ball. New England will counter the Jets' blitzing with bubble screens and quick three-step drops most of the day. If the Jets can jam the Patriots' receivers effectively and tackle well, that will help almost as much as getting to Brady.
And of course, the battle of Moss and Revis will take center stage. The last time these two saw each other, with a 31-14 lead, the Patriots were throwing the ball deep to Moss on Revis with 30 seconds left just to see if they could catch him napping. The Patriots will test Revis, especially with news of his tight hamstring coming out yesterday. Moss wants to prove New England should give him a new contract, and Revis still could have some rust, so it isn't a guarantee Revis wins this battle. But it's hard to bet against him.
As far as injuries are concerned, Edelman is expected to play for the Patriots after week one. Jets OLB Calvin Pace has been ruled out for this week, so Jason Taylor will get another start. NT Kris Jenkins is out for the season, so the Jets will have to get used to playing without him, just like last year. NT Howard Green was brought in for depth, but don't expect him to play this week. Finally, S Brodney Pool might make his Jets' debut this week. He returned to practice on Wednesday. If he can cut comfortably on Sunday, he'll probably play. His physicality and coverage skills would be a welcome boost to the secondary.
When the Jets have the ball...
The Jets' offense looks to bounce back after an abysmal performance last week. Mark Sanchez threw for just 74 yards in the entire game. He never turned the ball over, which is half of what the Jets ask of him, but he never threw the ball down the field and rarely kept the chains moving. Against the Patriots, the Jets will once again hope their young quarterback can control the ball, but this time hopefully they can get some points out of it.
Running the football well will be paramount. Shonn Greene was taken out of last week's game after his second fumble was recovered by the Ravens. The coaching staff instituted a policy in the preseason that if a player other than Sanchez fumbles, they will be taken out of the game, so that's how important they view controlling the football. Because of Greene's fumbling, he is now in a full timeshare with LaDainian Tomlinson, who, just like in the preseason, was the Jets only ray of hope offensively. It's too much to ask him to be his old self, but if the Patriots can start a 34-year old at runningback, there's no reason the most effective runningback of the past decade can't be a major addition.
Tomlinson is especially useful because he's very good coming out of the backfield, an area in which Greene struggles in. When LT is in the game, the Jets can either run or pass the ball, whereas Greene being in the game means the odds are in favor of a run that particular play. The two combined for 5 yards-per-carry last game but on only 16 carries. If they can get anywhere near that per-play production this week, when the two are more likely to get 25-30 carries combined, the Jets are probably going to win this game.
Through the air, Dustin Keller, Jerricho Cotchery, Braylon Edwards, and Tomlinson will get virtually all the targets this week. Keller has developed a better rapport with Sanchez for this season, and even though he couldn't pick up the first down on the last play of the game last week, his development will be crucial for Sanchez this week and this year. Cotchery always seems to step his game up against New England. He had a rare drop last week. That might be the only one you see all year. Edwards lacks Cotchery's sure hands, but he's a much better deep threat. Last week, the Jets didn't test the Ravens deep at all. This week, against a less effective pass rush, it's more likely the Jets see if they can get a quick 7 deep with Edwards.
But for that to happen, the offensive line needs to pass block better. Last week, everything was a mess when Sanchez went back to pass. If the throw was on target, the receiver dropped it. If Sanchez had time to throw, he was fairly accurate, but that was a rare occurrence. Even though they looked good last week at home against the Bengals, New England lacks the dominant front seven of Baltimore. Sanchez should have a little more time to work. We'll see how much more effective that makes him.
The key number for this game, and for any Jets game really, is 20. If the Jets can get 20 points offensively, with that defense, they should be able to win almost every week. The pressure is on offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who has taken a lot of heat over the past week for the gameplan. It's impossible to tell if the calls were bad or if Sanchez was checking down too quickly, but Schottenheimer needs to keep the Jets' offense in rhythm and get the Patriots' defense off-balance. A lot of that will start up-front, because if the Jets can block and run the ball well, it will set up everything else. But last week's offense was extremely predictable, and extremely ineffective. Another performance like that by the offense, and the Jets will be staring 0-2 in the face.
After watching the way both the Jets and Patriots played offense last week, it's hard to pick against New England. But the Patriots have been a different team at home and on the road in recent years. The defense is young and they did give up some yards through the air in the second half to Cincinnati. The Jets are going to try to overpower them up front with their offensive line, control time of possession, and run the ball, but Sanchez will need to make some plays. This isn't the Ravens' defense, which made life miserable for him last week, but Bill Belichick is one of the best at confusing young quarterbacks. While it seems like the sky is falling after last week, if the Jets play disciplined, the defense should be able to contain the Patriots. Shonn Greene should have a bounceback game and the Jets will control the line of scrimmage in a game that will go down to the final possession. Call me a homer, but I'm picking the Jets in a tight game.
Jets 16, Patriots 13