Game of the Week! Game of the Year! GAME OF THE CENTURY!!!!
What's really going on here?
The way the media has been pitching this game, it’s been "The insurgent Jets seek to upend the long-reigning Patriots!" The Patriots have been AFC Champions seven times in the last ten years -- the class of the Division for what seems like an eternity. They are the team of the internet, that's for sure. In cyber-time, we've known these guys for aeons.
Certainly, the marquee names on the Pats' offense and defense have been around a while. Vince Wilfork has been in the NFL for seven years; Tom Brady is an eleven year veteran. When we look across the line of scrimmage through the lens of mass media we see Mark Sanchez, the Jets QB, a toddler at 2 and Darelle Revis leading the defense with only four years under his belt. Rex Ryan has only been guiding his franchise since January of 2009, whilst Belichick has had the helm in New England since the year 2000.
But while the franchises may be stacked that way, the Patriots are the junior team on both sides of the ball and although organizationally the Jets lead the upstart charge into Foxboro to unseat the old guard, it is the Patriots who have cobbled together a group of young Turks to hold off Rex Ryan's army of veteran mercenaries.
Come over the jump and we'll dig into the facts.
Put on your sunglasses with me, and let's peer behind the sun-like glow of quarterback stardom. We're smart fans here at Pats Pulpit; I'm often gratified (and a bit nonplussed) to read analysis from paid columnists and scribes that I've already seen laid out with greater detail and accuracy in the comments section and on the front page of this blog. So it's no news to you-all that the big concern from the Patriots' side of things is our porous defensive unit -- notably our secondary.
We know the facts: #1 in your hearts but ... #32 in the league against the pass. Ugh. And why? Why, because they're toddlers! Here's a tenure breakdown of Patriots contributors at the defensive skill positions (everyone but the trenchmen):
|Jerod Mayo||3 years|
|Rob Ninkovich||5 years|
|Kyle Arrington||2 years|
|Brandon Meriweather||4 years|
|Pat Chung||2 years|
Average time in the league for that crew? Two years. Two. These are babies, man -- some of them just started growing hair under their arms, like, yesterday. Let's contrast that with the Jets they'll be charged with grounding:
|Mark Sanchez||2 years|
|LaDainian Tomlinson||10 years|
|Braylon Edwards||6 years|
|Santonio Holmes||5 years|
|Dustin Keller||3 years|
|Jerricho Cotchery||7 years|
|Brad Smith||5 years|
With an average tenure of 5.4 years, the Jets have been playing professional football for three and half years longer than the Patriots. The same is true if we focus in on the lines. For comparison purposes, I've included several of the major Patriot contributors who don't actually start but given the "sub" nature of our defense, I think it's legit. I did less of it with the linebackers, but I don't think it makes a meaningful difference.
|Gerard Warren||10 years|
|Vince Wilfork||7 years|
|Mike Wright||6 years|
|Ron Brace||2 years|
|Myron Pryor||2 years|
...for an average tenure of 4.66 years. The Jets:
|D'Brickashaw Ferguson||5 years|
|Matt Slauson||2 years|
|Nick Mangold||5 years|
|Brandon Moore||8 years|
|Damien Woody||12 years|
...for an average of 6.4 years. Overall, the Patriots defense has been in the League for 3.2 years, whilst the Jets offense has been helmeted on Sundays for 5.8 years -- almost twice as long. Even if you throw out old-man outliers like Tomlinson and Woody, they still edge the Pats in experience.
I don't think you can emphasize this enough, really. The New England Defense has grown before our eyes this year but they've also turned in some real stinkers (hello, Cleveland). Even when we win, teams march up and down the field. Individually you can see the potential, but there are still massive holes in the zones and occasional lapses along the front line -- particularly at the edge of things where our young linebackers come into play.
On Monday, the edges of our defense will be the areas to watch for mistakes made by young football minds. Holmes, Edwards and Cotchery dueling with McCourty, Arrington and Chung. LDT twisting up Cunningham, Spikes, even Mayo.
Even when the teams switch sides, the Jets will continue to have the edge in NFL experience -- without (it should be noted) being actually "old" in playing terms. The Jets defense has an overall tenure of 7.4 years in the league (for calculation purposes I used Ellis, Pouha, DeVito, Pryce, Gholston, Taylor, Thomas, Scott, Harris, Pace, Revis, Leonhard, Pool and Cromartie). By contrast, the Patriots offense clocks in at 5.7 years (Brady, BJGE, Branch, Welker, Woodhead, Gronkowski, Crumpler, Hernandez, Light, Mankins, Koppen, Connolly, Vollmer). By unit, our offensive line is the older group, with 6.2 years overall -- but still younger than the Jets' frontmen who come in with an average of 7.6 NFL seasons.
It's a nice narrative hook to talk about the upstart Jets and the established Patriots. From a franchise perspective -- at least over the last 10 years -- that's a legitimate observation. But as Jests fans will never tire of reminding you, the Jets lead the overall series 51-50 in a game that goes back to the very roots of the AFL. To be fair to a history that long, we must acknowledge that for years it was the NYJ who not only were the legitimate franchise between the two, they were the only franchise that made the AFL a legitimate league.
But the recent history is clear: the Patriots, as an organization, have become one of the class franchises of the NFL. The next step for this team will come when Belichik leaves as head coach, as is inevitable. As one of our estimable commentators has remarked, the Steelers are at the head of the league and right now no one else comes close. Sustained success is the hallmark.
If the last two years of player management are any indication, we should hold hope for joining them at the pinnacle. The amazing thing about the Patriots' Organization is that they’ve almost completely retooled the entire jalopy without pulling it to the roadside. The defense is largely done; it’ll be the offensive line’s turn next.
Monday will be a serious test for that young defense, as our "Baby D" gets a chance to cut its teeth against a group of seasoned veterans in their prime -- with bad intentions. This game may wear the garb of David vs. Goliath, with the scrappy upstart looking to dethrone the king. But if you remember who the players are, beneath the costumes from central casting (ESPN, et al), you know it's not that simple.