Usually, I am not one to get ridiculously confident for games. I know that I am about to pull a jinx, but to be frank, I do not care. I'm not going to mention the "w" word, if it saves any grace. I will not say that the Patriots will destroy their New York rivals next week with all of the power and ferocity of a pride of lions tearing across the savannah.
However, I do think that the Patriots match up very well with this iteration of the Jets. My opinions of this game were only cemented with this past weekend's events, as the Patriots crushed the Bengals 38-24 (I stopped keeping count after the Tate kickoff return for a TD; the game was over at that point, and the Patriots reverted to soft zone coverage the rest of the way) and the Jets looked pitiful against the Ravens, losing in their home opener 10-9. Mark Sanchez, also known as "The Golden Boy," was a whopping 10 for 21 passing, accounting for 74 yards. The offense was unable to move the ball at all and the defense, while decent, also was exposed in the secondary as Joe Flacco and Anquan Boldin abused Antonio Cromartie and rookie Kyle Wilson, ignoring right cornerback Darrelle Revis.
At the end of the day, from top to bottom, the Patriots should have many favorable opportunities against the Jets. I expect quarterback Tom Brady to be hungry and raring to go against a defense that, while athletic, has flaws. Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, this defense should do just enough to get to Mark Sanchez. At least, I hope so.
Now for a slightly more in-depth look, here are five keys for the Patriots next week against the Jets after the jump.
1. Give Brady protection
Tom Brady has the tools at his disposal to pick apart the Jets. However, for this to happen, he is going to need to be protected well by his offensive line. Four of the five linemen had great games last week against the Bengals, while one, Dan Koppen, was serviceable despite some penalties. Since the Jets utilize cross-blitzing, it will be incumbent upon the linemen to recognize their assignments and maintain the wall in front of their quarterback.
Bryan Thomas looked okay tonight, but I still do not see a great outside linebacker who will put fear into the hearts of our tackles. As long as Vollmer and Light are consistent, Brady should have some time to throw. I doubt that Brady will have a bunch of seven step drops next week, but three or five step throws should prevent the defense from touching him while exposing the weak underbelly.
2. Exploit the middle of the field
This is where one can really kill the Jets. Darrelle Revis may lock down one side of the field, but the Jets are simply unable to defend the middle. Without Kerry Rhodes, they have gotten even weaker between the hashmarks, and the Patriots have improved with a healthy Welker, a hopefully well-rested Julian Edelman, and tight end duo Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. Revis will probably be playing the right cornerback position, and I expect to see some plays where Brandon Tate comes to the right side and runs fly routes. I think that Coach Belichick will want to test Tate's speed against Revis' ability. In the Ravens game, Revis was not following around Boldin; it remains to be seen if that pattern will continue, but at the very least, he should not be 100% back to speed yet.
The smart move, in my opinion, would be for Revis and rookie Kyle Wilson to disguise their coverages on occasion and have Revis also play Welker in the slot. Welker is tough to bump physically, but Revis can jump routes as well as any cornerback in the game and underneath passes are especially susceptible to "pick sixes." However, I do not think that Ryan will want to man up Revis with Welker, since it leaves Randy Moss against Antonio Cromartie, which might not end well for the Jets. Cromartie is terrible in man coverage; he would be best utilized in that system as an Ed Reed type playmaker safety, but it would render the Jets too thin at the cornerback position. Stinks for them.
For all of the fantasy players out there, I would pick up one of the Patriots' tight ends this week. My gut is that Aaron Hernandez is going to have a big game, but Gronkowski would not surprise me either. As a fan of the team though, no matter who is catching passes, the middle of the Jets defense looks ripe for the taking.
3. Confuse and pressure Sanchez
The Patriots, surprisingly, did a pretty good job this past week confusing and pressuring Carson Palmer. Most notably, they forced an errant interception that Gary Guyton ran back for a touchdown. Multiple fronts were utilized by Belichick, and everyone seemed to be getting a healthy push on the Bengals offensive line. Sanchez is not nearly the quarterback that Palmer is, although his offensive line is a bit better. Still, there are ways to get to him.
I fully expect the Patriots to load up and bring their all up the left gap. Matt Slauson, who is currently starting at left guard, is not physical enough to stand up at the point of attack against large linemen and linebackers. With Vince Wilfork eating up space in the middle, I expect there to be space to rush the passer through that position. As long as the Patriots get it into Sanchez's head that they might sack him, he will get nervous and revert into Captain Checkdown or The Earl of Interceptions. It is in the nature of the young quarterback, as well as in the nature of the terrible offensive coordinator (which Brian Schottenheimer is.)
4. Play tight on receiving options
This does not just mean wide receivers; heck, I would almost mortgage the wide receivers for the running backs and Dustin Keller. I really hope that Coach Belichick allows Darius Butler and Devin McCourty to play straight man next week on Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery. The safeties could be utilized against the running backs and Keller, and the corners do not need the double coverage help. At least, not against the Jets. I think we will see some three safety sets (and the debut of Jarrad Page) along with Gary Guyton and Jerod Mayo on obvious passing downs. I also hope Guyton and Mayo are allowed to handle the flats, while Page takes the tight end and Chung roams around, ready to hit the ballcarrier. That looks like a scary, swarming defense to me.
A quick note on Sanchez; any time your quarterback completes ten passes in a game, you should be concerned. However, when only THREE OF THOSE PASSES are to his wide receivers, that is a major problem. The Ravens were missing their top two cornerbacks for this game as well as star Ed Reed. Their starters were Chris Carr and Fabian Washington, and their nickel guy was Josh Wilson. The Jets had no excuse to underutilize their wide receivers in such a manner. The Ravens have a decent pass rush, but their only real stud is Terrell Suggs; Sanchez did have some time to throw. He just automatically checked down. I hope the Patriots do not get burned by playing way off everyone.
5. BE PHYSICAL AND FAST -- JUST LIKE THIS PAST WEEK
This is the most important point to make. From the first snap of the Bengals game, the Patriots looked like a different team from last year. I knew that this team would be more fun to watch and to root for than last year's debacle. There was talent on the field last season, but the players were devoid of passion. They looked like they were going through the motions and seemed listless. Heck, even in the opener against the lowly Buffalo Bills, signs were there. The Patriots barely escaped that game, and then suffered through a season of near misses and utter collapses. The whole time, this general aura of indifference pervaded the team.
Now? The passion these players have is tangible. They look tough and they look ready. And, most importantly, they look really, really fast.
On the defensive line, Myron Pryor and Ron Brace helped take the load off the starters and push the pocket. The linebacking core looked fresh, with Brandon Spikes plugging up holes and opening up lanes for Jerod Mayo. Tully Banta-Cain looked pretty stellar getting to the passer. Gary Guyton played the pass as fluently as any linebacker in the NFL when he made his "pick six." Darius Butler showed great closing speed and intensity, playing well in the first half when he was up-man on Ochocinco. Devin McCourty actually outplayed his sophomore mate, essentially locking down Terrell Owens. Brandon Meriweather showed good intensity and did his job as well as he could.
And then, there was Patrick Chung. He was straight up awesome. He ran all over the field like a bullet, knocking the stuffing out of everyone. He may not be great in coverage yet, but that will come with time. At this point, he is like a cannonball, just blasting players all over the place. He reminds me a lot of Rodney Harrison, and I cannot wait to see what his upside is in our defensive scheme. I think he can be special if Coach Belichick decides to take the training wheels off and let him freelance. In three safety sets, with Page covering the tight end and Meriweather blanketing deep, Chung would be best utilized, instilling fear all over the field. That guy is a keeper for sure.
Offensively, the intensity and speed was up as well. Hernandez had a great catch and run and Gronkowski is impossible to defend in the red zone. Brandon Tate looks really explosive, and Wes Welker looks 100 percent. Randy is Randy, and Fred Taylor is Fred Taylor. Tom Brady has more weapons now than he has ever had in New England.
This game against the Jets will probably be a good one. Rex Ryan is a good defensive mind and will certainly throw out the kitchen sink to stop the Patriots. However, at the end of the day, this matchup should favor the good old boys. Hopefully, the game plays out as it should on paper.