Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE
The Pats return to Gillette Stadium to face their division rivals from the swamps of Jersey. What will they need to do to bounce back from last week's tough loss?
If you haven't quite yet, that's OK. It was a really tough one to take. But it's Jets week, and the knowledge that in just a matter of a couple days, the Pats' next foe will be their division rivals from about 230 miles to the south should make you feel better.
Not that this game will be a walk. If any team has proven that there will be no such thing so far this season, it's the Patriots. But in the Jets, they will face a wounded foe, a team that may have won big last week (35-9 over the Colts) but has been racked with issues since the second half of last season and is also a mess of injuries and insecurities.
The Jets' strengths and weaknesses play nicely into where the Pats are strongest and most susceptible. Offensively, the Jets simply can't throw the ball (QB Mark Sanchez passed for 82 yards last week and it was actually marked a positive development for him and his team's passing game), which could aid even a pass defense as weak as that of the Pats.
And they are weak against the run, where the Pats, prior to the Seattle game, had set themselves up as one of the more dangerous threats in the league.
The game, ultimately, will come down to who makes more plays and who executes better, with familiarity (this will be the eighth meeting between the two teams since the start of the 2009 season), recent patterns and gimmicks playing a secondary role. And by gimmicks, we don't mean the Pats offense, we mean Tim Tebow.
Both teams have issues right now up and down the line. The Patriots may look better than their 3-3 record indicates while the Jets may look worse than theirs does. But you are what your record says you are and that means this game no more than a chance for both teams to get their heads above water against a division foe.
So with that, let's take a look at what's most compelling about this most recent renewal of the Pats/Jets rivalry.
When the Patriots run the ball.
The Jets have been a team predicated on their defense ever since Rex Ryan took over as head coach in 2009. But it's been slipping a bit since the middle of last season and this year, although they are in the middle of the pack, they are awful against the run.
The Jets are allowing an average of over 150 yards rushing per game, 28th in the league. This doesn't bode well against a Pats offense that runs the ball an average of 36 times per game, most in the NFL.
What will be key for the Pats is not just establishing the run but sticking with it. Against the Seahawks, the Pats scrapped any real attempt to run the ball with consistency in the first half, so when they lined up big and tried to run out the clock late in the game, they weren't properly equipped to do it. Having a solid balance between the run and the pass is crucial. The Pats are 3-0 this season when they run the ball on half of their plays or more. They are 0-3 when they don't.
Should they remember the importance of a balanced offense, the Pats will be best served running Stevan Ridley between the tackles, where the Jets are giving up a whopping 4.6 yards per attempt. And of course, getting back to a more up tempo pace can only the help the Pats in this regard as well. The Jets aren't exactly young and spry up front and it stands to reason that they will be playing a good portion of the game in sub looks in an attempt to try to slow down all of the Pats' weapons in the passing game.
Neither Brandon Bolden nor Logan Mankins practiced on Thursday but this is still a match up the Patriots can not only win, it's one they can dominate. Getting back to that balance so prevalent in their wins in Weeks 4 and 5 is the key.
When the Jets pass the ball.
This is a veiled example of the irresistible force against the immovable object. The Jets passing game is horrid. The Patriots' pass defense is en route to being historically terrible. Something's gotta give.
It stands to reason that Sanchez's undeniable lousiness won't necessarily be a deterrent to the Jets throwing the ball down the field. Last week, the Pats made Seattle rookie QB Russell Wilson, who came into that game as the 30th rated passer in the league, look like some sort of highly evolved mutant amalgamation of Dan Fouts, Ken Stabler, Randall Cunningham and every other great deep ball thrower in league history. What was most impressive about it was how accurate he was on some of those throws. It had to have helped that his targets were so wide open so frequently. But he was making 35-50 yards bombs look routine.
Who knows if Sanchez is capable of that kind of accuracy? He's completing a woeful 49.7 percent of his passes this season, a number that would get a lot of QBs benched in high school or college. But since the Jets don't have anyone better (hello, Tebow!), they keep running him out there to stink up the joint.
Sanchez has never been accurate. He's a 54.7 percent passer for his career and he averages a measly 6.5 yards per pass attempt. Furthermore, it's not like the Jets have any deep threats in particular. With Santonio Holmes out, they feature rookie Stephen Hill and second year man Jeremy Kerley as their top two receivers and neither of them have the pedigree of even a Sidney Rice in Seattle.
But will it matter? You don't need to be a threat to get open down the field against the Patriots secondary as constituted for the past three-plus years and if there isn't any consistency in pressuring the pocket, it will be that much tougher for the Pats DBs to stay with the Jets' receivers. Of course, Sanchez's accuracy issues may not matter if the Pats let the Jets receivers get as open as the Seahawks receivers were. Have any Pats' defensive backs given anyone any reason to assume they'll cover more closely, play better, know where to go and when to be there in situations at which help over the top is required? All Sanchez will need to do is make sure the ball is somewhere in his targets' vicinity.
That's a bit of an exaggeration, but not much. And Steve Gregory, who has been one of the brighter spots in the Pats defensive backfield this season, missed practice again on Thursday thanks to his troublesome hip. The Jets shouldn't be able to beat anyone through the air. But they just well might do it to the Pats.
When the Patriots pass the ball.
Assuming Tom Brady is completely healthy (he was not on Thursday's injury report) and his arm is sufficiently rested after throwing an obscene 58 passes in Seattle last week,, he should be able to put up some good numbers against the Jets. Darrelle Revis, arguably the best corner in the league, is out for the season for the Jets and even though their pass defense still ranks fairly well, neither Antonio Cromartie nor Kyle Wilson is Revis in any way, shape or form.
That being said, the Jets did some work in the offseason that screams stopping the Pats. They have two new safeties in Yeremiah Bell and LaRon Landry and both are fast and can cover. Their presence on the Jets roster feels a lot like they are there to play against Rob Gronkowski (who is really banged up) and Aaron Hernandez, each of whom shredded the Jets in the Pats two wins over them last season.
Whether any of this will really matter come Sunday is anyone's guess. Wilson was playing a lot of nickel corner before Revis was injured but still tends to line up against the opponents' slot guy even though he's risen on the depth chart. It's hard to believe he will be able to keep up with Wes Welker, who has also abused the Jets over the years and that's with Revis healthy. Should Brady have time to throw, Welker stands to be one of the focal points of the Pats' game plan on offense.
And again, how well the Pats are able to do through the air could well be directly linked to how well they do on the ground. If either Bell or Landry has to play closer to the line in the event of the Pats running the ball down the Jets throat, that should open up a lot more room for Welker, Gronk, Hernandez and Brandon Lloyd to operate.
The strength of the Jets defense is their ability to defend the pass. But it's not as strong as it once was. And the Pats, with Brady at full strength and all of their weapons, should capitalize.
Prediction: Patriots 27, Jets 17
Logic would dictate that the Pats should breeze past the Jets with their injuries and limitations on offense. But that's what logic dictated last week and Wilson (who was swallowed whole by the 49ers and their real defense on Thursday night) still had his way with them as if he was still a stud at Wisconsin and N.C. State. Sanchez has looked barely competent this season but against the Pats' consistently regressing secondary, will that even matter? One would hope so. And you can bet that extra focus was placed on defending the pass this week in practice. Add to that the fact that even if they can make plays against those defensive backs, the Jets will be hard pressed to keep up with the Pats offensively and more than likely won't be able to run the ball as much or as well as they'd like and this game should wind up a nice bounce back win for the home team.