A month ago I wrote a quick blog about the four possible options for when the Pats - Jets met, and here we are at the "Guns Blazing" option. I fully expect the Jets to come out and play solid football, at least for the first quarter. This is a huge test for a Patriots team that could not win on the road last year, and this will be the most hostile stadium they play in this season.
The good news is that the Patriots are healthy and confident, and appear more than ready to take on the team that was the talk of the off-season.
The game plan after the jump...
1. Screens, Screens and More Screens - The Jets gave up a league-high 10.6 yards per pass against screen passes in 2009 and this statistic only validates the danger of playing an attacking style like the Jets do. If you have a quarterback who can correctly diagnose the defense, intelligent receivers who can break off their roots, and a strong veteran line you've got a solid chance to burn them. Hmmm, does that sound like an offense that we know?
Let's remember what Tom Brady had to work with in week two of 2009: Randy Moss being covered by a cornerback who was having arguably the best season a cornerback has ever had, the soon-to-be released Joey Galloway, and a former quarterback playing in just his second game as a wide receiver. We all saw the extreme measures the Pats went to with sideline signal boards to desperately try to get everyone on the same page, and it didn't work. All it took was the return of Wes Welker in the 2009 rematch and the Pats had no problem hanging 410 yards of offense on this Jets defense.
Well now they've added in three versatile tight ends along with another speedy receiver who can stretch the field. I don't know who Revis is going to cover and I don't really care. The Jets safeties and linebackers are ill-equipped to cover the Patriots tight ends and that alone will make even more of a difference this time. Expect a bevy of screen passes to them as well as the running backs to put the Jets defense on it's heels.
2. Stop the Jets First Drive - In hostile stadiums it's often wise to give the home team the ball first to let the fans blow their early energy while their own offense is on the field, so I expect the Patriots to prefer to give The Bad Sancheesy the ball first. What happens on that first Jets offensive possession could very well determine how the game goes.
As we saw in Hard Knocks Mark Sanchez isn't at his best when things aren't going his way. A touchdown drive on the first possession could re-ignite the Jets confidence. By the same token a three and out or any kind of a defensive stop will deflate the leaderless Jets offense and make them feel like it's going to be another long day on the field turf for them. If the Jets get the ball first, and don't score any points it's a huge advantage for the Patriots. The seeds of doubt that were planted last week for New York will begin to blossom again.
3. Here Comes the Run - No one seems to mention the fact that the Patriots held the Bengals to 1 rushing yard in the first quarter of their game last weekend, nor is anyone mentioning how much of a disruptive force Brandon Spikes is in the run game. The Begals running game was a formidable warm-up but the Jets running game is the real test. If the Jets can move the ball on the ground the rest of their offense will be opened up.
They cannot be allowed to move the ball at any cost. The Bad Sancheesy will complete his share of short passes but that's not where they're going to win the game. Expect to see a great deal of the Patriots 3-4 base early and often as opposed to the nickel and dime packages we saw last week. I encourage everyone to focus on Spikes when he's in the game, and watch how he attacks the line of scrimmage and knocks offensive lineman into the backfield. He's also adept at avoiding blocks and getting to the ball carrier. Between him and a 100% Jerod Mayo the Patriots should stand up well, but it will be important to stay alert for play action, which the Jets ran 25% of the time in 2009. Ladainian Tomlinson could do damage as a receiver out of the backfield.
4. Special Teams Must Be Special - After Hard Knocks I have a great respect for Jets special teams coach Mike Westhoff, and it's no wonder why his special teams are always in the top 10. The Patriots are no slouches themselves but it will be critical to maintain good field position throughout the contest, and especially not let the Jets break a big punt or kick return. Something they're more than capable of doing.
Zoltan Mesko, should he be needed, will have his first taste of the swirling winds of the new Meadowlands and faces a real challenge in keeping his punts away from the dangerous Jets returners. Stephen Gostkowski will be a huge key, especially if he's able to continue blasting touchbacks. He's also looking to bounce back from two missed field goals against the Bengals.
5. Win - As always the fifth and final point of the game plan is to get the win come hell or high water. This will not be the same sputtering Jets offense we saw against the Ravens so the Pats should be prepared for a dogfight on both sides of the ball.
This is a huge test for a young Patriots team, going into a hornet's nest to face a team that probably needs the win more than they do. As I said before the season, and will continue to say, the Patriots defense will be inconsistent this year so don't be surprised if the Jets do move the ball. Luckily the Pats offense is a match-up nightmare for an already thinned Jets defense. No matter how much better The Bad Sancheesy and pals look, the Patriots should be able to outscore them and get their first, and toughest, divisional win of the 2010 season.