In the lead-up to the Patriots much-hyped match-up against the New York Jets, I asked John Butchko of Gang Green Nation some questions to help preview the game.
1. The Jets are 2-2 and on a two game losing streak. They're currently in third in the AFC, and while the defense looked exceptional against the Ravens, the team just hasn't been as consistent as it was in 2010. As someone who covers the Jets on a daily basis, what is the reason for the "sluggish" start?
There is no simple answer. We have seen different units have bad games across the board. In the opener against Dallas, the pass defense had a bad game, which kept the Jets from owning the lead until the last minute of the fourth quarter. Against the Raiders, the run defense was inconsistent. The Jets were not necessarily blown off the ball consistently (they certainly were once on a long Darren McFadden touchdown run), but they got themselves out of position at times, missed some tackles, and allowed some huge runs. Last week, the offense had a meltdown for the ages.
There has been no one answer. Different groups have struggled each week. Every aspect I mentioned has had three good games and one bad one. I guess that might be a good thing since the team has seemingly been able to correct what was wrong from the week before, but it is sure frustrating to watch something new pop up.
2. So far this year, the Jets have been pretty unbalanced on offense. They've thrown the ball 147 times and run the ball just 92 (and at a 3.1 YPC average). Do you see the team returning to a more balanced attack against the Patriots, and what do you think is the key to turning the running game around?
I think they have to become more balanced to preserve Mark Sanchez. He is not going to last the season if he keeps taking shots at the pace he is taking them. Without the threat of the run, pass rushers have been able to fire up the field. Play action is meaningless without a good running attack. The Jets also need to get more yardage out of the run game so Sanchez does not need to drop back as frequently for the team to have success. Word is Rex Ryan is instructing his offensive coordinator that there needs to be more balance starting this week.
It is easy to blame the running back, Shonn Greene for the problems, but he has not really had a chance. The line has opened no running lanes. He is too frequently getting hit in the backfield. He might not be the long term answer for the Jets at running back, but it is impossible to say because no back could have success the way the line has run blocked.
I think the biggest thing will be getting Nick Mangold back in the lineup. He has been out two weeks, and an undrafted rookie has started in his place. It has gone about as well as you would expect when an undrafted rookie takes over for a Pro Bowler. Even though the offensive line struggled when Mangold was in there, he makes the unit much better. Few teams have the luxury of a center who can win almost every matchup without help. It frees guys up for other spots. The other weak link in the line has been right tackle Wayne Hunter, but he has quietly improved his play from brutal to passable the past two weeks. I think this unit can get things back on track. This was the same starting line from the last three weeks of the regular season last year and the last two Playoff games. This line won its battles even against Pittsburgh's top run stopping front seven Week 16 last season so it is capable of finding success.
Three more questions after the jump!
3. Every time when the Patriots and Jets play, Rex Ryan always seems to deploy a different kind of scheme to rattle the Patriots offense. When the Jets beat the Patriots in week two last year, they loaded up the line and were consistently putting pressure on Tom Brady. In the playoffs, the Jets utilized a high amount of defensive backs. What do you think we might see out of the Jets defense this weekend?
I think your first statement hits on the key point. Rex Ryan mixes things up. It is out of necessity. If you do the same thing, Tom Brady is going to recognize it, find a matchup that favors him, and destroys you. I knew the Jets were in for a long night Week 13 last season when the ESPN announcers mentioned that Brady had broken down the film and thought he figured out New York's defense.
The Jets have won three games against the Patriots the past two seasons. There has been one constant. They have mixed things up so that Brady could not recognize what was coming. During the two regular season wins the Jets had, they have relied on mixing blitzes in the front of the defense and confusing the pass protection (and by extension Brady, who seemed to have difficulty adjusting his protection correctly). In the Playoffs last year, the Jets gave new and exotic looks in the back of their defense that gave him problems.
I tend to think the Jets will rely more on coverage this time. It worked really well last time out, and there are some matchups that favor New England a lot in man coverage (tight ends vs. safeties). I think the Jets are going to show a ton of different looks from what they did last time. Brady has had all summer to study what happened. If the Jets do the exact same thing, it could be a long day.
4. Lets talk about the Jets passing attack for a minute. Aside from the Ravens game, Mark Sanchez has put up pretty good numbers this year. Has his play been up to expectations? And what type of personnel can the Patriots expect from the Jets when they line up to pass (tight ends vs. wide receivers/running backs, etc.)?
Sanchez's play this year reminds me a lot of the guy whose job he took, Brett Favre. I am not talking about vintage Favre. I am talking about Favre near the end of his career, 2001 and beyond. Sanchez makes a ton of risky throws. They have resulted in a ton of big plays other guys might not make. They have also resulted in a lot of turnovers. Many of these turnovers make fans want to bang their heads against the wall because they are so ugly. He is also prone to some absolute meltdowns like last week. Taking the good with the bad, the guy who played Weeks 1-3 is certainly good enough for a team to do very well with, especially if you can give him a good run game and defense as the Jets at least in theory expect to do by the end of the year.
On passing downs, expect a lot of three receiver (Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress, Derrick Mason), one tight end (Dustin Keller), and one back (LaDainian Tomlinson) looks. They might not line up at their conventional positions at all times. They might split Keller and Tomlinson out at times. These are the five best receivers on the team right now. The Jets had one package with three tight ends, one receiver, and Tomlinson that was effective throwing the ball because two of the tight ends were of the athletic receiving variety. Along with Keller was Jeff Cumberland, but he is out for the year now so that package is likely gone.
5. We talked about the Jets' defensive strategy a bit, but can you tell who you think one x-factor might be on the defensive side of the ball?
I'll go with Kyle Wilson. The Jets took the corner in the first round out of Boise State last year. It was a struggle for him as a rookie. The Jets defense asks a lot of its corners. It was too much to handle. He trained with Darrelle Revis in the offseason, and he has been fantastic. He has really locked down the third option on the other team. Having a third good cover corner allows the Jets to do some extra things defensively. He might not be ready for Wes Welker, but his emergence might allow the team to move Revis inside on Welker move because they can trust Wilson to slide outside and do a good job.
6. Predict the outcome of the game:
I think the Pats are playing a bit better and are at home so I'll take them 28-24. Looking ahead, I think the Jets beat the Pats at home on November 13 to go 6-3.