If you look at the Jets on paper, you'll see a tremendous mix of talent on both sides of the ball. You'll see an offense with top tier skill players and a quarterback that likes to take risks. You'll see a defense with the most talented line and secondary in the league.
When you watch them on film, you see the exact same thing. You see how well the Jets offense functions through running back Chris Ivory and wide receiver Brandon Marshall. You see how stout the defense is against the run and how infuriatingly good the secondary is against all types of wide receivers.
But you also see some weaknesses in how they play, and ways that the Patriots can capitalize and take down the Jets.
When the Jets run the ball
Chris Ivory is running extremely well this season, but the rest of the backs are not. Bilal Powell is a drive killer and Zac Stacy is wildly inconsistent. There's a chance that Stevan Ridley could return; he's always been a one-cut and go runner, but with his knee injury he might not be effective.
But Ivory is the key to the entire Jets offense. If he doesn't run, then the entire offense falls apart. The Patriots coaches know this and they'll be ready to key in on the running back.
Ivory is a strong runner who sheds tacklers at every step. He needs to be gang tackled every time. If he gets to the hole, he's going to pick up positive yardage and, as a result, the Patriots need to ensure he doesn't ever get to the second level.
If linebacker Dont'a Hightower is unavailable, then the Patriots are in for a long day. Jerod Mayo and Jonathan Freeny lack the ability to shed blockers to make a stop. The Jets offensive line is playing at a high level and center Nick Mangold is back in prime form. The offensive linemen can't get to the next level, or else Ivory will be picking up five yards every time.
The Patriots should think about a similar game plan as what they used against the Jaguars, with regards to how the opposing offenses rely on their running games. Don't get me wrong: the Jets rushing attack is streets ahead of the Jacksonville ground game, but the principles stick: big bodies in the middle, funnel inside.
New England should use their rotation of defensive tackles Alan Branch, Sealver Siliga, Dominique Easley, Akiem Hicks, and Malcom Brown on clear running downs. This could be a long game and all five players need to be fresh.
The edge defenders of Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones, and (hopefully) Jabaal Sheard need to be prepared to take away cutback lanes and to pinch any rushing lanes towards the outside. Ivory is the most dangerous when he gets to turn the corner and the edge players need to focus on keeping him contained inside. Easier said than done.
When the Jets pass the ball
There's no denying the talent of the Jets receiving game. Ivory is a threat out of the backfield and wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker are quality players. Ryan Fitzpatrick has the capability to make all of the throws, but not necessarily the football IQ to win every time.
Decker plays a fair amount out of the slot with his big frame. Marshall is as dangerous as ever.
Decker is still the same player as he was on the Broncos, with unreliable hands and afraid of footsteps in traffic. He can still make big plays, but he hates getting hit. The Patriots should put Logan Ryan in coverage against Decker. Decker will catch a few passes, but so long as Ryan plays Decker as well as he covered Andre Johnson, the Patriots secondary will be fine.
Marshall is another beast. He's playing like one of the top receivers in the league and Fitzpatrick is extremely willing to throw jump balls in his direction. This is why Malcolm Butler is a key coverage player. Butler will be charged with attacking every jump ball in his direction and I wouldn't be surprised if Butler had another multiple-PBU day, with upside for an interception. Marshall can't be locked out of the game, but Butler has the ball skills to cover Marshall at a high enough level.
The Patriots have dedicated a linebacker, like Jamie Collins or Jonathan Freeny, to track the outlet running back out of the back field. This should continue.
Outside of these three players, the Jets really don't involve anyone else in their offense. Sometime Bilal Powell gives Ivory some rest, but the role doesn't really change. Marshall accounts for nearly 50% of the Jets passing yards, and Decker is the only other receiver or tight end with over 100 yards on the season. It's a fairly contained attack.
Fitzpatrick is really the key in the passing game because he's a streaky player. He loves to attack zone concepts, but he lacks the pinpoint accuracy to win every pass against man coverage. If the Patriots play man coverage, Fitzpatrick is going to have to rely on his arm to complete passes and he's liable to throw the ball into the chest of defenders multiple times per game. The Patriots need to come down with these errant throws to put the Jets behind early.
If the Patriots can put their focus on Ivory, Marshall, and Decker, the Jets really don't have any other offensive players worth noting.
When the Patriots run the ball
My original thought going into this game surrounded the match-up between the Patriots offensive line and the Jets defensive line. The Jets run a 3-4 attack and their 3 defensive linemen are leagues better than what the Patriots are fielding on offense. The Patriots typical approach in this scenario is to unleash the receiving back, like Dion Lewis, to use the short passing game as an extension of the running game.
After watching the tape, I think that LeGarrette Blount is a possible threat to have a big day. I watched a few Jets games and it's pretty glaring that they're extremely weak at setting the edge to the outside. Yes, they're extremely stout up the middle. And, yes, Dion Lewis should be primed for a huge day.
But if I'm trying to match up a Patriots running back's skill set with an opposing defense, there's no back that I would rather have lowering the shoulder around the edge than LeGarrette Blount.
The Jets continue to play their defensive linemen in between the tackles, which really helps for penetration. This is an easy set up for the guard to cross the face of the defensive tackle, to turn and keep the defensive lineman inside, while opening up a rushing lane to the outside led by the tackle and a tight end.
Teams have had a ton of success using their tight ends to clear out the Jets linebackers and defensive backs at the second level, so this could be a key blocking game for Rob Gronkowski and Scott Chandler.
I still think Lewis will have a primary role, but I think that Blount could have more success than originally projected.
When the Patriots pass the ball
The Jets have a wealth of talent in the secondary and each player has a nose for the ball. Cornerbacks Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, and Buster Skrine are all fantastic players, while Marcus Gilchrist and Calvin Pryor are both versatile safeties that are playing very well.
The linebackers? Not so much. Demario Davis is a great athlete, but he really struggles to cover in space, and David Harris is fairly north-south. These are players that will likely draw match-ups against tight ends and running backs, and the Patriots should look for them in coverage as much as possible.
The Patriots will have Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Keshawn Martin, Rob Gronkowski, and Scott Chandler. It's possible that Brandon LaFell could be available, but it seems unlikely.
The Jets continue to play their man coverage and Revis continues to be one of the best in the business. Skrine usually draws the slot (if he's cleared from concussion protocol) and Cromartie is the big outside player.
If I were the Jets, I'd put Revis on Edelman, Skrine on Amendola, and then Cromartie on Gronkowski.
It's unknown how the Jets will try to match up with the Patriots receivers, but Brady should look to see which player is matching up with Antonio Cromartie. If the Jets ever put him in coverage of Julian Edelman or Danny Amendola, that should be the immediate target. Cromartie is more of a north-south cornerback (think of a more-athletic, less-physical Brandon Browner) and the shiftier players will give him trouble.
The Jets play a lot of press coverage, so look for the Patriots to run the same rub routes they used against the Cowboys, and look for a lot of passes into the flat as the Jets outside linebackers aren't great in coverage. Quick passes into space will, once again, be key to the Patriots offense.