Breaking Down the Jets vs the Patriots
It doesnít take a long time for things to change drastically in the NFL. With Tom Bradyís devastating knee injury the AFC East, and really the entire AFC, has been thrown upside down. The Patriots will come limping into the Meadowlands for the first time in ages and the Jets have a chance to make a statement with a convincing win this week.
Jets Defense vs. Patriot Offense
Nobody really is going to know what to expect here. The team flew Chris Simms and Tim Rattay in for a tryout but sent them home without even a look. While that may have been a ploy by the coaching staff to show their confidence in QB Matt Cassel, it is highly unlikely he is their choice to start for them. More likely they have contacted someone like Vinny Testeverde, Daunte Culpepper, or Drew Bledsoe about coming in for them. Jet fans know the feeling as this same thing happened as recently as 2005 when the Jets had to turn to Brooks Bollinger for a game at a time when it was well known the staff had no desire to play him at all. Cassel has the makings of a career 3rd string player that coaches seem to like to have around. He hasnít started a game since high school and his brief appearances in the pros have not amounted to much excitement. Itís likely the Patriots entire offensive playbook is being thrown out and rewritten right now. The team isnít going to be able to spread the field with tons of receivers running all around the field killing teams with multiple targets at multiple levels on the field. The offensive line is going to have to be the strength of the offense from this point forward. They are going to have to dominate the point of attack and allow the Pats to run the ball all game. Laurence Maroney is going to be used much more often as a runner and Sammy Morris will be used as a battering ram in short yardage spots and to soften up the defense. Kevin Faulk, returning from suspension, will likely be an out of the backfield target on screen plays. Those three guys are now going to be the primary ball movers, not the QB and the receivers. Randy Moss remains a dangerous down the field threat, but itís a question whether or not his QB can get him the football. New England did it once last week, but that was in a spot where nobody expected a deep ball and the Kansas City secondary is well below average. After that drive nobody really heard from Moss again. Wes Welker will likely go back to being the player he was in Miami meaning shorter routes and alot of spots where he is coming back to the QB rather than going across the field. Ben Watson is going to be used more or less the way the Jets use Chris Baker.
Provided the New England offense comes into the game ready to play rather than all deflated, the Jets have two or three areas they need to key on. The first area is to continue the great run defense they displayed in Miami this past week. The Patriots offensive line is far better than Miamiís, but the push created by Kris Jenkins was unreal and the Jets players did a good job of getting into the lanes and then gang-tackling Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown. If they play with the same aggression and team oriented play rather than one on one defense they will be in good shape. Where Maroney will kill them is if he runs right inside the tackles and just has to make one linebacker miss. That is when he hits those 20+ yard runs that create big momentum for the New England offense. As long as there is help coming he will never create those big plays. The second area is to contain Randy Moss early on. The Jets corners did an outstanding job dominating the Miami wideouts last week. If Darrelle Revis blankets Moss early and Moss doesnít get the ball its not crazy to think that Moss pulls himself out of the game mentally. For all of Mossí talent when things have not gone his way he gives up and goes through the motions. It happened at times in Minnesota and everyone around the NFL thought he was washed up following what amounted to him taking a two year, highly paid vacation in Oakland. Finally the Jets need to do a far better job of covering the New England Tight Ends and Running Backs than they did against the Dolphins. Anthony Fasano and David Martin ate the Jets alive and the team allowed the Miami backs to covert on some crucial plays in the 4th quarter in the passing game. If the Jets allow Watson or Faulk to be that open they have talent to do serious damage with the football in their hands. Tight ends and running backs are often an inexperienced QBís best friends and those guys could become the focus of the passing game, especially seeing what happened last week in Miami. Eric Smith was a complete disaster in coverage and has to show major improvement this week. His assignments will be a major bullseye for Cassel. The Jets also need to make certain that Calvin Pace has help when he has to cover players out of the backfield.
Expect the Jets to try to confuse Cassel with their looks in passing situations. That may mean breaking the huddle late or switching positions and moving all around the field before the snap. The pass rush will come naturally and the Jets may not try to force it. They donít want to bring the house early and see Cassel heave it to a wide open Moss to give their offense confidence. As the game wears on the Jets will likely try to blitz Cassel more often to break the game open.
Jets Offense vs. Patriots Defense
The strength of the Patriot defense still lies with their defensive linemen who are among the best in the business. Ty Warren is a beast at end and Vince Wilfork is the immovable object in the middle. Richard Seymour was ineffective in 2007, but can not be discounted as he should be in much better shape this year. They also have good depth with quality role players that come in for different situations. The linebackers are almost all older and are now going to be an even bigger target for teams to exploit. Mike Vrabel and Adalius Thomas will be the primary pass rushers with Tedy Bruschi and rookie Jarod Mayo patrolling the field. The depth behind them is almost non-existent and this will be a much different situation for them than it has been in the past. They will no longer be playing with big leads nor able to take as many chances since the offense cant make up for a mistake. Itís a smart group of players and Mayo could turn out to be a great tackler for the team as he gets more comfortable in the position. The secondary is a complete patchwork group. Their cornerbacks donít present an interception threat and Ellis Hobbs is going to be in for rough assignments week after week having to play the number 1s. The ancient Rodney Harrison is still the main enforcer in the secondary. Harrison is still a hard hitter, but causes dumb penalties and has a tendency to blow coverage while lining a player up for target practice. The Patriots desperately need 2nd year DB Brandon Meriweather to begin making plays for the team.
One of the areas the Jets coaches and players have put a big emphasis on was the fact that they have been preparing strictly for 34 defenses and that is why they ran so poorly in the preseason as they had to adjust to going against a 43 alignment. The Patriots love to go to that base defense against the Jets and you can bet that they will give the Jets a ton of looks with the 43 and Seymour playing DT and Jarvis Green rushing from the edge. The offensive line is going to have to prove that they are ready to play against 4 guys with their hand in the dirt. They also have to do a much better job limiting the penalties this week. If the line plays well against the four man front and it throws the Patriots off from their plans it could send them into disarray. Thomas Jones is going to be given a chance to be a workhorse this game. Jones played as well in Miami as he did in almost any game last year. He kept his legs moving and didnít just go down at the first sign of trouble, a problem that seemed to plague him last year and this preseason. The Jets will likely try a steady split of passes and runs this week. It was evident from the first game of the season that Brett Favre is still not on the same page as all of his linemen and definitely not on the same page as WR Laveranues Coles. The Jets do not want to put Favre in a position where he is just heaving it all over the field and seeing mistakes happen that create points for the other team. That is not to say the Jets wonít be taking chances in the game. Jerricho Cotchery and Favre are showing a great connection and the Jets will try to make sure Cotchery is isolated in single coverage by setting the Patriots defense up with the run. There is not a player in the Patriot secondary that can cover Cotchery one on one for an entire game. TEís Chris Baker, Bubba Franks, and perhaps Dustin Keller will all play a role in the passing game. Whether the Patriots are overaggressive rushing with their linebackers or are dropping them back into coverage the Jets know that they will have some coverage mismatches in this area of the field. If a player like Bruschi is stuck on Keller, Keller is just going to run away from him as soon as he gets the ball.
Certainly an issue for the Jets last week as Mike Nugent went down early with an injury and the Jets played with no kicker. The team brought in Jay Feely to take over kicking duties this week. For the most part Feely is very accurate inside the 40, though he had problems with the Giants on some chip shots in his two years in New York, with an average leg. The Jets know the damage Hobbs can do on returns as he broke their backs with a huge return in the home opener last year and had a big one against the Chiefs last week. Stephen Gostkowski has a big leg which can limit the Jets ability to return the football. Chris Hanson might be the worst punter in the NFL. Itís a position that has been an afterthought for the Patriots and now may become a big area of importance for the team as they will actually have to punt the ball this season.
This is now the 6th showdown between Bill Belichick and Eric Mangini and the first time Mangini is going to favored to beat his mentor. The two coaches typically play very close games against one another, but more often than not Belichick has had his players in a position to make something happen while Mangini has not been that fortunate. These are two different scenarios for both men and it will be interesting to see how they react. Belichick will be without the QB who made him famous for the first time in nearly 7 years. Prior to Brady, Belichick had put up terrible records and was looked at as a coordinator who couldnít coach. Belichick does have experience planning for life without his starter as it was Brady who replaced Drew Bledsoe in 2001. Brady was far from being ďTom TerrificĒ at that point and the coach simplified everything for Brady and made his defense win games for the team. The question is can he do the same with another replacement and a totally different style of team built for offense and not defense?
Mangini is in a totally new spot. Not only is he expected to beat New England this week, but the fan base expects him to destroy the Patriots. The Jets are now one of the favorites to win the AFC East and Mangini knows a win here will take the Jets to an even higher level of media attention. Every game that makes Brett Favre look like he could get to a Super Bowl is going to intensify the outside pressure and coverage of the team. The Jets have never done well with expectations high. Mangini has to make sure his players are loose and not tight for this game. He also needs to keep himself loose as he has made some strange decisions in the past in game winning type spots.
This will likely be the loudest and wildest crowd that the Jets have had for a regular season game since the 2002 win against Green Bay. Everyone will most likely be in their seats for introductions unless the parking problems cause catastrophic delays getting to the stadium. Most of the Jet players will have never seen an atmosphere like this at the pro level. Favre, Woody, Faneca, Jenkins and Jones have all experienced it while they were members of other teams, but the only players to experience it in Jet Green have been Coles and Shaun Ellis. How the players react to it could be good or bad. It could make them really amped up or it could make them play a bit too careful and tight. Either way it should rattle the New England QB terribly.
Too many people have already crowned the Jets as champions of the East and may have begun overlooking the game itself and simply looking forward to the celebration that will follow what they perceive will be the symbolic burial of the Patriots. Itís hard to see the Patriots just rolling over and dying like that for a franchise they absolutely hate. The defensive leadership was here when it was their job, and not Tom Bradyís, to bring home the division crown and they are going to relish the chance to prove that they are not too old and too slow to win football games the way they used to. The offense may not be there for New England but if the Jets allow them to believe they can win they probably will.
This is a game where the Jets need to win both mentally and physically early on. The Patriots are going to come out with alot of energy. It wouldnít be shocking if their first play from scrimmage is a deep ball to Moss with everyone expecting run. But deep down you know the players have to question what is going to happen, especially the players who have only been a Patriot for a season or two now that they are playing with the worst QB in the entire NFL. The Jets have to take that doubt and force it to be front and center in the Patriots minds. That means scoring early, 3 and outs for the Patriot offense, and creating an early turnover. If the Jets can jump out 10-0 or 14-0 the game is over. Jets fans get their celebration and probably win a laugher. But if they struggle and the score is 7-3 or 10-6 at the half, you can bet that Belichick will bring his team into the locker room and convince them about how this ďteamĒ was 18-0 last year and there is no reason for them to not be 2-0 by the time the day is over. Then it becomes a dogfight that either team can win and the stadium will be a morgue is the Patriots prevail.
These two teams always play close games. Usually its one play that makes the difference and changes the momentum. A bad pass. A blocked kick. A fumble in the end zone. If the Jets donít make the bad play, keep the crowd wild, and put pressure on the Patriots they will do what was unthinkable just 1 week ago---sit atop the AFC East at 2-0. The party gets started around 7:30 Sunday night.
Jets 24 Patriots 10