Breaking Down the Jets vs the Patriots
After back to back losses in pretty convincing fashion the Jets try to right the ship with a trip to Foxboro to take on the rival New England Patriots
Jets Offense vs Patriots Defense
Quite frankly the Patriots barely have a defense. They have been decimated in the passing game each and every week. The lowest yardage total for any QB against the Patriots has been 344 yards this year. The lack of a pass rush has brought to attention just how bad the players in the secondary are. 2nd Year pro CB Devin McCourty, who played so well at the end of the 2010, has been a nightmare. Teams throw towards him as if he is not even there and are completing a high percentage of passes for big yards. CB Leigh Bodden, who missed last weeks game with an injury but should play this week, has not fared much better, having a tendency to get beaten down the field by his matchup. The lone bright spot has been Kyle Arrington who has played surprisingly well in the nickel packages for the Patriots, picking up a pair of interceptions against the Bills and one against the Dolphins. The secondaryís most consistent player is S Patrick Chung, who often seems to have a habit of being in the right place at the right time during critical plays. Up front the Patriots have lost LB Jerod Mayo to a knee injury which is a loss for the run support. The other linebackers are well below average in almost every category and donít do well in covering the outside. Former Jet DE Shaun Ellis has yet to make an impact while DT Albert Haynesworth is barely playing. DE Andre Carter has had a good season thus far both in containing the run and being able to at least get some push towards the QB. Veteran DT Vince Wilfork has certainly slowed down since his prime, but is still a load in the middle of the line. DE Mark Anderson has become the default pass rushing specialist.
The Jets offense is in the midst of an identity crisis with a lot of finger pointing supposedly going on behind the scenes. QB Mark Sanchez has not played well, but even worse has failed to develop any chemistry with WR Santonio Holmes. Wide Receivers are difficult players to deal with when things are going bad and they are not getting the football and Holmes is not getting the football. WR Plaxico Burress has kept quiet through all of this, but he is very close with Holmes off the field and he will likely feel the same way shortly if the team does not improve. The other acquisition at WR, Derrick Mason, has also begun criticizing the offense. What effect this will have on TE Dustin Keller, who has developed chemistry with Sanchez and has been the most consistent player on offense, is unknown. As a rookie Keller dealt with this type of sniping between players and coaches and he disappeared down the stretch. The Jets running game has been non-existent. Starter Shonn Greene, who seems to be having problems holding the ball again, has to be in danger of getting benched. LaDainian Tomlinson is more versatile and may be able to make more things happen if there is an open field in front of him. At the very least the Jets may consider Joe McKnight or Bilal Powell in the future.
The team hopes to get a boost from the return of C Nick Mangold to all facets of the game, but the line has been so bad that it is hard to imagine him being a major difference. He will do a better job of making the calls at the line, but much of the Jets problems are as much physical as mental. The Jets need to see major improvement from G Brandon Moore who is having a very down season. The Jets assumed he would pick up some of the slack for RT Wayne Hunter, but that has not occurred. Hunter, who has gotten Sanchez pressured more than anyone else on the team, will get his first matchup of the season where he will not face a good pass rusher against New England. If he plays poorly again Iím not sure what the Jets can do.
The Jets claim they want to go back to being a running football team this week, which I guess is a possibility against the Patriots. The loss of Mayo could make New England soft up the gut if Mangold, Moore, and Matt Slauson can push the line off the snap. The way the Jets have played that is a big if. The linebackers donít have great athleticism which might make them susceptible to an outside run, but the Jets are better off attacking that with designed screens where they let the rusher go rather than hoping the line holds off a rusher long enough to let Greene or Tomlinson get around the edge. New England has allowed at least 50 yards of passing to a back in every game this season.
The Jets have to be willing to throw the football this week and trust their receivers to get open down the field. Though New England does limit the super huge play, they are the right at the bottom of the NFL in allowing teams to march down the field with 20-30 yard passes. To do what the Jets did last week and throw everything about 5 yards away from the line of scrimmage wonít work against New England. If there is a team in the NFL that the Jets can pass block against it is the Patriots. The Jets have 4 WRs that can get open down the field if they have time. The Patriots more or less give up two 100 yard receivers each week and you only get those kinds of yards when the ball travels in the air 15-20 yards, not 5-7. Sanchez has shown that he is capable of those throws, and some may argue is better at those throws than the short passing game.
That does not mean Sanchez can continue to make poor decisions with the football. If there is one thing that the Patriot defense does well it is creating turnovers. They have linemen that get their hands in the air and tip passes, something Sanchez has problems with. They still drop back linemen at times and trick you into throwing right into them. Had Sanchez made better decisions the previous two weeks the Jets would likely be 3-1. The Patriots are so good offensively that the Jets have to score points but most importantly can not lose points off interceptions or fumbles. New England is still opportunistic on defense despite their flaws and this has been a house of horrors for Sanchez in his two regular season visits. If Sanchez starts pressing early it could be a long afternoon.
Jets Defense vs Patriots Offense
Are the Patriots the best offense in the NFL? That is probably a subject open for debate, but they clearly are one of the most dangerous and difficult to defend in the league. Itís a team that really can do everything well. QB Tom Brady continues his dominance of the league and right now just has this connection with WR Wes Welker and TE Rob Gronkowski where he never misses them with the football. The Patriots offense is different than almost every team in the NFL in that they use their Tight Ends as the deep threats to clear out the middle of the field for the small wide receivers creating all kinds of matchup headaches and defensive problems. They may be slowed a bit if TE Aaron Hernandez, who will likely be a gametime decision, is sidelined for another week as he is another superbly athletic tight end that stretches the field. Really the only receiver who has not played well in the offense is former Bengal Chad Ochocinco who looks lost and is basically an off the bench player after his much publicized trade to New England. The unsung heroes of the Patriots are the offensive linemen. There was a time when Brady used to bail them out but they have played exceptional this year in both pass protection and run blocking. The passing game is so dangerous that teams overlook the run game which can come in and break off huge runs at any time. RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis gets the bulk of the carries and is a steady contributor while rookie RB Stevan Ridley looks to have explosive potential in the open field. In a more limited role he has shined the last two weeks and gives the Patriots yet another dangerous option to complement the passing game.
The Jets defense is really living off a reputation that they carved two years ago. They had their moments last year and were an above average squad, but they have had a rough start to the season. With the exception of the cornerback position the Jets defense does not have a lot of stars or superbly talented players. They are the classic group where the performance as a whole far outweighs what each would give individually, except this season that cohesion seems lost, especially at the beginning of football games where they are letting teams march right down the field and score points. It just seems to be the little things with this unit. A big pass let up by a safety. A missed sack by a lineman. Failure to contain on the outside. The problem is that these little mistakes are resulting in huge plays for the opposition and all it takes are a few big plays to win a game in the NFL. The only consistent player is CB Darrelle Revis who is no longer even thrown on by the opposition. He is clearly the best defender in the game. CB Antonio Cromartie has been solid in coverage, but officials seem to be watching him more this year for use of his hands down the field. Everyone else on the team should be fair game to criticize and hold accountable for some of the defensive struggles.
Last week the Jets made it a point to stop the run and they used LB Bart Scott more in his traditional role of aggressively attacking up front to free guys up to make a tackle, which seemed to work well. However, an injury to LB Bryan Thomas could see him shift more to playing the outside, which he did early in his Ravens career. Aaron Maybin and Jamaal Westerman will also see snaps, but Maybin, who was relentless in his attack last Sunday, is so undersized for the defense and Westerman just looked so bad on a touchdown that it is hard to see either filling the role. It could lead to a situation where the Jets give more 43 looks on defense or start using Scott as the 34 OLB with Josh Mauga taking his spot inside. If that is the case LB David Harris needs to be more assertive in the middle of the field than he has been. Rookie DE Muhammad Wilkerson seems to be progressing nicely and will certainly be tested this week against the most complex offense he will see this year.
The Jets shut this team down in the playoffs last year to the point where Brady was getting booed by the home crowd. It was a stunning performance by a team that had been good but not great, and on that day they played great and embarrassed Tom Brady. The Jets loaded the field with defensive backs which completely threw off the Patriots timing and Brady was lost trying to throw the football. You have to assume the Patriots are more prepared for that strategy this time, though the Jets have better personnel in the secondary with the addition of Donald Strickland and better play from the 2011 version of Kyle Wilson to perhaps pull it off. If the Jets use that approach they run the risk of having the Patriots quickly switch to a running game, something they refused to do in the playoffs until it was too late. If that occurs Harris is really going to need to step his game up and find a way to squash plays at the line of scrimmage. If he canít do that the Jets defense will quickly be torn apart by Ellis and Ridley.
What type of coverage assignments the Jets employ will be an interesting watch. Welker is the NFLís leading receiver, but he is not at a position that Revis typically covers. Cromartie would have an impossible time with him and Wilson would get annihilated, so Revis is probably going to be forced to play the slot. There is also Gronkowski to deal with. The Jets are either going to have to start S Brodney Pool, who is better in coverage than Eric Smith, or put Cromartie on him and hope Strickland can handle Branch. The important thing is that the decisions made early are the proper ones and not simply done to possibly placate players desires, such as Revis wanting to play on Branch or Ochocinco or feeling that Smith or Jim Leonhard must start because thatís what they always do. If you go into a game against New England and have to start changing in game assignments like they did versus Dallas or bench guys like they did in Baltimore, the Patriots are going to wipe you out. They are a team built on confidence and a quick score and then seeing the defense scramble to adjust just builds their confidence even more.
The Patriots have a good kicking and punting unit with Stephan Gostkowski and Zoltan Mesko. Gostkowski has a big leg on kickoffs and is a good field goal kicker. Mesko gets good hang time on his punts and has been able to limit return opportunities. In general the coverage units have been among the top in the NFL, right alongside the Jets. The Patriots kick return game does not scare anyone. Julian Edelman just has not been anything special for them and they rank towards the bottom of the league. Edelman is an above average punt returner. He has limited upside for a big return but is extremely consistent in the plus 10 yard category, a big advantage for the Patriot offense.
For the Jets to win it is likely that special teams will have to play a role. RB Joe McKnight looks to have supplanted Antonio Cromartie as the return man. McKnight has had two huge returns the last two weeks, including a touchdown against Baltimore. WR Jeremy Kerley has flashed on punt returns and will be needed this week to help the offense get some good field position. K Nick Folk continues to impress while P TJ Conley has some up and down moments. The coverage teams have been excellent and clearly specials are back to being an overall strength for the Jets. They need a big effort for all of the special teamers if they want to win.
There is nothing left to write about Bill Belichick. He just finds ways to win with whatever pieces he has. He will make gutsy playcalls to try to ice a game and plays to the strengths of his team. He knows his defense is not any good and he doesnít try to hide the fact by playing ball control football to run the clock out or spend additional time concerning himself with players that have no hope. He turns to his offense and his QB to make up for the defenses lack of ability and try to run up the score so quickly that it forces teams to become one dimensional and make mistakes that his guys can capitalize on. That formula may not work for him in the postseason, but as a regular season tactic its almost unstoppable.
For Rex Ryan this is a big game because there is a sense that the building is falling down around him. In 2009 you could make the case that the team was just happy to be where they were, considering they had a new head coach and a rookie QB. In 2010 you had a large number of players playing for contracts that did not want to be seen as malcontents when things went south and always gave 100% effort on every play. Now in 2011 the players are locked in and have been told for some time to just wait for year 3 for the QB. Now things are not going well and the guys making money want to know whats happening. The old vets who came here for ďa chance to win it allĒ are wondering what is happening. A bad loss and its going to get ugly amongst the players and the pressure from the media to get these guys to speak is going to be immense.
Ryan has never dealt with this. Heís always been confident and his confidence has made the majority of fans and players confident in their team. But you just get the sense that people are not buying the act as much anymore. The play has been bad enough to where people see through the words and they ring as hollow as giving Vernon Gholston a gameball. You canít come out and say ďwe are the best team and donít worry we will fix itĒ if you lose 40-10 off back to back losses to the Raiders and Ravens. Rex made a bizarre move last week when he shuffled his offensive line in the middle of the game. I have no idea if that was to prove a point to Colin Baxter that it wasnít his fault or because Rex was angry, but its those kind of rash moves that can damage a franchise. For as bad as Sanchez may have played and for as much anger as the receivers may be directing towards him he can not entertain the idea of pulling Sanchez and inserting Brunell is Sanchez goes down in flames again. Those are not the moves of a good coach, those are the moves of a desperate coach paying no attention to the future. Ryan needs to start looking more into why his offense isnít working rather than just saying its not working and scapegoating someone. That will not help the team in any way.
If the Jets lose this football game the season is not over. Maybe winning the division is over, but making the playoffs certainly is not. The problems only arise if the Jets sit at 2-3 and the players start to really question everything being communicated to them by the coaches and start harping on the QB. That will begin a downward spiral that is going to see the season end at 5-11. The Jets have played well in New England in the past and hopefully Sanchez gained the confidence from last years playoffs to carry into the regular season. If he implodes the game is over.
One thing is for certain and that is that the Pats are hoping to put a hurting on the Jets. It is doubtful that this is a game the Patriots win 24-17 where the Jets just couldnít catch up late. If the Jets are only scoring in the teens the final score is going to be 45-14. It means the Patriot offense is going to be on the field a lot and New England will pour it on as soon as they realize the Jet offense canít win the game. They know thatís the time to run up the score as the Jets will have their heart out of the game. We saw it a few years ago when they were up big and still throwing the football late trying to allow Randy Moss to upstage Revis. We saw it with them calling time outs late in a game the Jets had no chance in, just to make sure they got an extra 7 on the board.
The Jets have to start fast and score in order to build confidence. The Jets need a shot of confidence if they are to win the game. They donít believe in themselves anymore and falling behind 10-0 and turning the ball over or going 3 and out on the first series is not going to cut it. They donít seem to have the faith in each other anymore, specifically on offense, to survive a bad start. That doesnít mean they should go out, go no huddle, and take chances all over the field, but they must gameplan to attack New Englandís weaknesses and put together an effective drive or two that does not result in long 3rd down plays. The Jets are a very streaky football team on offense and if they start quickly they will probably make a good showing by the end of the game.
The Patriots are certainly beatable. Buffalo already beat them and teams move the ball up and down the field on them all game long. The Jets said they wanted other teams to beat them because they could do it so here is their chance. Going into this year everyone thought the AFC East was a two horse race and now people are saying itís a 3 horse race, but if the Jets continue their spiral they are going to have an uphill battle to climb to get back into the race. It is just hard to see the Jets, playing as bad as they are, win this game. With all the blame game stuff going around you get the sense that the team is not prepared to put together the cohesive effort it takes to win a game like this on the road.
Patriots 35 Jets 17