Breaking Down the Jets vs the Patriots
A few weeks ago this matchup was the biggest regular season game in ages for the Jets and the Jets pulled a complete no-show. Since that day the players have wanted the rematch and now they get their opportunity to convince the world that they are better than the New England Patriots in what should be one of the hardest hitting games in recent memory for the Jets.
Jets Offense vs. Patriots Defense
About the only thing that can be said about New England's defense is that they somehow get the job done each and every week. They certainly don't have the best talent on defense. Position by position they two players who scouts would rank in the top 10 at their position, NT Vince Wilfork and LB Jerod Mayo. Almost everyone else on the team, with the exception of the rookie CB Devin McCourty, would be fighting for a starting job on a team. Yet they get the job done and in the last 5 weeks of the year were nothing short of dominant. The game in which they held the Jets to 3 points seemed to be a big confidence booster as they held 4 of those last 5 opponents to seven points or less per game. The one hiccup was the 27 points allowed to the Packers backup QB, a game that the Patriots seemed to take for granted and got caught off guard in. Wilfork has been terrific for the Patriots this season. He is playing more than ever due to injuries and lack of depth across the line and moving all over the line. He is having his best statistical season and is the leader of the defense. Mayo had a monster 2010 during which he led the league in tackles and was all over the field every week covering for deficiencies on the team. Both players are responsible for the success of the run defense and the primary reason they don't allow big run plays.
The secondary is the unit that is primarily targeted week in and week out and are incredible when it comes to making the timely play. There was a time when they would have just been tagged as opportunistic and lucky, but they really have improved. The most improved is McCourty who is developing into a full fledged star in the league. The Jets wanted him in the draft and he is proving why. He has incredible athleticism and has 5 interceptions and 8 passes defensed in the last 6 games. He has become a real difference maker for the Patriots, a much needed player due to the lack of pass rush from the front 7. The Safeties are all solid and bring a different skill to the game. Pat Chung has a good eye for the football and good instincts. James Sanders always seems to be in the right place at the most opportune time. Brandon Meriweather's athletic talents make him dangerous on every throw. Teams can still throw on New England, but they are going to have dink and dunk their way down the field and make no mistakes along the way if they want to succeed.
Last weeks win against the Colts was basically a 1 game look at how so much of the season has gone for this team offensively. They are the streakiest team in the NFL, capable of putting up 28 points one week and 0 the next. They were well on the way to one of those 0 point type efforts when the team made a tactical shift and relied on the blocking of the offensive line and legs of RB LaDainian Tomlinson and RB Shonn Greene to carry the offense and win the game. And of course no Jet victory would be complete without a last second drive to win the game. It was a great showing from the two runners whose styles really complemented each other. Greene would pound the rock to wear the defense down while Tomlinson was able to find that second gear that seemed gone since week 5 and give a look far quicker than that of Greene. These two had decent games in the blowout loss to New England and will have to duplicate that success this week. The run blocking from the offensive line was outstanding. They controlled the entire pace of the game by just blowing the Colt defenders off the line. The team has the capability to be more physical than most lines in the NFL.
The negative of the game was the play of QB Mark Sanchez. Sanchez squandered multiple scoring opportunities and great field position with horrendous throws in the first half. Everything to the outside, other than his final pass of the game, was a problem and it seems as if his shoulder is a far bigger problem than the team has let on. The misses that he had to the sidelines were the misses of a QB that doesn't think he has the strength to get the ball there. If Sanchez had even an average game the Jets would have won by 14 points. WR Santonio Holmes made a few nice catches but he seems to make at least one or two really bad plays a game. Against the Colts it was an easy 3rd down grab that he dropped and a bad special teams decision. He has to step his game up. WR Braylon Edwards was a game changer against Indianapolis and has clearly been looking to get himself more involved in this offense. Whether it's the pending free agency or the way he feels about this team, he has clearly grown up on the field alot this season and become a leader on offense rather than the disruptive force he was as a Brown. TE Dustin Keller was a good third down target against the Colts and you can not expect more than that from him. One of the issues with the passing game is protection and they had some big breakdowns early before coming up big late in the game.
The offense got embarrassed the last time these two teams met and you have to wonder how much of a role that plays in this weeks game. Does it make the Patriots defense overconfident? It's possible. That happened against Green Bay and could happen here. Does it make the Jets really tense if things start slowly as usual? That is certainly possible and maybe even likely. The mental state of Sanchez is something the Jets have to monitor as closely as his physical state. His offense has been terrible in both visits to New England and in both games he has completely melted down. The melt down in the 2010 game was especially painful because it changed the whole perception about Sanchez as an improving young player to a guy who the team wins in spite of rather than because of. He isn't the only one with tough feelings around New England. Tomlinson's issues with the Patriots are well documented and that can be either a positive or a negative for him.
The Jets have to play their brand of football if they want to score points on offense. Last time around they got away from their strengths and tried to play a fast game right from the start. It was way too hectic for the offense and when they failed to convert early the whole team lost their composure. The Jets have to play methodical ball control football and make certain to protect the ball at all costs once they get into scoring position. The Jets were very lucky to give away 3 points against the Colts and still come away with a win. That being said they have to be careful to not fall too in love with the run based on last weeks game. The Jets showed their hand in that game in terms of using almost a pure run based offense and also have to know that New England's personnel is far better up the middle than the Colts personnel.
The Jets have to look back to what they did against the Steelers and consider that type of balanced approach. Sanchez does not look like he can throw to the sidelines and in the cold it will be far harder for him to get his arm loose. He needs to look at those short straight line passes to his big 3 targets in the game. The pass rush is not as much of a worry so the Jets can allow plays to develop a bit more than they did Pittsburgh but the gameplan must be similar. But timing is everything with Sanchez right now. He still has almost no feel for throwing before a wideout breaks and if you allow him too much time against this style of defense he is likely going to hang himself. You have to admire the gutsy play from him but he holds the keys to the victory and if he can not get the job done don't be stunned if the Jets don't strongly consider giving the backup a shot.
Jets Defense vs. Patriots Offense
When you have a QB that is playing at the highest level of football as New England QB Tom Brady you are going to be favored to win the Super Bowl. Brady is playing football as well as any QB in recent memory and is the runaway MVP of the NFL. His current level of play is on a different tier than anyone else in the NFL, including Peyton Manning. This is arguably more impressive than the 2007 run for him, even if the numbers are not as good. Brady never makes a mistake with the football. He always makes the right read and finds the right receiver. The ball never sails or goes short nor is it ever in a position to be picked off. Brady comes across as very arrogant to other teams but he has every right to be based on his on the field performance. The return of WR Deion Brach, a complete washout without this offense, really sparked the team. It allowed New England's offense to get back to the basics of what they do well, which is spreading the field and spreading the football around. WR Wes Welker is not the same player he was prior to the injury, but is still very effective in the slot when making timely catches. TE Rob Gronkowski has become the big TE weapon, especially inside the red zone, though TE Aaron Hernandez, who has been resting due to a hip injury, is also dangerous. WR Brandon Tate can streak down the sidelines and will get a look or two a game for a big play. The running game has been effective and keeps the defense honest. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is the primary ball carrier and has thrived in his role with the team. He is a powerful runner who can run over people when they attempt a half hearted arm tackle or upper body wrapup. The Patriots love to use him around the end zone and he has been one of the best in the NFL in that area. Former Jet RB Danny Woodhead isn't so much of a running threat as a passing threat. He carved the Jets up in the last game via the air. Whenever he is on the field the defense has to be aware of the screen. The Patriots offensive linemen are tremendous in getting out and blocking for him in space. They are one of the best screen units in the NFL when it comes to blocking and able to intercept targets to spring Woodhead. The Patriots use both of the runners in the perfect situations and often catch defenses staring into the backfield at Brady not realizing they have just been run past by Woodhead off a screen or Green-Ellis off a draw. When these two players are making impact plays the offense can not be stopped.
The question every Jets fan has on their mind is whether last weeks defense was for real or not. The Jets held the Colts offense to their second lowest output of the season last Saturday night using a bend but don't break philosophy that saw Peyton Manning and the Colts being forced to settle for field goals rather than touchdowns. While the Jets defense has been nowhere near as good as last years unit they do have flashes every now and again of being a dominant group. They did hold the Ravens to 10 and the Packers to 9 this season to go along with last weeks impressive performance. But they are also maddeningly inconsistent. They gave up 38 to the Bears, nearly blew games against the lowly Browns and Texans, and of course were embarrassed the last time they were in New England. Just what team will show up in New England?
The one noticeable difference in the Colts game was the play of the Safety position. All season long it has been brutal, but almost everything clicked last weekend. They played great coverage and were tremendous in run support. S Eric Smith looked like a totally different player than the one who has been here since 2006. Did the time off allow him to study the nuances of the position that much more? CB Darrelle Revis went completely untested but the Colts did decide early on to pick on CB Antonio Cromartie. Cromartie showed mental lapses on the field and clearly the Colts did not think he could tackle. Had the Jets lost he would have been the defensive player that received the most criticism. Had Smith and S Brodney Pool not been so good the Jets probably would have lost the game because of the poor coverage from Cromartie as well as CB Drew Coleman.
The pass rush continues to not be a factor for the Jets. This past week they chose not to do much in the way of blitzing because of the way Manning ripped them apart last season versus their blitz, but the Jets lack of ability to pressure a QB is not very comforting. LB Jason Taylor had maybe one noticeable pressure and LB Calvin Pace may have gotten credit for a sack but was a complete non-factor and just lucked into being the guy to touch the QB when Manning decided to go down on his own. The Jets do have players that get off the line fast on run plays, such as Mike DeVito, and can disrupt the play, but the difference in blocking between a pass and run renders those players useless in those situations. There were a few plays where Manning caught the defense in real deep zones and went with run plays that chewed up big yardage, but mainly the run defense was solid, especially against the slower Dominic Rhodes. LB's David Harris and Bart Scott both had very good games.
Last time around the Jets defense looked lost against New England. They were lost in coverage. They were lost in their assignments. They looked like they wanted no part of the cold and could not handle all the crowd noise. Most importantly they just looked like a group that had prepared from something completely different than what they ended up seeing. It is pretty well known that the Jets went into last offseason with the goal of building the team to beat and preparing the gameplans for two opponents- the Patriots and Colts. When the Jets played the Patriots in week 2 it paid off, but by the time they met again the entire dynamic of the offense changed and everything the Jets worked on really went down the drain. That probably played as big a role in the 45 point disaster as anything else. This time should be different as they have been preparing for this opponent since that game and the players have desperately wanted one more chance to slow this team down.
The question here is how do you attack this Patriot offense? Some have suggested because the no pressure and max coverage approach confused Manning and held him to 16 points that it means they should do the same thing this week. The problem with that approach is that Manning and Brady are two completely different Qbs and they have two totally different teams. Manning gets more flustered when you confuse him with coverage and keep him away from certain targets. He is almost impossible to pressure because he recognizes it pre-snap, calls plays away from it, and will just drop to the ground if he feels the pocket give way. He never stands in there to take a hit. He also is overly reliant on Reggie Wayne this year and has no downfield threats anymore, despite the one bomb to Garcon. That was an exception and not the rule.
Brady is totally different. Brady doesn't get flustered with coverage schemes. For all of the grief he gets for being very demonstrative towards the officials when he gets touched, he will stand in the pocket and chance taking a hit in order to move the football. He has multiple targets so taking 1 guy away means nothing to him and the team has enough athletes to get open down the field if Brady gets time. Brady needs to be pressured. When you get to him fast and bang him around that is when he has his worst games. If the team decides to drop back 8 guys he is going to tear it to shreds regardless of how great Revis is. The Jets need Taylor and Pace and anyone else on that team to be able to win their matchups and get in Brady's face. Last week the Jets rarely pressured from the edges with their defensive backs. I would imagine that will change greatly this week.
The coverage decision is going to be a tough one. This is a very bad matchup for Cromartie and Coleman. Cromartie is probably best suited to trying to cover a tight end in this game while Coleman is going to have to be closely watched wherever he matches up. Brady is one of the few QB's who will probably try to throw on Revis so hopefully Revis will be switching around most of the day based on the personnel that is on the field. There is probably no need to stick him on just one guy during this game. The one area where the Jets got burned badly in the last game was out of the backfield where they shockingly paid no attention to former teammate Woodhead. Woodhead's main job is the little handoff screen and the Jets just totally forgot about him. He is very quick and it may be better for the Jets to bring a Safety into the box to cover him rather than have one of the Linebackers do it. Both Smith and Pool are far worse with the down the field coverage so this may work better for them. The players in coverage also have to do a far better job tackling than they usually do. The Patriots are all about fighting for extra yards, which they will get if the Jets fail to tackle well.
In the run game the Jets have to be cognizant of Green-Ellis in certain situations. The Patriots love him in short yardage and inside the 10. He has been excellent in that role this year. When he gets his legs going he is hard to bring down and the tackling has to be far superior to what it was last time. Last time he drove players with his legs because of bad technique on the part of the Jets. He also has a tendency to get some good 1st down runs when the defense plays pass. It will be up to the ILB's to stop him. They did a poor job in the last meeting.
The defense definitely needs a good start to the game. Last go around New England put up 24 points on their first four possessions of the game. The Jets rarely ever challenged them to even get in a third down situation and when they did the Patriots almost always found a way to convert. The Patriots are different than a lot of teams when it comes to how they play on the opponents side of the field on third down. New England's belief in their offense is so strong that they are one of the few teams that will gameplan for 4 downs in that zone. If you get the Patriots in a 3rd and long you can not allow them to make it a 4th and less than 4 as they may go for it. Against most teams getting a team into a 4th down position is a victory. Against the Pats it might not be. That is something that the Jets need to consider very strongly in their defensive design and focus on those plays. You have to minimize the downs the Patriots offense gets and by putting them in 4th and reasonable positions you are giving them extra downs to work with. The team fell into this trap one or two times last game and it can not happen again.
K Shayne Graham has been a good find for the team and surprisingly not yet missed a kick. He is a career 86% kicker and only 1 of 3 lifetime in the playoffs so he could be a player to watch this week, especially if he gets an early opportunity. P Zoltan Mesko has been ok on the season, but is not much of a factor due to the offensive output of the team. Both WR Brandon Tate and WR Julian Edelman are very good at returning kicks and both are capable of changing field position on a team.
The last meeting was a nightmare for the Jets kicker and punter. K Nick Folk missed the first FG attempt and P Steve Weatherford was shanking punts left and right in his worst game of the season. The KR game did nothing and Folk was again short on kickoffs. The Jets need a far better effort this week. Folk has been pretty solid since that game and Weatherford has been good most of the year. He did seem to have a hard time judging the turf of the dome but should not have the same problem when he is outside in New England.
The big question is who will return kicks. Brad Smith is nursing an injury, but last week CB Antonio Cromartie just looked freakish in that role. He has a speed level that nobody else on the team has. Smith is a smarter returner in terms of knowing how to follow blockers and change direction, but Cromartie was just pure explosion. He won the game for the team with his returns and it is going to be tempting for the Jets to use him again. If last week was the real deal it makes sense to use him, though there is a big difference playing in the controlled environment of the dome and the cold outdoor stadium. Expect WR Jerricho Cotchery to return punts. Santonio Holmes is too unreliable.
What Bill Belichick has done this season is nothing short of amazing. He was keen enough to realize there was a problem on offense, got rid of the problem, and changed the whole dynamic of the offense on the fly that somehow allowed New England to be as explosive on offense as any team in recent memory. He has always gotten more out of less on defense and this year has been no different as they continue to play well on that side of the football. Outcoaching Belichick seems impossible. Unless you hit him with something he never saw coming he has a counterpunch designed for almost every situation. If you want to nitpick anything with him it is that he can lose confidence in his defense in certain situations, but that is mainly only going to happen against elite level Quarterbacks. His prime job this week is going to simply be to keep the team focused on a team they wiped out in the last meeting and have them ready for the playoff intensity, something he did not do last year when they played the Ravens. He is the greatest coach of this generation and there really is nobody that even comes close.
I would not necessarily call last weeks game Rex Ryan's best moment in his two years as head coach, but it has to come very close to the upset of the Chargers last year. Ryan had two personal goals when the season began. One was to devise a plan to beat Manning and the other is to prove superiority to Belichick. He accomplished the first and gets his chance at the second in this rubber match. Ryan has to be at the top of his game this week for the Jets to win. It is very hard in this league to beat the elite level QB's especially on the road when you are starting a young QB that has yet to really come into his own. What helps when matching up against Manning and Phillip Rivers, though, is the fact that there is no sideline disadvantage to having a young coach like Ryan on the sidelines. If anything Rex is a better coach than both Jim Caldwell and Norv Turner.
This is different because Belichick is, without question, better than Rex. He proved it in their last game when Rex was just dumfounded on the sidelines and starting coaching from his heart rather than his head which was as responsible as anything for the 42 point defeat. To think Rex can outcoach Belichick is not realistic, but he has to minimize the gap. He has to hit Belichick with something unexpected and hope it takes him too long to adjust. If Rex gets caught with his pants down like he did last time there is no way for the Jets to overcome that big of a coaching and QB disparity.
There is a very interesting dynamic to this game. In today's sports world there are very few real “hate” type matchups, but clearly this game is very personal to the Jets. This is not a matter of proving you are the best or seeing a game as a measuring stick of your progress. This is a matter of looking to fight back and get revenge against a team that you don't like and feel has disrespected you. They really do hate everything about the New England Patriots.
On the Patriots side its different. They take subtle jabs at the Jets, but they just seem to be indifferent towards the Jets. They think they are far superior and that its funny that the Jets are so focused on this one team. To New England this game is simply another notch on the belt on their way to a title. They throttled the Jets by 42 points the last time around so why take these guys any more serious than any other team in the league?
The two different approaches are something that could have a bearing on the game. That extra fire and emotion can bring a different level of intensity that the indifferent team simply can not match. That is exactly what happened to the Patriots last season when they took on the Ravens and had no idea what hit them. On the flip side, emotions often lead to mistakes and the businesslike indifference leads to solid play where the team never panics regardless of the scoreboard. That is exactly what happened in the last matchup. The Jets were too nervous for the game and as soon as things went wrong it just snowballed. They got wrapped up in the emotions and lost all focus while New England just went about business as usual to dominate New York.
There is the question of how much home field will play into this game. The Patriots thrive on cold and bad weather while the Jets have struggled at times under those conditions. There is also the factor of the crowd. Can they be as loud as they were the last time? That game was so hyped up and was a prime time game at night that it may be impossible for the fans to have the same impact. The Jets should be better prepared for the crowd if it does happen and not rattle as easily.
I don't think the Jets have ever seemed so focused on one opponent in all my years of watching the team. It feels different than the Monday night game. Those players seemed anxious and overcome by the moment. It wasn't about revenge at that point, it was about fulfilling the goal of winning a division. This time it just seems as if the Jets players are confident and clearly looking forward to the game more than any other this year. This isn't about moving one step closer to the Super Bowl. Its about beating up that bully that roughed you up year ago when he was bigger and badder. Now that you have grown up its your turn to fight back and get your revenge. Maybe it is all lip service, but that seems to be the Jets mentality this week..
It is going to be very emotional for the players when they take the field and it is hard to really determine what kind of carryover there would be into next year if they lost this game, especially badly. They have so much invested in this game that they may not get back from the heartache of a loss. For many of the players there is no tomorrow with the Jets. If certain players do not play well they may not be back. The Jets are always looking to wheel and deal their players in the offseason and this will be no different if they lose again to their division rival. They were built to beat the Patriots but with the Patriots' offensive changes it changes the way the Jets have to approach building the team if they cant win again.
From the fans point of view, barring another blowout loss, the win against the Colts should make the season a success. Certainly you hope for more, but I don't think it's a bad season by any means if they give the Patriots a good fight. Two years in a row of the Divisional Round is pretty solid. This is a real foundation for the team to grow on and considering the talent level in certain parts of the team is not very high, specifically on defense, it makes you realize that this team can be a lot better with a good draft or two.
We will all know pretty early what kind of game this will be. The Jets lost that last game in the first few minutes of it and we will get an excellent idea in those early stages about the game. Will the Jets look like they are hitting harder than New England? Will the Jets be able to establish a running game early? Does Mark Sanchez look credible or like the guy who played in the second half of the Monday Night Massacre? Does the defense get pushed back by little guys like Woodhead and Welker when trying to tackle? It will be obvious pretty early if this is the case.
This is a game that should be close. It is the kind of game where one unexpected play can make all the difference. A fumbled punt. A return for a score. A big QB scramble. A tipped pass that ends up as a completion. Everyone looks at 45-3 as something meaningful. It's only meaningful if the Jets play poorly at the start of the game, otherwise its just a score of a bad game played by an unprepared team. The Jets have beaten the Steelers and Colts on the road since that loss and are a very good road team this year. 42 points means nothing when it comes to determining the gap between the teams. It is all about how one team plays on a given Sunday afternoon. The Jets believe they are the best team in the NFL and they will try to prove it this weekend.
Jets 24 Patriots 21