Breaking Down the Jets vs the Patriots
Itís official now. The Jets have hit the skids losing 5 of their last 6 games with the season looking to be over. They will face their biggest rival, the New England Patriots, who have improved immensely from their last meeting in early September. For the Jets to keep even the slightest hopes alive at the playoffs they will have to pull off the major upset against a team that is going to want to beat the Jets by 50 points.
Jets Offense vs. Patriots Defense
Prior to a Peyton Manning induced meltdown the Patriots defense had been able to overcome all the changes made on defense to play as one of the top units in the NFL. While they have their shortcomings, specifically in run defense, they keep teams from scoring points, where they rank 3rd in the NFL in points allowed. If you are capable of keeping teams out of the end zone you will always have a chance to win football games. The anchors of the team, Ty Warren and Vince Wilfork, on the defensive line are still playing well and they have gotten contributions from the likes of Mike Wright (4 sacks) and Jarvis Green on the outside and Myron Pryor on the inside. The linebackers have been somewhat of a disappointment, in particular Adalius Thomas who is playing his way off the team. Thomas has made a few big plays this year, but is often accused of being out of position and being a non factor in most games. He has had problems sealing off his edge in the run game and that has led to some big run plays coming against the team. Jerod Mayo is the one true player on the unit and looks to be nearly all the way back from his early season knee injury. He is the one playmaker they have. Tully Banta Cain has been useful in passing situations and one of their key blitzers but was injured early in the Colts game and may miss the game against NY. The secondary has exceeded expectations. Leigh Bodden, borderline awful in his two stints before becoming a Patriot, has performed very well. The story in the rest of the secondary is youth. S Brandon Meriweather looks to have turned the corner and is becoming a real playmaker in the back of the defense. He is becoming a good tackler and is able to get his hands on some passes. He still whiffs from time to time, but has been credited with some crucial big play stops. Rookie S Pat Chung seems to have figured things out after a rocky start and is now being able to be used in blitzes and run support without worry. S Brandon McGowan has done a very good job of taking over the position and the upside for the secondary seems very high right now.
It is hard to fault the Jets offense for three of the last four losses, scoring over 20 points in each game. By no means is the offense perfect but they have done more than enough to win these games. The development of Mark Sanchez continues and while he is getting blasted in the media for his handling of a post game press conference he is being unfairly criticized for his play on the field. Sanchez drove the Jets to take the lead late in the 4th quarter of both the Jacksonville and first Miami game and had the team just 8 yards away from beating Miami a second time. If his name was Manning or Roethlisberger people would wax poetic about his ability to make things happen when the game is on the line and talk about a bright future. Instead, because he plays on a team with a loud coach and has done a few strange things his play is unfairly criticized. He still makes poor decisions that are typical for a rookie and has trouble warming up to the pace of the game, but he is just a few bounces of the ball away from a 6-3 record. Jerricho Cotchery is now 100% and showed it as he caught everything that came his way against the Jaguars. Braylon Edwards adds a new dimension to the clubís offense but did have a bad fumble last week. Iím not sure the Jets have had a more impressive physical talent in the history of the team. Dustin Keller has been alive these last few games though he is having some concentration issues. He took his eyes off the ball last week for a big drop and had a deep pass hit him in the hands that he could not haul in. In the future the Jets may be better off just letting him play receiver rather than having him also deal with blocking responsibility. Thomas Jones had a steady game with a few good runs, but never really got going against Jacksonville. He was due for a game like that after the big streak he had been on. Shonn Greene contributed with a few key runs as well. When the season is over there may be a lot of discussion about what to do with the offensive line. They get Sanchez killed at times and do not command the line of scrimmage like you would expect. Every week it seems that someone ends up getting a costly penalty in this group.
When the Jets line up to play the New England Patriots they will basically be lining up against a team that has similar strengths and weaknesses as the Jets defense. New England really does not have a natural pass rusher and needs to create pressure by finding ways to get Banta-Cain and players in the secondary to blitz. While they are adequate against the run they have downs where they give up big gains on the ground. The pass defense is solid, especially against the big play, but they do have a habit of giving up some plays underneath. In this respect the Jets offense should be well prepared for what it takes to take advantage of the defensive weaknesses. The Jets offense took a very aggressive approach to start the game against Jacksonville which did not pay off, but they could try to do the same again. The Patriots defense was challenged by their coach to play better when he felt that his best option to win against the Colts was to try a 4th and 2 from inside his own 30 than giving Manning 2 minutes and 70 yards against his defense. It is a move that the coach never would have likely made if his old defenders were in their primes and the Jets may try to take some advantage of the younger guys mentality coming into this game. Sanchezí prime target will likely be Cotchery who has had some big games against New England in the past and seemingly finds a way to pull off one 40+ yarder whenever they meet. In the running game we could see more of Greene this week. This would be a perfect game for the Jets to use Jones to soften the interior of the defense and then try to get Greene outside to turn the corner, which has been a success at times against New England. The one thing the Jets offense can not do is start settling for field goal attempts or start turning the ball over. Against this team and in this stadium that would be a nightmare.
Jets Defense vs. Patriots Offense
There is not much more that can be said about the New England Patriots offense. They are back to being dominant and are right at the top of the AFC at scoring. When things go right they have the potential to hang over 40 on a team on any given Sunday. When things go wrong, they still might get into the 20s. Tom Brady may still not be 100%, but he is a far different QB now than he was when the Jets first faced him. Brady looks far more confident, is back to releasing the ball quickly and stepping into his throws, and has brought the big play back into the offense. Randy Moss, who will be looking to make an example out of Darrelle Revis who shut him down in week 2, has had a resurgence after a year and a half of being more of a decoy and possession guy than a deep threat. Moss is on a tear with 4 receptions over 40 yards in the last 4 games along with 6 touchdowns. He is just abusing the opposition and Brady is now hitting him in stride. Wes Welker is completely healthy and putting up his usual great games. Everything that hits him in the hands he catches and runs with it. If there is a weakness in their passing game it is that they have yet to find that third target. Sam Aiken looked to have claimed the role, but is injured and will be a game time decision. Aiken is a speed demon if he plays. Julian Edleman is back on the field, but is sporting a cast and its uncertain if he can or can not be a factor. TE Ben Watson is involved one game and invisible the next, while Chris Baker is proving why the Jets let him walk in the first place. Baker has only 10 receptions on the season. The Patriots running game has been decimated by injuries with both Fred Taylor and Sammy Morris going down. That has left Laurence Maroney to handle the duties on 1st and 2nd downs and he has done ok in the role, but no longer looks to have the explosive potential he used to have and did have a big fumble last week. Kevin Faulk remains a favorite 3rd down option for the team. The offensive line has been steady keeping Brady intact despite the absence of Matt Light. Lightís replacement, Sebastian Vollmer, has played well and may not give the job up. If there is a weakness on the line it would be on the right side where the scheme may not be best suited for their talents.
The Jets defense got embarrassed last weekend as the responsibility for the loss once again fell on their shoulders. The looked lethargic in the first half and then melted down on the final drive of the game, unable to get any pressure on QB David Garrard, allowing him to look like an all pro as he drove the team to a game winning field goal. The same poor tackling that showed up in the first Miami game came back against the Jaguars as the Jets and the Jets really missed Kris Jenkins clogging up the middle more than ever before. The secondary miscommunication in big spots continues as Jim Leonhard and Kerry Rhodes both saw different things on what was the game clinching play and they allowed TE Mercedes Lewis to get open down the field. Rhodes has not even come close to living up to the contract he signed two years ago and he needs to step his game up. Leonhard will miss this game due to injury which should move Eric Smith back into the starting lineup. Smith has been an important role player for the defense this year and will get an opportunity to showcase his talents in this game. The Jets need to get a little extra out of their defensive line. Ryan put it on them to generate a rush last week and they were unable to do anything. The Jets will need Shaun Ellis, who has had great career showings against New England, to have one of those impact games this weekend.
In their last go around the Jets obliterated and confused the Patriots offensive line with an array of blitzes and pressures that came from all over the field. New England is a far better team now and having Welker back on the field should help the Patriots escape some of those looks. With the Pats downfield passing game clicking right now the Jets will likely have to back off on bringing any pressure from the secondary and have to rely on Ellis and Calvin Pace to attack the right side of the line and try to get to Brady. New England is going to go out of their way to try to get Moss the ball this week after he and Revis had a war of words following in their previous game where Revis basically shut Moss down. Moss claimed he was doubled all game and could not be covered one on one. The way Moss is playing right now, the Jets will likely give Revis help over the top in hopes of picking something off if Brady tries to force the ball to his star receiver. Of major concern is who will cover Welker in this game. Nobody has really laid claim to the second corner role and all three of the players who might match up on him have shown their faults. Dwight Lowery may be the most consistent tackler among he, Lito Sheppard, and Donald Strickland, but he is also the slowest player and could have problems catching up to Welker across the middle of the field. One of these players has to have a good game if the Jets want to win. Bart Scott also will need to do something extra in this game and make sure Faulk does not sneak out on third downs as well as making sure anyone who catches the ball underneath does not get big yardage. The Jets have not used Scott or David Harris as much on the blitz and may want to try to force the issue in the middle this week.
If the Jets want to win this game they have to make sure that Moss does not score on the 70 yard bomb and instead force the Patriots to play in the red zone. If these is one area that the Patriot offense has had some problems it is in the red zone, an area where the Jets have normally performed well on defense. Without Morris and Taylor in the run game the Patriots do not have that battering ram back to push the pile into the end zone and the passing game has had more problems on the short field. Inside the red zone this season the Patriots have only scored 18 touchdowns in 39 trips, a number that is far too low for a team with so many offensive weapons. If the Jets can force Brady to settle for field goals they will have a chance to outscore them.
Stephen Gostkowski has proved to be the real deal and has lived up to the challenge of actually replacing Adam Vinatieri to the point where he has become as important to this team as Viinatieri was to the championship runs. He never misses inside 40 and has a big leg on kickoffs. Chris Hanson is one of the worst punters in the NFL and is at the lowest point in his career. He is one of the factors nobody talks about as to why Belichick made that decision to try on fourth down deep in his own territory. The Pats donít really have any consistent return men but the overall return game is good.
This is the first year since maybe 2004 to where the Jets special teams were not a difference maker in the games. They look to have already given up on Justin Miller as a return specialist as the team doesnít feel he is in great shape right now. With the Leonhard injury the Jets will need to find a punt return man. Revis got the nod last week and was explosive in college, but there is always a question as to whether or not a player of his stature should be risked on returns. Revis looked rusty and unnatural fielding this past week, but with a week of practice should be far better. With the Jets slim playoff hopes hinging on a win they may take the risk of using Revis to try to score some points. Coverage teams have become a problem and they nearly got caught off guard on an onside kick attempt last week. Donít be surprised to see the Patriots try to expose the Jets special teams.
Bill Belichick has probably come under more scrutiny this past week than at any point in his New England tenure. He showed no faith in his defense and did not look as if he was really prepared for the situation that presented itself. Overall Belichick has had a season with more lows than highs despite the first place ranking. The team has been able to feast on teams like the Titans and Buccaneers, but has lost every big game they have played (Jets, Broncos, and Colts) in this year. Early on he probably hurt the team by allowing Brady to throw the ball so often when he clearly was not right. That said he is the best football mind in the game and looks to be clearly on his way to winning another division title.
Rex Ryan has come under a great deal of scrutiny over the past three weeks. He was criticized for taking a vacation in Miami and allowing his players the same freedom during the bye week after his team came out flat and seemingly unprepared. He again promised the playoffs and explained how he told his guys this was a ďmust winĒ and again they lost the game for him. It then got worse as the story leaked that he broke down in tears in front of his team in their Monday meeting. Ryan wears his heart on his sleeve, but too many moments like this will see the media run him out of the city. Ryan has all kinds of game day issues right now. The sidelines are chaotic with a slew of coordinators and assistants who seemingly all have equal power as the coach which is leading to numerous confusion scenarios on the field. This is a huge game for Ryan who still believes that the Jets are a playoff team. If they can get to 5-5 the entire attitude of the fans and players will likely change.
The expectations for the Jets are all gone at this point. While they have invented ways to lose games the bottom line is that they are losing the games and there are no moral victories in the league for a team who feels they should be in the playoffs. The Jets created these playoff expectations with a win against the Patriots in week 2 and can change the outlook for the team if they can pull off an upset in week 10. This is a position the Jets have been in before. In 2006 they limped into Foxboro with a 4-4 record off a loss to the lowly Cleveland Browns and virtually everyone wrote the Jets off. When they left Foxboro they were 5-4 and the feeling about the team completely changed.
The Jets are big underdogs this week and many people are predicting a wipeout because the game is at New England, the Patriots are upset, and the Jets are on a bad streak. Maybe that will happen, but Gillette has not been the standard horror show for the Jets that the Meadowlands had been. The Jets have won 2 of their last 3 meetings in New England and played the 2007 undefeated squad pretty much to a standstill giving up scores on a blocked punt and Kellen Clemens interception. You have to go all the way back to 1996 to find the type of 40-3 beating that people seem to think this game is going to be. Had the Jets defense stepped up and stopped Garrard last week there would be a totally different feeling about the Jets chances this week rather than the thought they have no hope.
This is a huge game for both teams. The Jets still have a slight glimmer of hope to salvage the year and know what a victory here will mean to the fans. A loss For the Patriots a win seals the division title while a loss would be a disaster. With the New Orleans Saints on the horizon, the Patriots could be staring a 3 game losing streak and loss of a division lead right in the face. For the Jets to win this game they have to play a mistake free game and not give the Patriots easy points. When teams start turning the ball over against the Pats, the Pats put up huge points in bunches and turn the games into a rout. If New York brings their A game they have a chance to win. If they play like they have the last 6 weeks they have no hope. They have to play well in all three phases of the game and actually put together a complete 60 minute game for the first time in many weeks.
Unfortunately this just looks like a season filled with disappointments with one heartbreaker after another and why should this be any different, unless the Jets latest way to break the fans hearts is to win this weekend and then proceed to lose the following week. It has been 4 weeks since the offense failed to show up for a game so it will probably be their turn this week to bear the brunt of the blame for another close loss.
Jets 6 Patriots 13