Breaking Down the Jets vs the Patriots
This is the big one. Prime time TV. 1st place on the line. Jets vs. Patriots. Mangini vs. Belichick. This is the big rivalry that dates back to 1997 and has not let up since. This could be the biggest regular season game either team plays this season. The winner is the clearcut favorite to win the AFC East and quite possibly earn a bye week in the playoffs. The loser falls right back into the wildcard hunt competing with four teams for two spots and having the unenviable task of needing to win 3 road games to get to the Super Bowl, if they are even fortunate enough to make the playoffs.
It is no secret which team has owned the rivalry since 2001. New England has only lost to the Jets 3 times in that stretch. They are in the Jets heads and it showed earlier this year when New England dismantled the Jets in the Meadowlands despite the loss of QB Tom Brady. But those days are an eternity ago and the Jets have a chance at redemption and to take control of the East with a win on Thursday night.
Jets Defense vs. Patriot Offense
The Jets should know exactly what to look for from Matt Cassel and the New England Patriots offense. New England doesnít really open up the offense anymore. New Englandís offense is built on the importance of converting third downs and holding the ball for as long as possible. They use the possession game to pick and prod away at the defense and score just enough points to win a game. The Patriots devastated the Jets in week two with screens to Kevin Faulk and any type of crossing or slant pattern across the middle of the field. New York had no answers for it and they have yet to show they can stop that attack this season. Injuries have wiped out the RB group they expected to carry them through the season and New England will be relying more and more on a controlled passing attack unless everyone else gets healthy in a hurry. Rookie BenJarvus Green-Ellis will likely get the start. Randy Moss is becoming more of a possession receiver every week, a role that he seems to have gotten more comfortable with as the season has gone on, and Wes Welker is a dangerous player every time he grabs the ball across the middle.
The Patriots offensive line has seen better days, has had to deal with some injuries, and the whole world is realizing how important Tom Brady was at making the line look tremendous in pass protection. New England is going to try to spread the Jets defense out to take them out of a pass rush mode and attack their weaknesses in coverage. New England will predominantly attack with a 3 WR package or a 2 TE package where Ben Watson is basically going to be used as a wideout.
The Jets pass defense has a great deal to prove this week if they want to win the game. The first game against New England exposed the secondary for the NFL to see. The Patriot receivers either outran the coverage or found soft spots to settle in at and make like easy for Cassel. Darrelle Revis, who is arguably the best corner in the AFC, will get the task of stopping Moss. Revis has played so well it will be hard to imagine Moss having a huge impact this week. The question becomes who covers Welker? Moss is going to get the respect of having a safety help over the top, meaning Dwight Lowery, Hank Poteat or the newly signed Ty Law, who may have been signed to smack the Patriots receiver off his route, is going to have to bottle Welker up to shut down the Patriots short passing attack. It is possible the Jets could try to swap Revis back and for the between Welker and Moss to keep Welker from hitting a rhythm with his QB. The Jets best chance to shut down the Patriot offense is to do the one thing they refused to do in week two and that is attack Cassel every chance they get. Cassel is taking a huge amount of sacks and will take off and run under pressure. Cassel doesnít have much speed and wont kill you with his legs. If the Jets drop everyone back into coverage and Cassel has the time to pick the Jets apart it will be a frustrating night of football for Jets fans. The Jets need to find a way to stop the Pats from converting on third down. If they canít hold the ball for long chunks of time they can not win.
The Jets defense has played much more aggressive the last two weeks and the track record of this coaching staff has been to see the aggression increase around week 8 or 9 every season. When the Jets play that way they create turnovers that are winning games for the team. The insertion of safety Abram Elam into the lineup has really helped the team. He has a nose for the football and gives the Jets a great option to attack the QB. Shaun Ellis, the oldest tenured Jet on defense, was crushed after the first loss this season smashing his helmet on the field at the end of the game and should be ready to have another big game. If the Jets can find a way to free him up on the rush this is the game to do it. Other than making sure they do not get caught sleeping on Faulk out of the backfield the linebackers have to be up at the line on their toes and attacking the backfield all game long.
Jets Offense vs. Patriots Defense
The Patriots are doing everything they can to keep the defense playing well and to hide the deficiencies in the group. They still have a good front three in Seymour, Wilfork, and Warren and all three are playing well. Wilfork completely wipes out the middle for the team when he is at full strength. The team just was hit with a major blow in losing LB Adalius Thomas for the season to an arm injury. Thomas was the teams most athletic player in the front 7 and most versatile being able to shift between the inside and outside linebacking positions. Thomas plays more than any other Patriot on defense and will be sorely missed. His likely replacement will be Pierre Woods and rookie Jarod Mayo, having a terrific rookie campaign, will get more responsibility on the defense. The secondary continues to be amongst the smartest and most well coached in the NFL. They do not have an elite player anywhere back there, but they do an excellent job of limiting the opposition and are taught how to play the ball in the air to force a turnover. Teams are attacking the New England secondary, but New England is often making them pay when they do so. The Patriots defense doesnít mind giving up some yards, but they stiffen up inside the 20s and will always look to maximize their chances to create a turnover. The biggest weakness the defense has is depth due to all of the injuries and if the offense can not keep the chains moving the defense can only hold out so long before it begins to crack.
The last two weeks the Jets seem to have finally found the answers to unlock the offense and cut down on the turnovers that plagued Brett Favre during the first 7 games of the year. The Jets look to have scaled down the playbook and scrapped much of the presnap motion to accommodate Favre and in turn Favre has seemed to accept the fact that the Jets want a much more controlled offensive approach. Favre has to be very careful against New England this week. While the Patriots pass defense is going to give up more than their share of completions the last thing he wants to do is get greedy and see a ball returned for 6 points. Favre, who has never had a great deal of success against Belichick, needs to take what the field allows and then take his chances deep. Thomas Jones has been playing his best football of his Jets career these past few weeks. He is running hard and showing much better burst and vision at the line than he has in his time here. He looks much more mentally focused as well. Jones became a major scapegoat in the first game against New England and will look to erase that memory with a big game this week. If the Jets get him to the outside he has a very good chance of having a big game. The Jets linemen finally look to be coming together as a unit and need to establish the line as a position of dominance for the Jets in this game. Winning the battle in the trenches is how they wore out and beat Buffalo and the blueprint for beating these Patriots as well.
The Jets need to try to attack the Patriots at their weak points rather than run right into their strengths. The Patriots corners will likely play up on the Jets wideouts hoping to disrupt their timing and lead to Favre turning the ball over. As long as the Jets line establishes that they are in control the Patriots wonít touch Favre. If the line gives Favre time all the mugging of the Wrs at the line will not amount to much. It is also important to try to exploit the Pats in the slot with either Dustin Keller or someone like Chansi Stuckey. New England has problems covering the field when they get somewhat spread out. Screening Leon Washington into the middle of the field would also seem like a smart play this week against the slower players in the Patriots defense. The Jets also need to make certain to attack the edges with Jones this week and not draw up the middle of the defense.
All signs point to the return of Mike Nugent to handle the kicking duties this week and he will be a welcome addition. While Feely may have the stronger leg and is coming off a huge game, he has been a momentum killer for the team and the Jets can not afford to see him miss a FG early in the game. The Jets had a nightmare punting the ball against the Patriots the last game and Reggie Hodges has to get something on the ball this week to pin New England back. The Patriots have as good a return team as any in the NFL and the Jets must be on the top of their game this week. Winning a field position battle is important this week and the Jets were at a constant disadvantage in week two mainly due to the special team play. New Englandís kicking game will limit Leon Washington on kickoffs and its unlikely he will do much in the way of returns in that area, but should get chances to give the Jets excellent field position off punts.
There is no secret over who has had the upper hand in the series thus far. Bill Belichick enjoys beating up on the Jets and on Eric Mangini in particular. He rubbed the teamsí noses in it following the week 2 victory and there is nothing he would like to do more than to beat the Jets up again in a game this important. Belichick is having a great year finding a way to get his team into playoff contention despite injury after injury to key components of his football team. There is no team better at dealing with injuries than the Patriots and that is all on account of the head coach. He will have his team ready for everything the Jets run.
Mangini needs to get the team to believe they can beat New England. On paper the Jets are more talented than this New England team, but the Jets came out in a shell when they played them early this season with the coaching staff afraid to take any chances against the Patriots. Mangini coaches very close to the vest against this team and will need to take some chances, at least defensively, if he wants to win. Belichick seems to be in Manginiís head and Mangini outcoaches himself in some of these contests. If Mangini can win this game he will put Belichick in the rearview mirror for the season.
It took 7 and a half games, but the Jets look to be a team that is starting to believe in itself and in what they can accomplish. The question is do they believe they can beat New England? They certainly did not believe it in week 2 and came out flat and played a very uninspired football game. Have things changed that much since then? If it has then the Jets will be standing atop the AFC East late Thursday night and if not it may bring the Jets back down to where they were prior to the Buffalo game. From a mental standpoint this is a huge hurdle for the Jets. If they win this game it is realistic to believe they will cruise to the AFC East championship.
One thing that plays in the Jets favor this week is that they seem to play much better in the underdog role when they head into Foxboro. Since Herman Edwards took over from Al Groh the Jets have been unable to even contend with New England at the Meadowlands, but it has been a slightly different story in Gillette. The team won there in 2002 and again in 2006. They played a very competitive game in 2004 and again in 2007, a game that the Jets basically lost off a blocked punt. The players seem to be looser and so does the coaching staff.
The Jets can win this game if they go out and they play a good football game the way they have the last two weeks. Mangini has to accept the fact that you canít just prove some point by playing into the Patriots strengths and thinking you will win that way. That is what he did when he ran Jones 3 times into the heart of the New England defense at the goal. The Jets have to attack the outside with their running game and they need Favre to complete passes to his targets and not allow the Patriots free points this week. Defensively the Jets can not rush 3 and dare Cassel to make a mistake. The Jets need to take the attitude that they will not let Cassel have a chance to beat them and to force him into a mistake.
The players want this game. They want redemption for week 2. They want redemption from the loss against the Raiders. Everything bad this year goes into the dumpster with a win on Thursday. Everyone will look ahead if they win this game. But the Patriot players feel the same way as well. They want the win just as bad. They want to make the Jets reflect on everything that went wrong this year and to stake their own claim to being the best team in the AFC East.
It is an impossible game to predict. The Patriots should not be able to blow the Jets out if anyone is expecting that type of game. The Jets could do it to New England if everything breaks right for them, but more likely it will be a close game decided by the play in the 4th quarter and whomever can make a crucial stop with under 5 minutes left in the game. If New England wins the TOP battle they will likely have won the game. If the Jets can win the turnover battle it is a game they will win. But until the coaching staff can prove otherwise, New England has the advantage in this one. A heartbreaker.
Patriots 20 Jets 19