Sunday was brutal, but luckily for the Jets and their fans, it is a long season. We have plenty of talent, and there's still time to come up with a game plan to best utilize it. Last week, one of the Keys to the Game was Rex Ryan, who I criticized for being only 6-6 in games following a loss, a record far too mediocre for a team with supposed Super Bowl aspirations. It turned out to be one of the few smart things I have ever said, as the Jets came out looking flat and unprepared, and Rex's record fell to 6-7 in games after a loss. This week, the (2-2) Jets travel to chilly Foxborough, Massachusetts to take on the (3-1) New England Patriots, with hopes of keeping the division race close. This will be a pivotal game for the Jets, and hopefully the first step to rehabilitating their image as one of the top teams in the NFL. Jump for the keys to the game!
Let me start off by saying that the Patriots are a very beatable team. The national media (namely ESPN) likes to portray New England as some sort of a "super team", but the Pats have proven to be very mortal. Tom Brady is still a magician, and he utilizes his arsenal with mastery. However, the Jets match up better with the Pats than they did with Baltimore, so a win is far from impossible. All this leads into the first key:
Contain Tom Brady: I say "contain" because I don't believe that the Jets are capable of fully stopping Brady at this moment. However, the Jets have some advantages that the Patriots' previous foes did not. The Dolphins and Bills have horrible defenses this year. We can't be too sure about the Chargers, because (other than Tom Brady) they have played against Donovan McNabb, Matt Cassel, and Chad Henne. The point here is that none of these teams have the vaunted defense that the Jets do. The Ravens might have scored 34 points, but only 1 TD was given up by the Jets defense. In fact, the Jets have given up the 2nd least passing yards in the NFL, and are 1st in the NFL in opposing QB Rating. Luke McCown might have skewed those statistics a little bit, but Tony Romo, Joe Flacco, and Jason Campbell are all statistically solid quarterbacks. Cromartie bounced back with an adequate game last week, and Revis continues to perform at an extraordinary level. These two CB's are capable of completely eliminating Wes Welker and Chad Ochocinco from the Pats' game plan.The Jets need to blitz the hell out of Brady and try to rattle him. If anyone can take Brady out of his comfort zone, it is Gang Green. I do not believe that the Jets should worry about the Patriots running game, because it is Tom Brady's passing that sets up the run, not vice-versa.
Brodney Pool: As John B chronicled in a recent article (found here), Brodney Pool is a much more complete safety than Eric Smith, and should probably be starting. This week (whether he starts or not), Pool better be on his A-game. The Patriots feature two of the best young tight ends in the league, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. The former got injured after two stellar games, but the latter already has 5 touchdowns in 4 games this season. Other than Wes Welker (who should be blanketed by Revis all game long), these two are Brady's favorite weapons. Smith doesn't have a shot at sticking with these athletic tight ends, and should be relegated to situational duties (at least for this game). Brodney Pool will be a key for this game, because he will likely be matched up with one (or both) of these guys at various points in the game. Removing them from the game would limit Brady's choices, and would be a great start to containing the Pro-Bowl QB.
Aaron Maybin & Jamaal Westerman: With news that Bryan Thomas is out for the year because of a torn Achilles, Aaron Maybin and Jamaal Westerman will be expected to bring the pressure (along with Bart Scott and Calvin Pace). Last week, Maybin showed that he is far too skinny to be an every down player, and got tossed around like a rag doll. However, there were many positives in his play, as he displayed a great motor and great finishing speed. This is very important to a Jets defense that lacks both of these attributes. One play in particular sticks out to me from last week: the Jets had Flacco sacked, but Marcus Dixon juuust couldn't catch up to him. Similar plays have happened countless times this season. Maybin brings an element that is sorely needed, and he will now have ample opportunity to contribute. Hurrying (and hitting) Tom Brady will go a long way toward winning the game.
Offensive Line: Since Nick Mangold's injury, the Jets O-Line play has been horrid. Sanchez ended up on the turf almost every time he dropped back, and it is impossible to play a decent quarterback from your butt. I know many fans were bashing The Sanchize, but I preach patience with the young QB. Not many quarterbacks could have played behind a line that terrible, and even Drew Brees and Peyton Manning would made a mental mistake or two. However, Sanchez in particular is vulnerable to pressure:
Mark Sanchez is a particular worry. He’s afforded some of the best protection in the NFL, but when that protection is pierced, he crumbles. His 35.46% just isn’t good enough, though he does do a good job of staving off sacks.
That quote is from ProFootballFocus.com, which also claims that Sanchez' 35.46% completion percentage when under pressure is a -26.52 change from when he receives time. That would be the worst mark of any quarterback in the league. These numbers are from last season, but I would imagine that they aren't too different this year. If the line gives Sanchez time, he can be in for a huge day, but if not, we could be in for another disaster. Hopefully Nick Mangold is able to play this week, because the Jets desperately need his solidifying presence.
Mark Sanchez: As I outlined in the previous "key", Mark Sanchez can be a very good quarterback when given time. Assuming the offensive line plays better this week (and really, they can't play any worse than they did against the Ravens), Sanchez will be facing a secondary that has given up the most passing yards per game in the NFL. Devin McCourty, who had a nice rookie season last year, has not been able to live up to the hype this year. When left in single coverage, McCourty has routinely given up completions. On the other side, Leigh Bodden recently went down with a groin injury, but only after giving up two big plays against the Bills. Sanchez could have a field day against this defense if he gets the chance.
The Running backs: As difficult as it is to run behind a horrendous offensive line, Shonn Greene cannot continue to average 3.1 yards per carry. If his approach does not fit our current team, Joe McKnight (and his shifty running style) deserves a shot to see if he could get to the outside. With Jerod Mayo injured, the running backs will have a chance to improve, which would take some pressure off of Mark Sanchez.
Joe McKnight: Last week, Joe McKnight returned a kickoff 107 yards for a touchdown. The offense has been struggling the past few weeks, and someone needs to inject some energy into it. With any luck, Joe McKnight can develop into a role similar to the Saints' Darren Sproles. Give the man some touches, and let us see what he can do with them.
Rex Ryan, Mike Pettine, Brian Schottenheimer, Bill Callahan & Mike Tannenbaum: I have been an avid supporter of Rex Ryan and his staff since the day that he was brought in. However, the team that played against the Ravens looked to be poorly prepared. It has been said that football is won in the trenches, and the Jets line play has been mediocre at best. When Alan Faneca was cut after 2009, Matt Slauson filled in admirably. However, Damien Woody's departure has forced Wayne Hunter into a starting role, and he has been horrible, to say the least. Every Jets fan and their grandmother knew that line depth would be a problem this year, but Mr. T has repeatedly refused to do anything about it. The Ravens are currently starting two offensive linemen that they signed during the preseason! Why Tannenbaum couldn't bring in at least one experienced veteran after Turner went down is beyond me. His job is to put the Jets in position to succeed, and early returns suggest that he has failed at his duties. Furthermore, Al Michaels and Cris Colinsworth repeatedly brought up Baxter's lack of size, and claimed that the Jets needed someone bigger in the middle to deal with the huge weapons on Baltimore's offensive line. At some point, Baxter was replaced at center by Slauson, and Vladimir "King Ugly" Ducasse was forced in at LG to fill in for Slauson. That might have solidified the middle of the line slightly, but Ducasse was clearly unprepared to play guard (his "preferred" position is RT), giving up a sack to Haloti Ngata. If the Jets coaching staff knew that Colin Baxter was too small to play against the Raven's line, they should have given Vlad reps with the first team throughout the week. Lastly, the absence of screen plays and drop offs to LT baffled me. The Ravens were blitzing Mark Sanchez all night, and a screen could have burned them at least once. The coaches better get it together this week, or Bill Belichick and the Patriots will exploit the weaknesses, and we are in for another beat down next Sunday.
Prediction: I think that the Jets will come out with a vengeance, embarrassed for their recent play. If Nick Mangold plays, I will change my prediction (further in the Jets favor). As of now, I anticipate a close game: