It is only Tuesday, but the hype around next Sunday's match up has already overtaken both television and the blogosphere. In only 5 days, the New England Patriots will enter Jets' territory in a heavyweight battle between (5-3) teams. The Pats defeated a reeling Jets team 30-21 in Week 5, but the tide has turned completely coming into this game. The Jets have won 3 straight (including victories against the 4-1 Chargers and the 5-2 Bills), while the Patriots have dropped 2 straight games. The Jets carry all the momentum, and smell blood against the wounded Patriots. A victory this week would be huge in what promises to be a tight race for a playoff spot.
Much has remained the same since Week 5, when I wrote the Keys to the first Jets-Pats clash (under a different username). The Patriots defense still stinks, Tom Brady is still "pretty good", and Mark Sanchez is still prone to making a great play on first down, and then a boneheaded play on second down. However, there were a few big mistakes that I made in that post. I harped on the importance of containing Tom Brady and primarily disregarded BenJarvus Green-Ellis, and it looked to me like the Jets shared my pregame sentiments. The outcome was largely decided by the Patriots' running game, which leads into my first key...
The Battle in the Trenches: In Week 5, the Jets commonly forgot about the man that they call "The Law Firm". Green-Ellis ran for a career-high 136 yards on 27 carries, to the tune of 5 yards per rush. The Patriots controlled the play clock by pounding it with Green-Ellis, and went to him whenever they needed a big conversion. On one play, he literally dragged Sione Pouha into the end zone. Maybe it is my youthful optimism speaking, but I believe that this will not be the case this week. The Jets vaunted defense has tightened up the past few weeks, and has allowed a total of 192 rushing yards combined against the Chargers and the Bills (who feature two of the NFL's most feared backs: Ryan Mathews and Fred Jackson, plus a bulldozer of a man in Mike Tolbert). Danny "Woodcock" is likely to play this week, but he hasn't had more than 10 carries since Week 1, and Stevan Ridley hasn't had much of a role either, despite a little bit of hype. To be fair, BenJarvus Green-Ellis hasn't had much success this season outside of the Jets game, but he is certainly the biggest threat out of the Patriots' backfield. Tom Brady will obviously remain as the focus of the Jets' defense, but forgetting about Green-Ellis can have disastrous results, as we all saw a few weeks ago. Sione Pouha had a great game against the Bills, and the Jets' d-line will likely get reinforcements in the form of Mike DeVito and/or Kenrick Ellis, so I expect the Patriots' running game to have a difficult time this week.
Shonn Greene: The "War Machine" ran for 83 yards and a score against the Patriots in Week 5, but the situation has improved drastically since then. Greene has since caught his stride, and has salvaged what originally looked like a lost season. Furthermore, the Patriots game was Nick Mangold's first action after a serious high ankle sprain. He was playing at 75% against a monster in Vince Wilfork, and largely silenced the Patriots' star NT. Mangold looked almost 100% healthy last week against the Bills, and easily managed Marcell Dareus. Look for Greene to be running behind an offensive line that is much improved since Week 5. Lastly, defensive stalwart Brandon Spikes is "week to week" after spraining his MCL, and is unlikely to play. Jerod Mayo is just getting his feet under him after returning from his own knee injury, so the Patriots' linebacker corps will be severely limited. When you add all these factors, a big week for Shonn Greene appears to be very likely.
Mark Sanchez Avoiding Stupid Mistakes: I have been one of Mark Sanchez' most ardent supporters, and I believe that his statistics this season speak for themselves. He has improved his passing rating by 10 points, his completion percentage by 3%, and is on pace for 26 TD (a career high), and only 14 INT (a career low). I am shocked at how much criticism he faces on a weekly basis, given his postseason success and his yearly improvement. Despite being regarded as a "risk taker" by even his biggest advocates, he actually has less turnovers than Tom Brady (albeit in less pass attempts). With all that said, his mistakes last week were brutal. They both looked like brain farts, rather than examples of bad quarterbacking. However, stupid turnovers like that just cannot happen, especially in the Red Zone. This is what is keeping Sanchez from becoming an elite quarterback, and I believe that the Pats would take advantage of miscues like that. Avoiding stupid errors will go a long way towards defeating New England. The Patriots have a horrible secondary (worst in the NFL) and a lackluster pass rush (25th in the league), so the Sanchize will have every opportunity to light it up if he stays under control.
(Interesting Stat: The Week 5 defeat vs. the Patriots has been the only game so far this season that the Jets had 0 turnovers. More of the same please!)
Brodney Pool: After weeks of GGN clamoring for it, Brodney Pool was (quietly) given the start last week over Eric Smith. I found the timing to be interesting, because the Bills seemed like an ideal match up for Smitty (great running back, lack of athletic TE's). The change would prove to be inconsequential, because Pool got hurt early on. Smith came in and played most of the game, even after Pool was deemed healthy enough to return. I hope that Rex sticks to this move against the Patriots, because their two-headed monster of athletic tight ends combined for 9 catches and 87 yards in week 5. Furthermore, most of Welker's yardage against the Jets came on a blown assignment by Eric Smith. Pool is undoubtedly the better safety in coverage, and he will need to step up in order to keep Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski off the board.
Player to Watch: Before I reveal my choice for this game's "Player to Watch", take a look at what Rodney Harrison said on Versus NFL Turning Point:
Yeah, [the Patriots] don’t really respect the Jets running game, so the Patriots linebackers … they don’t get fooled by it."
-Rodney Harrison, Versus NFL Turning Point
For this reason, I am picking Joe McKnight as the player to watch. I have already highlighted Shonn Greene as a key player, but I believe that the Pats are too smart to "not respect" Greene, despite what Harrison has to say. However, they might not fully comprehend what kind of an impact Joe McKnight can make, because of his lack of statistics on offense. Last week, he saw increased touches in the form of 9 carries and a wildcard snap, and I am very confident that he will break a long run (or screen pass) this week. If the Patriots linebackers really do not respect the Jets' running game, McKnight has a chance to make them feel very silly this Sunday.
Prediction: Last time that the Jets played the Patriots, I believed that the focus would be on stopping Tom Brady. While he didn't perform up to his lofty reputation, Brady still played very well and was helped out by a huge day from his running back. Taking away the running game early this week will allow Rex to drop back more defensive backs, something that proved to work very well last year in the playoffs. I think that Sanchez will have a big day, to the tune of 250 yards and 2 TD, and I think that Shonn Greene will eclipse the 100 yard mark for the second time in three games. Also, I think that Santonio Holmes will finally see an uptick in his statistics. Brady will likely maintain his All-Pro production (most likely on passes to Welker when the Jets are in a zone, or when Revis is on a different receiver), but the Jets will take advantage of a wounded Pats defense.
LETS GO JETS!