Kind of surprising that the Patriots are going off as a 10 1/2 pt favorite this week. Clearly, bettors are not buying into New England's recent struggles or any positive signs from the Jets blowout last week. Well we'll see.
For Ryan, these Patriot gams are the biggest games of the year. Not just for the obvious reason that they have playoff implications. These matchups do more to define his career than any other. He was the defensive genius. He was brought here to beat the Bellichick/Brady machine. He started talking about it the day he was hired. But after 2 years of decent success here, the Jets were embarrassed in the two games last year, and missed the playoffs for the first time under Ryan. Much of the needs the team tried to address in the offseason were geared towards these games. So lets look closely at the match ups:
Jets on Offense
1) Don't Expect an Encore from the Ground and Pound. This is not the Colts. Stopping the run is one of the Patriots greatest strengths. They give up a paltry 3.4 yds per carry, good for 4th in the NFL. Besides Woolfork, Ninkovich and surprisingly the rookie Jones, too, are good run stuffers. LB's Mayo and Spikes excel here, totaling 74 tackles between them, and the secondary provides key run support, led by safety Patrick Chung. The Jets will run the ball, as they always do, but its doubtful this will be a decisive influence in the game. Don't expect any Tebow miracles either.
2) Limited Success from the Short passing Game. The Patriots are mediocre at covering short routes, giving up a completion% of 64%. Precision passing teams could do well here, for example Peyton was recently 31-44, 337, 3TDs 0ints. But the Jets don't have the QB or the route runners to win based on the short passing game. It really would help if the Jets could improve their screen passing, because the Patriots can be expected to blitz often in this game.
3) Vertical Passing Game. This is the matchup that favors the Jets. The Patriots have given up an astounding 33 20+ yd passing plays, 7 more than the 2nd worst team, and they were dead last in this category last year as well. The Jets WR's are not accomplished, and they aren't great route runners, but Kerley, Schillens and Hill are all fast and can get vertical. Keller can contribute here, too, challenging the coverage abilities of NE's weak cover-safeties. (For more info on the Patriots woes at pass coverage, there is a current article on Pats Pulpit entitled "Lightning Strikes".) Sanchez has to hit on these opportunities , and that means he will need protection to step into his throws. Ferguson vs. Jones is one key battle.
Jets on Defense.
1) Patriots Run Game. The Patriots rushing attack needs to be respected, as it has improved a great deal, ranking 4th in the NFL. Stevan Ridley has been a huge addition with 524 yards on the season. The Jets can't get locked by the no-huddle into a lightweight full-coverage defensive scheme, or they will get burned by the running game as they did in the last game. In this regard, its key that Coples and Wilkerson are equally effective against the run and at pressuring the QB. The last time we beat NE, Sean Ellis was great, and these two young DE's need to fulfill that role. Also, Harris needs to play a great game, because Scott and Thomas are just too big a liability vs. the pass to help out here, and Devito needs a solid game at the NT as well.
2) The slot and the 2 TE's. Same old story: how to cover Welker and the 2 TE's? Let Wilson press-cover vs. Welker? I'm looking for suggestions here. And now we will see if Landry is good enough in coverage against these TE's, and maybe even if Davis, Antonio Allen and Josh Bush can provide the speed this defense lacked vs. this attack. The Jets may want to man up on Welker but play more zone otherwise. This offense is just too good to stop cold, but we can't let them run away.