The key to victory for the Jets tomorrow night might be the play of Kyle Wilson.
The New England Patriots do not lack weapons on offense. Most quarterbacks dream of having the top four weapons at Tom Brady's disposal. In this game, however, the Jets might luck out a bit. Rob Gronkowski is out after breaking his arm last week. There might not be a players the Jets match up with worse in the NFL. He's a nightmare to defend even for teams that have quality cover linebackers and safeties.
Aaron Hernandez could potentially be an issue. Unlike Gronkowski, you can spend a decent amount of time allocating a corner on him. If you do that on Gronkowski, Tom Brady will recognize it, check to a run, and Gronkowski's superb run blocking will blow you off the ball with bad personnel on the field. Hernandez is a tight end in the Dustin Keller mold in that he's really a wide receiver in a tight end's body who offers little as a blocker. The problem? Darrelle Revis' absence leaves the Jets short on corners who can effectively match up with the talented Hernandez. However, reports are Hernandez, coming off an injury of his own, will be limited.
The Pats still have good receivers to contend with, though. Antonio Cromartie will likely draw Brandon Lloyd. This matchup has some promise for the Jets. Cromartie had his way with Lloyd two years ago when Gang Green played at Denver. Lloyd is the kind of vertical target Cro matches up well with.
The big matchup that could decide things then might be Kyle Wilson against Wes Welker. For all of the talk about the Pats seemingly moving on from Welker a few months ago, Wes is still Tom Brady's favorite option. He has 105 targets. Lloyd is second on the team with 82. Wilson is going to have to draw Welker. He has the most experience on the team covering the slot. Cromartie doesn't move well laterally. He matches up much better than Lloyd.
For all the howling Wilson draws whenever he allows a completion, the truth is that he's been pretty good this season pressed into a starting role by Revis' injury. Among corners who have played in half their team's snaps, Kyle is top 30 in receptions allowed, yards allowed, snaps per reception allowed, and snaps per yard. If you judge him against Revis and Cromartie, he won't look great. Judge him against the rest of the league, and you'll see a slightly above average starter.
If he's up against Welker, the Jets will need Wilson to play his best game of the year. Welker is no normal slot target. He's Brady's favorite weapon, and Brady will force feed him the ball if possible. Wilson had arguably his worst game of 2011 at the Meadowlands against New England. Brady picked on him.
If Wilson plays a big game, it could be the difference. He's had a lot more dominant outings the last two years than people give him credit for. Brady might be forced to look for his secondary targets He's certainly good enough to make it work with those guys. He might find success there. But against a quarterback that good, the best you can hope for is forcing him to rely on targets other than his favorites and matchups without a clear edge. Forcing him to go away from Welker might give the pass rush the extra split second it needs to make a big play.
Meanwhile, if Wilson does not play a huge game, it could be a long night.