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Keys to Game 7: Jets vs. Patriots

The (3-3) New York Jets host Tom Brady and the (5-1) New England Patriots in a match-up of bitter AFC East Rivals. An in-depth look at the key players and match ups.

Jared Wickerham

Coming off a deflating loss to the previously winless Pittsburgh Steelers, the (3-3) New York Jets host the (5-1) New England Patriots in a game that is likely to have playoff implications down the line. The Jets roster looks a little like an episode of The Walking Dead—injuries have depleted the team's depth and backups will be playing major roles going forward. However, the Jets probably won't receive much sympathy from the Patriots, who have seen defensive captains Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo sustain major injuries and will probably be missing offensive starters Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski, and maybe even star cornerback Aqib Talib. This game may be as messy as the 13-10 snoozer that the teams played in Week 2, as neither quarterback will have many weapons to make plays down the field. Yet, any team with Tom Brady is a threat to put up points, which leads into the first key.

Rex Went to Jarrett: Antonio Allen played a heck of a game against the Steelers, blowing up runs and helping out in the passing game. He was credited for 10 tackles by PFF, and was generally around the ball all day long. With that said, he's generally regarded as being better in the box than in coverage, and Jaiquawn Jarrett would probably be better suited in the base packages against the Patriots. Jarrett has been solid all year but played only 3 snaps against the Steelers, a number that is sure to increase against the pass-happy Patriots, who have attempted the 4th most passes in the NFL thus far. It is doubly critical against a team that plays as fast as the Patriots (who have the 3rd most scrimmage plays in the NFL), and like to give opposing defenses multiple looks. The coverage has to be perfect, and Jaiquawn Jarrett has proven less likely to make critical mistakes in pass coverage than Antonio Allen.

Bilal Powell/Chris Ivory: The Patriots are pretty good against the pass—allowing a stifling 72.3 passer rating to opposing quarterbacks, 4th best in the NFL—especially if Aqib Talib plays. However, they have struggled to contain the run, a flaw which will be exacerbated with Vince Wilfork out. The New Orleans Saints were able to run the ball well in Wilfork's absence last week, rushing for a cool 5 yards per attempt. Gang Green ran well against the Patriots in their last meeting, accumulating 129 yards on 32 carries (including a season high 52 yards from Chris Ivory), but oddly favored the pass despite the messy weather and the Patriots' strong secondary. The strategy ended in disaster, as Geno had his worst day as a pro: 15/35, 0 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, and 4 sacks. Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory are key to the Jets' chances this Sunday, assuming Marty Mornhinweg gives them enough touches to make a difference.

The Jets' Pass Rush: The Jets' vaunted defensive line has been racking up the sacks this season, ranking 4th in the NFL with 20. Nevertheless, they only got to Tom Brady once in Week 2, which could have ended in disaster if any Patriots receiver bothered bringing their hands that day. Muhammad Wilkerson has already contributed a team-leading 5 sacks, and rookie Sheldon Richardson is not far behind with 3. The Jets need to see life out of Quinton Coples, as last year's first round pick hasn't had a sack all year after accumulating 5.5 last year. The Patriots haven't been great at protecting Brady, as he's been sacked 15 times in 5 games (excluding the game against the Jets), including 5 times last week. Getting the ball out of Brady's hands earlier than he'd like would take a lot of pressure of the Jets' struggling secondary, which will likely have its hands full with Julian Edelman (now there's a sentence I never thought I'd write).

Player to Watch: Julian Edelman caught 13 of his 18 targets against the Jets in week 2, mostly on short slants and timing routes. Although his 6 yards per catch are nothing to write home about, it often seemed that it was the only thing going for a disjointed Patriots offense. With Kyle Wilson likely shelved due to a concussion, Isaiah Trufant looks set to inherit the job of tailing Edelman around the field. Trufant actually proved to be quite a weapon against slot receivers last season, essentially neutralizing Wes Welker in the Week 7 showdown that went to overtime. When Trufant was in coverage, Welker was held to 3 catches on 5 targets for 25 yards, most of which came on a 16 yard screen pass in the second quarter. How was he so successful? Maybe it was due to his diminutive stature, as Connor Orr wrote at the time:

Perhaps Welker's constant head fakes, delayed routes and sharp cuts were best covered by a player who could see eye level with him...Trufant hopes that with the rise of slot receivers continuing in the NFL, especially ones of smaller stature, he may have found his niche.
-per Connor Orr, The Star-Ledger

While Welker and Edelman are obviously different players (Edelman has a ways to go before they can be considered on the same level), they are almost identical in size—separated by about an inch and ten pounds. If Trufant can blanket Edelman the way he blanketed Welker last season, it would take away Tom Brady's most trusted weapon and force him to throw to rookies and backups, something most Jets fans would gladly sign up for. Trufant will also need to contain Edelman on punt returns, where he holds the NFL all-time record for punt return average. Definitely keep an eye on the Jets' #35, because his play could swing the game one way or another. Before revealing the second player to watch, I'd like to engage in a little thought exercise. Who do you think is Player A in the table below, and who is Player B?

Passer Rating Pass Yards Pass TD Comp %
Player A 79.5 1480 8 56.9
Player B 74.7 1490 7 59.5

If you guessed that Player B is Geno Smith, you are correct. If you guessed that Player A is Tom Brady, you deserve a gold star, because those stats look very "un-Brady-like. " The two quarterbacks have almost identical stats, and I'd even go as far as to say that the teams' difference in record is due to the quarterbacks' only significantly different statistic: the turnovers. Whereas Brady has turned the ball over 5 times in 6 games, Geno has already lost it 12 times. Thus, #7 will once again be a player to watch. If he can protect the ball against the Patriots, Gang Green may be looking at a mighty gratifying upset victory.