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Five Questions with Pats Pulpit

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

We had a chance to talk to Rich Hill of Pats Pulpit about the upcoming game between the New York Jets and the New England Patriots in the fight for first place in the AFC East. Here's what he had to say:

1. There was a lot of talk about the Patriots secondary before the season that they would be terrible. You’re 5-0, so are they playing well or this the Tom Brady Show?

The secondary has been a pleasant surprise, especially with the revolving door at cornerback. While there's no doubt that Tom Brady and the offense has put the team on their back, the defense is quietly having a great season.

While the unit ranks a respectable 10th in points allowed per game, 40 of the team's 103 points allowed have come in the 4th quarter after the Patriots had a 99% chance of winning the game. So the team hasn't really been closing out, but their defensive statistics are inflated due to prevent defense and a willingness to burn out the clock with extended drives.

The secondary would definitely be better with Darrelle Revis, but that was never possible because of the salary cap. Instead, the Patriots elevated Malcolm Butler into a Revis-type role of trailing around the top outside receiver. He has not shut down players, but he competes and allows the Patriots defense to dedicate their resources to other positions.

For instance, the Patriots can put the free safety on the far side of the field to help out whichever cornerback is #2 at the time (the Patriots have featured three players at #2: Bradley Fletcher, Tarell Brown, and Logan Ryan. Ryan is the only member still active on the team). The team also used their free cap space to boost their defensive front, with edge defender Jabaal Sheard signing and quickly becoming the team's top lineman.

2. Do the Patriots have a weakness? How would you exploit them on offense and defense if you were game planning against them?

The blueprint to beat New England is the same as its always been. Try to pressure him with just three or four players, specifically up the middle. Play tight coverage on the outside to deter quick passes. Bunch up the middle to eliminate crossers and seam routes. If Tom Brady wins by throwing towards the sidelines, so be it; don't give him anything easy.

The Cowboys and Colts actually offered an interesting twist on their defensive approaches. The Cowboys dedicated athletic rookie cornerback Byron Jones in man coverage of Rob Gronkowski the entire game and had a fair amount of success. The Patriots countered with quick passes to the flat off of rub routes.

In response, the Colts, with their 3-4 front, dropped their outside linebackers into the shallow flat to take away the quick passes to the outlet receivers. The Patriots responded by running deeper combination routes to shed the coverage. They were only able to do this because the Colts defensive front really struggled to generate pressure.

So if I'm the Jets, I use these twists and play tight man coverage, drop outside linebackers into the flat, and expect that the three defensive linemen are far more capable of generating pressure than the Colts talent.

3. What concerns you most about the Jets, looking at how the teams match up against each other?

I think the Jets just have such a wealth of talent are some really key positions where the Patriots are struggling with health issues.

The Patriots offensive line lost its starting left tackle Nate Solder with a biceps injury, and his replacement Marcus Cannon was out after 11 snaps against the Colts with a toe injury. This forced the Patriots to move right tackle Sebastian Vollmer to the left side, and insert Cameron Fleming, who was elevated from the practice squad this week, at right tackle. Oh, and the Patriots are rotating three rookies on the interior line. If the Jets defensive line isn't excited for that match-up, I don't know what will rev their engine.

And with how well Chris Ivory has been playing, the health of linebacker Dont'a Hightower (out against the Colts with a rib injury) will be paramount.

4. Who is someone on the Patriots that Jets fans may not know a lot about, but could have a big impact on the game?

Strong safety Patrick Chung is a name I'll throw out. He was a former Patriots second round pick that never lived up to expectations and after spending a season with the Eagles, he came back for pennies on the dollar. With Devin McCourty growing at free safety, Chung found himself a perfect role on the defense: a safety/linebacker hybrid.

Bill Belichick has been looking for a player like Chung his entire tenure in New England, but he never had the free safety like McCourty that would allow an in-the-box safety to thrive.

Chung is one of the best tacklers on the team and he's incredibly active against the run. He's used in coverage of tight ends and he actually spent the majority of the Colts game in coverage of T.Y. Hilton. He's grown as a player in his second stint and he's in a role that's perfect for his skill set.

I would expect that he'll be a key performer for the Patriots defense.

5. What’s your prediction for the game?

The Jets have a ton of talent on offense and Ryan Fitzpatrick is doing a good job of playing within the game plan (ie: not losing the game with terrible decisions). The defense is the best in the league. The Patriots are dinged up and dealing with injuries at multiple key positions.

The only reason I'd be confident in a Patriots victory is that they're playing at home. Other than when they rested their entire offense against the Bills in week 17 of 2014, the last time an AFC team beat the regular season Tom Brady-led Patriots at home was...

...the 2006 Jets. So. Hmm.

Honestly, I think this will be a dog fight. The Patriots defense is better than their statistical rank suggests and the Jets have a very complete team and a coaching staff that will be well prepared. The fact that the Patriots opened up as 9.5 point favorites seems like a suckers bet to me. I think the Patriots ultimately win, but it will be like all the other recent games and be decided by a field goal in the waning seconds of the game.