- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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Rex Ryan wanted his players so focused and well-rested for the New England Patriots that he told them to skip household chores for a week. On Sunday, we'll find out if the couch-potato approach worked.
It would help if they could hold on to the ball.
That has been the biggest difference between the New York Jets and Patriots over the last few years -- ball security. During their current five-game losing streak to the Patriots, the Jets are minus-11 in turnover margin. They give it away easier than day-old cheesecake at a bake sale. Can they reverse the trend? Kickoff is at 1 p.m. at MetLife Stadium, where the Patriots (5-1) will try to win their 13th straight AFC East game. The Jets (3-3) need a win to stay in the thick of the division race.
What to watch for:
1. A second look for Geno: Rookie QB Geno Smith should fare better this time around. Then again, it can't get worse than the first meeting in Week 2, when he threw three interceptions in the final 11 plays. His familiarity with the Patriots, coupled with a full week to prepare (Round 1 was on a Thursday), is bound to help. It's all about game management. Smith won't see a lot of pressure schemes from Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who will test the kid's patience by forcing him to dink and dunk. The Patriots may take a more conservative approach than usual if CB Aqib Talib (hip) doesn't play. Statistically, there's a big drop-off when he's off the field. Talib intercepted Smith twice in the first game.
2. Hey, Marty: Run!: Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg tried to establish a ground game last week, but he gave up after a quarter. This time, he needs to stick with it. The Patriots have gaping -- repeat, gaping -- holes in their front seven with DT Vince Wilfork and LB Jerod Mayo done for the season. DT Tommy Kelly also could miss the game, meaning they will start two unheralded rookies at defensive tackle -- Joe Vellano, an undrafted free agent, and Chris Jones, cut by two other teams. If C Nick Mangold and RG Willie Colon don't control the point of attack, something is wrong. Of course, this will require a commitment from the pass-happy Mornhinweg. The Jets will miss Mike Goodson's outside speed, but they won't need it if Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory can hammer away inside the tackles.
3. Frustrating Brady isn't enough: Can anybody remember the last time the Jets intercepted Tom Brady? It was Oct. 9, 2011: CB Antonio Cromartie picked Brady on the final play of the first half. Since then, he has gone 163 passes against the Jets without an interception. That's ridiculous. In Week 2, the Jets proved a dominant effort versus Brady doesn't mean much without turnovers. They held the Patriots to nine first downs, yet they couldn't create any takeaways and lost, 13-10. The Jets need a big day from their corners, especially Cromartie, who admitted he's having only a "C year." Cro & Co. need to be ready for a lot of quick screens, which puts a premium on tackling. Brady's receiving corps has 16 drops, the third-highest total in the league.
4. Dealing with Gronk: This changes things. Assuming TE Rob Gronkowski plays -- he was cleared Friday by doctors -- the Patriots now have a major weapon at their disposal, especially in the red zone. Their red zone efficiency sagged without the 6-foot-7 Gronk, Brady's favorite target. Since 2010, his completion percentage to Gronkowski is 72.2, about 10 percent higher than to other receivers, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In his last two games against the Jets, Gronkowski caught 14 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns. If the Jets show as much respect to him as they did to Tony Gonzalez two weeks ago, you can expect double-vice coverage in the red zone. S Jaiquawn Jarrett also was heavily involved in the Gonzalez plan. Would the Jets put Cromartie on Gronk in certain situations? Just a thought.
5. Feed the green beast: The Jets, trying to establish a true home-field advantage, want their fans to be loud and green. Ryan asked fans to wear green, creating a "Green Out" effect. OK, fine, but it would help to grab the attention of the wine-sipping, shrimp-eating masses if they jumped to an early lead. The Jets have led for only 52 minutes in six games, half of which came in the win over the Buffalo Bills. A dynamic, game-changing play in the first quarter would help immensely. Maybe this is where Josh Cribbs becomes a factor. Maybe he can add some sizzle to the special teams. A big play on defense would help, too, but the Jets are allergic to takeaways. In fact, they've gone 207 passes without an interception. They can't be taken seriously as a top-tier defense unless they make some plays.