- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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Some notes to keep in mind from the Dec. 6 matchup between the Patriots and Jets, after reviewing the TV tape from the first half of the game, as there could be carry-over into Sunday's playoff contest:
Revis mostly on Welker early. The Jets had cornerback Darrelle Revis covering Wes Welker on the majority of snaps. One way the Patriots countered that was lining Welker up in the offensive backfield, or simply not lining up a receiver to Revis' side of the field (Revis didn't always flip sides in those instances). When Welker wasn’t in the game, the Jets had Revis on Brandon Tate, leaving Antonio Cromartie on Deion Branch. Over the course of the game, Branch won that matchup decisively.
Butler as the slot option on D. When the Jets had three receivers on the field, the Patriots countered with a 4-2-5 nickel package with cornerback Darius Butler at the “star” position in the slot. The Patriots have gone back and forth this season using either a corner or safety in that package. If this holds true to form Sunday, Butler is a key player to watch.
Jets' safety Smith targeted by Patriots. The Patriots picked on safety Eric Smith (pass interference penalty on Rob Gronkowski), who was thrust into the lineup after Jim Leonhard's late-week season-ending injury. The Patriots used plenty of spread formations and Brady attacked Smith early and often.
Jets' receiver Smith a wild card on offense. The Patriots had a special package to defend receiver Brad Smith, and will need it again assuming Smith's health checks out. The Jets caught the Patriots at one point of the second quarter when they lined Smith up at quarterback, which led New England to call a timeout. Smith is also a threat as a kickoff returner, but the Patriots covered well in the first half of this game.
Jets went with up-tempo approach early. Although their trademark is ground-and-pound, the Jets opened this game in a lot of three-wide sets, with Mark Sanchez in the shotgun in a no-huddle type attack. That put the game in Sanchez’s hands. Do they do it again or try to establish the ground-and-pound approach early? Hard to imagine they'd come out with the same approach. They had success running the ball against the Patriots' 3-4 defense -- and had two solid runs against the sub defense in the Week 2 matchup between the teams -- but because they fell behind so early in a poorly-played first quarter, they couldn't stick with it consistently.
Big change for Pats on defense at DE. When the Patriots were in their 3-4 alignment, Ron Brace played left defensive end, with Wilfork at nose tackle and Gerard Warren at right defensive end. Brace is now on season-ending injured reserve. One of the big questions for the Patriots is who fills that role in the 3-4 alignment. The Patriots probably want to keep Wilfork on the nose against tough center Nick Mangold, but rookie Kyle Love isn’t a natural 5-technique end.
Fletcher as an outside linebacker. In a game-plan wrinkle, the Patriots used rookie Dane Fletcher at outside linebacker in a 3-4 alignment at times. Fletcher played seven snaps in the game in a wrinkle that hadn't been seen at any point over the course of the season up to that point.