Things turned around fast for the Patriots after their season-opening win over the Bills on Sunday. The coaching staff graded the film on the plane ride home from Western New York in anticipation of fast-forwarding to this week’s opponent, the Jets.
Whenever the Patriots and Jets square off there’s going to be a layer of intrigue. The teams have had no shortage of dramatic moments in the recent past, both during games and in the days leading up to them.
To the surprise of many, the Jets got the job done narrowly at home over the Bucs in Week 1, sparked by a late scramble by quarterback Geno Smith and subsequent personal foul penalty that pushed them into game-winning field goal range.
With a chance to jump out in front of the rest of the division at stake, here are five items we’ll be watching for on Thursday night.
1. Who catches passes? With Danny Amendola (groin) likely to sit out Thursday’s game, the Patriots must go back to the drawing board to find their top receiver. The presumptive top target this week is Julian Edelman, a Week 1 star who has long held the trust of Tom Brady. Behind Edelman, Kenbrell Thompkins will hold down the perimeter targets, with Josh Boyce as a candidate to step into a third receiver role. Fellow rookie Aaron Dobson (hamstring) could be active this week, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if he doesn’t play a major offensive role even if he suits up. He’s still in the development stages. Tight end Zach Sudfeld (hamstring) might be out, catapulting Michael Hoomanawanui into a starting role.
2. Ridley the bell-cow back? After being benched in the second quarter due to a fumble, might running back Stevan Ridley be put right back into his starting role in the backfield? The team needs him with Shane Vereen now on the short-term injured reserve list, and Ridley has bounced back from fumbling woes before. Consider this: In the four games following his fumbles in 2012, Ridley averaged 17.75 carries. In the other 12 games, he averaged 18.25. Don’t be surprised if he takes on a leading role again this week. Veteran Leon Washington, if healthy, could be used to replace Vereen.
3. Pressuring Geno. Sacks don’t always tell the story as it relates to generating pressure on opposing quarterbacks, but Thursday night would be a good time for the Patriots to register their first sack of the season after being shut out against Buffalo. They’ll face another rookie quarterback. One way to knock Geno Smith off of his game is to make him uncomfortable in the pocket. The Patriots' defensive ends and edge players will be under the microscope in this department.
4. Wilfork vs. Mangold. We don’t often dig into individual matchups for our items to watch for, but this one is too good to ignore. When the Patriots play the Jets, it means two of the very best at their craft go head-to-head, as nose tackle Vince Wilfork will often align over Jets center Nick Mangold. Mangold left Week 1 with an elbow issue but later returned and should be good to go on Thursday. The Jets love to run the football, but Mangold will have his hands full in trying to generate movement against Wilfork.
5. Jets DL in focus. In reviewing the Jets' first game of the season, it was clear that the defensive line is an explosive and disruptive group that won’t make things easy on Brady. Muhammad Wilkerson is a star already, while first-round pick Sheldon Richardson had an active afternoon against both the run and pass, totaling seven tackles and a half sack. Veteran Antwan Barnes adds edge pressure and the Jets' front seven will be a big test even without 2012 first-round pick Quinton Coples. The Patriots' offensive line picked it up down the stretch against Buffalo, but it must be ready again when the Jets take the field. This defense will find ways to manufacture pressure through both schemes and individual rushers.