Friday, October 19, 2012
W2W4: Jets at Patriots
By Rich Cimini
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The Jets feel good about themselves after an easy win over the Colts, but their confidence is about to be tested by the angry and dangerous Patriots.
Both teams are 3-3, but Vegas isn't buying that, as the Patriots are listed a double-digit favorite. The winner takes control of the AFC East. Kickoff is 4:25 p.m. Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
Here's what to watch for:
1. Rex-ttine vs. Tom Brady: When the Jets beat the Patriots, it's usually because Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine have a defensive game plan that confuses Brady. This could be hardest challenge to date because the Patriots finally have a running game to complement their explosive passing attack. At home, they like to use an up-tempo, no-huddle offense, which limits substitution and forces defenses to operate quickly.
To combat it, the Jets simplified their play calls and will cut down on pre-snap movement, reducing the risk of getting caught out of position. They also have to make sure they don't get stuck in a bad personnel grouping. Example: If the big run stuffers are on the field, the Patriots will go no-huddle and start throwing. Ryan and Pettine have to be alert.
2. Mr. Clean: QB Mark Sanchez has to play a clean game -- i.e. no turnovers, no dumb mistakes. He did it last week, but it's doubly important against the Patriots. They're giving up a ton of yards in the passing game (289 per game), but they have a knack for forcing turnovers. They're third in the NFL with 16 takeaways, a league-high 50 since the start of 2011.
They have six interceptions, plus a crew of defenders that know how to strip the ball. LB Brandon Spikes, DE Chandler Jones and DE Rob Ninkovich have three forced fumbles apiece. It's the classic bend-but-don't-break philosophy. This has to be a concern for the Jets, who went 16 straight games with a turnover until last week. Sanchez also needs to carry over some of that red-zone karma from last week; the Jets have to score touchdowns, not field goals.
3. Cro 'da man: For the Jets to pull off the upset, CB Antonio Cromartie has to be one of the best players on the field. He could end up playing three ways -- cornerback, wide receiver and kickoff returner (for the injured Joe McKnight). Without Darrelle Revis, Cromartie has to be the tone setter in the secondary.
He'll probably move around, covering WR Brandon Lloyd and perhaps TE Aaron Hernandez. Cromartie loves to play against Brady. In fact, he has intercepted him three times, tied for the most of any player, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Look for CB Kyle Wilson on Wes Welker in the slot. It'll be fascinating to see how they deal with TE Rob Gronkowski, especially in the red zone.
4. Where's Tim?: Ryan hinted that, because of the injuries to McKnight and Bilal Powell, Tim Tebow could see time at running back. Gamesmanship, anyone? It's hard to imagine Tebow taking a handoff from Sanchez, but, hey, the Jets might be desperate enough to try it.
You're more likely to see Tebow running out of his usual role -- a QB in shotgun, reducing some of the burden on Shonn Greene. But here's the problem: If Tebow and Greene are the primary ball-carriers, there's no outside speed. The Patriots would load up between the tackles, stopping the inside runs.
5. The Bermuda Triangle: The Jets' ability to run the ball effectively hinges on how well they block the Patriots' three inside run stuffers -- massive DT Vince Wilfork, plus LBs Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes. A week ago, the Jets dominated the Colts with their inside power game, but this is a different deal. C Nick Mangold gets paid the big bucks to block guys like Wilfork, who often commands double teams. The Jets are more power than scheme when it comes to running, but they have to change it up a bit against a very solid front seven.