Commentary

Patriots vs. Jets: Areas of interest

Welker-Revis matchup, Brady's adjustments are top concerns

Updated: October 8, 2011, 10:44 PM ET
By Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Areas of interest for the New England Patriots leading into their home game against the New York Jets on Sunday (4:15 p.m.):

Wes Welker vs. Darrelle Revis. On Friday, Welker noted that the Patriots isolated about 600 plays in which Revis was lined up in the slot in 2010 and early this season. So his expectation is that he'll see plenty of Revis and it won't necessarily be a case of the Jets altering what they'd normally do. Welker has been targeted an eye-popping 57 times by quarterback Tom Brady, with Rob Gronkowski the next highest, at 27. The Jets will do whatever they can to take Welker away, and Revis figures to be a big part of it.

[+] EnlargeDane Fletcher
Stew Milne/US PresswireThe Pats are likely to thrust second-year player Dane Fletcher into more sub-package work against the Jets.

Tom Brady sorting through the plan. The Jets had an excellent defensive plan in the playoffs (flooding zones in the middle of the field), which had quarterback Tom Brady seeing things that weren't necessarily there. An early turnover on a lazy screen pass also hurt in that game. Surely, Jets coach Rex Ryan has something different for Brady, so Brady's ability to process it and not break stride looms large. The possible return of injured tight end Aaron Hernandez, who was limited in practice Thursday and Friday as he works his way back from a sprained MCL, would be huge for Brady.

Safeties protecting against the big play. For all the talk about the Jets going back to the ground-and-pound mentality, they still figure to take shots down the field. And why wouldn't they? The Patriots have surrendered 26 pass plays of 20 yards or more, which is alarmingly high. Safety play next to Patrick Chung has been shaky. Does it get better?

Filling the Jerod Mayo void. With defensive signal-caller Mayo expected to miss the game with a sprained MCL, Gary Guyton is likely to be thrust into a starting role, and second-year player Dane Fletcher into more sub-package work. The Jets would be smart to create stress in this area, and getting running back LaDainian Tomlinson matched up in the passing game would be an advantage.

Defending the run in a sub defense. Last Sunday in Oakland, the Patriots played the majority of their snaps in a heavier base defense and showed they could defend the run and play physically against NFL-leading rusher Darren McFadden. With the Jets leaning toward a three-receiver set with Plaxico Burress, Santonio Holmes and Derrick Mason on the majority of their snaps, that would put the Patriots in a sub package. Defending the run in sub has been an issue.

Albert Haynesworth's potential return. Signs are pointing to the big defensive tackle playing after missing the team's last two contests with a back injury. The Jets should have center Nick Mangold back in the lineup, so a Haynesworth/Vince Wilfork combination on the interior gives the Patriots the best chance to control the line of scrimmage.

[+] EnlargeShane Vereen
Elsa/Getty ImagesWith Danny Woodhead probably out, expect to see more of rookie running back Shane Vereen on Sunday.

Importance of jamming Dustin Keller. Patriots coach Bill Belichick views Keller, the Jets' top tight end, as another receiver. The Patriots plan to play physical against Keller, who leads the Jets with 18 receptions for 261 yards, Keller has had two big days against the Patriots -- 7 catches for 115 yards and 1 touchdown on Sept. 19, 2010, and 8 catches for 87 yards on Nov. 13, 2008 -- and the common thread in those performances was too many free releases at the line of scrimmage.

Potential changes at returner. With the growing likelihood that top kickoff and punt returner Julian Edelman (ankle) won't play, that opens the possibility for change. Receiver Taylor Price is one option on kickoffs, while Wes Welker could pick up work on punts.

Rotation at running back. After missing practice throughout the week with an ankle injury, running back Danny Woodhead looks like he won't be ready. That could thrust rookie Shane Vereen into his first action on offense this season. BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Stevan Ridley would assume the top two roles, and while the Patriots went with just two backs in the season opener, it makes sense to think Vereen could join the mix. The Jets have looked vulnerable against the run and the Patriots are gaining confidence after a balanced approach in Oakland.

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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