Saturday, September 18, 2010
10 things to watch in Patriots-Jets
By Mike Reiss ESPNBoston.com
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Here are 10 areas that project to be crucial in Sunday's game between the New England Patriots and New York Jets (4:15 p.m.):
1. Picking up the blitz. The Jets blitzed more than any team in the NFL last season, and one of the things they do is overload sides of the field, sending more rushers than the offense can account for. Because the Jets are so tough against the run, which should mean the Patriots lean more toward the pass, this will be the game within the game: Will the Jets' pressure dictate the action, or will the Patriots have the answers?
Tom Brady will need to make smart decisions and avoid the blitz against the Jets.
2. Pass-catchers adjusting on the fly. Given the Jets' blitzing ways, Patriots receivers, tight ends and backs will have to make adjustments based on what they see after the snap. This was a problem at times last season in the Meadowlands when the Patriots ran a three-receiver set with Randy Moss, Joey Galloway and Julian Edelman. The matchup within this matchup, of course, is who Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis lines up against and how often the Patriots decide to attack that pairing.
3. Tom Brady's decision-making process under pressure. The Jets' pressure can often speed up a quarterback's decision-making process and affect footwork. Brady was not sacked last week against the Cincinnati Bengals and was hit only twice all game. That figures to change this week, and how Brady responds under duress will be a primary factor in the Patriots' success.
4. Run defense in base 3-4 alignment. The Patriots were in their base 3-4 alignment for just 17 snaps in the season opener against the Bengals, a result of jumping out to a 24-0 lead midway through the second quarter and forcing the Bengals into obvious passing situations. With the Jets' ground-and-pound approach, the Patriots should be in the base more often Sunday, which shines a brighter spotlight on some of the team's players thrust into larger roles -- left ends Gerard Warren and Ron Brace, right end Mike Wright, left outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich and inside linebacker Brandon Spikes.
5. Special teams highlights complementary focus. To win on the road in a tough environment, the Patriots will need to play a complementary game -- offense, defense and special teams. The Jets' special-teams units are an extension of their attacking defense, so that means players such as Kyle Arrington, Tracy White and Matt Slater -- top special-teams players -- must rise to the challenge.
6. Rob Gronkowski in the red zone. In last September's loss to the Jets, the Patriots were 0-for-3 in the red zone in terms of scoring touchdowns. They lost 16-9. In 16 red zone snaps last week against the Bengals, rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski (6-foot-6, 265 pounds) was on the field for 15 of them and caught a 1-yard touchdown pass. His presence in the red zone could be the difference this time around.
7. Containing Dustin Keller. In a week in which the Jets will be looking to open up their passing game, tight end Dustin Keller can challenge the Patriots from a matchup perspective. Keller hurt the Patriots in a 2008 game with eight catches for 87 yards, and had a touchdown catch in the Jets' win over the Patriots last September. The Patriots are most likely to treat Keller as a pure receiver in the matchup game.
8. Young corners answering the challenge again. The Jets plan to take more shots down the field this week. With the likelihood that a safety will be in the box to support against the run, rookie Devin McCourty and second-year player Darius Butler figure to be challenged at some point on the outer edges of the field while matching up against Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery.
9. Stephen Gostkowski getting back on track. In a low-scoring game that projects to be close, the Patriots' kicker could play an important role. He missed from 47 and 56 yards in the season opener, while hitting from 32.
10. Zoltan Mesko and the punting game. In what should be a field position-type game, the rookie punter is likely to be in his first regular-season pressure situation. In the season opener he had one punt for 43 yards, although the punt was aided by a favorable bounce.
Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.