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Sunday, December 5, 2010
10 things for Patriots-Jets

By Mike Reiss
ESPNBoston.com

Ten areas that project to be crucial, from a Patriots perspective, in Monday night's game against the Jets:

1. Taking away the Jets' ground-and-pound approach. Like many teams, the Jets are much tougher to stop when they get their running game going. The Jets rank second in the NFL in rushing yards per game (148.1 avg.). The Patriots initially held their ground in the Week 2 matchup, limiting the Jets to 36 yards on 12 carries into the third quarter, before LaDainian Tomlinson ripped off back-to-back "sub" runs of 14 and 11 yards -- on the same formation, but to different sides of the field. That was right around the time the game started to get away from the Patriots.

2. Fewer free releases for tight end Dustin Keller. When the Patriots reviewed their Sept. 19 loss to the Jets, they saw that Jets tight end Dustin Keller had too many free releases. Keller, who is essentially a receiver with the "TE" designation next to his name, hurt them with seven receptions for 115 yards and one touchdown. Making it harder for Keller to get off the line should be a top priority for the Patriots.

3. Tom Brady sorting through the Jets' different looks. Quarterback Tom Brady has completed 66 percent of his passes on the season, but his two lowest-percentage games came against Ryan-led schemes -- 55 percent against Rex Ryan's Jets and 52 percent against the Browns' D coordinated by Rob Ryan, Rex's brother. When the words "Ryan" and "defense" are put together, it usually means pressure, but the Jets' and Browns' success was based on nicely mixing the pressures with some heavy coverage as well.

4. Playing to a draw on special teams. Linebacker Tracy White, who leads the Patriots in special-teams tackles, called the Jets one of the best special-teams units in the NFL. Kickoff returner Brad Smith is especially dangerous. The Patriots have been up and down of late on special teams, so they at least need to play to a draw in this third phase of the game.

5. LaDainian Tomlinson and the checkdown pass. Veteran running back LaDainian Tomlinson leads the Jets with 45 receptions, which highlights his presence as a checkdown option. This will put added importance on tackling and could thrust rookie linebacker Dane Fletcher, who was effective as a spy on Ravens running back Ray Rice earlier in the season, into a larger role.

6. Making a commitment to the run. The Patriots are known as a passing team, but their success over the past three victories has been tied to the balance struck between the run (83 attempts) and pass (95 attempts), which has created explosive play-action possibilities. The Jets rank second in the NFL against the run, so this isn't the Colts, but the Patriots and playcaller Bill O'Brien can't overlook the importance of at least attempting to get things going on the ground -- with Danny Woodhead a top option because of the run-catch versatility he brings.

7. Santonio Holmes after the catch. One of the big changes for the Jets from the previous meeting between the teams is the presence of receiver Santonio Holmes, who is one of the NFL's more explosive players after the catch. This will test the secondary and its tackling.

8. Return of Aaron Hernandez. One of the Patriots' top weapons through the first eight games of the season, rookie tight end Hernandez has had a limited role the past three games -- playing 46 of a possible 185 snaps behind Alge Crumpler and Rob Gronkowski. He totaled a team-high six receptions for 101 yards in the first meeting between the teams, and it makes sense to think he will be playing a more prominent role Monday night.

9. Vince Wilfork versus Nick Mangold -- who wins the line of scrimmage? An individual matchup that ties to the importance of stopping the run, Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork is one of the NFL's best when lined up at nose tackle in the 3-4 alignment, and Jets center Nick Mangold is one of the best at his position. Winning the battle at the line of scrimmage is important in any game, and this matchup should go a long way in determining which team holds the edge.

10. Identifying the Darrelle Revis matchup and reacting accordingly. Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis is an elite talent, and as quarterback Tom Brady said, it doesn't make sense to throw it in his direction 18 times in hopes of completing nine passes. So identifying how the Jets are employing him in their game plan, and responding accordingly, will be one important adjustment. Brady will still take some shots at Revis, but they will probably be limited.

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPN Boston. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.