Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Resistable force vs. movable object
By Field Yates
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Statistically speaking, something will have to give when the Patriots host the New York Jets this weekend, as the Jets and their 30th-ranked passing offense will attempt to exploit the Patriots' 28th-ranked secondary.
Neither unit has been close to a force this season, with inconsistency and injuries among the themes on both sides.
The wounds are still fresh in the Patriots' secondary, which allowed Seahawks rookie quarterback Russell Wilson to enjoy a career outing during their Week 6 showdown that was highlighted by a late-game touchdown pass to receiver Sidney Rice.
But while the numbers suggest Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez could be in line for a successful Sunday, the 25-year-old says it won't be easy.
"They're a great group of players," he said of the Patriots' secondary. "I know they're always capable of having big games, and I know they're going to be in the right position, so it's my job to be smart with the football.
"It's always a challenge, no matter what the numbers say, against these guys. I have a lot of respect for their team. It's going to be a good challenge for us."
As for why the Patriots have surrendered 30 passing plays of 20 yards or more, Sanchez says a number of factors have contributed.
"Different plays happen at different times for different reasons, really," he said. "I think some of them have been really good throws, some have been pretty good schemes that have gotten guys open. That kind of stuff happens to any secondary. I think these guys are a tough group and they always play well."
Sanchez's comments on the secondary come on the heels of words from his head coach, Rex Ryan, who suggested that the Patriots' defense doesn't get the credit it deserves, and that part of the reason why it has allowed so many passing yards is because of its potent offense.
"When you get up [by] that many points a lot of times, you're willing to give up some things underneath and hoping that, 'Hey, I'll get a tipped ball,' or come up and force a tackle and maybe force a fumble," Ryan said.
"Every year they get criticized for their pass defense, what they rank, and all that. But it's not about that," Ryan said of the Patriots' defense. "The Patriots play complementary football. Obviously, you have the No. 1 offense in all of football -- scoring offense, total offense, everything-else offense -- so what you try to do is win the turnover battle. Their record when they win the turnover battle is phenomenal. That's something they do and I think it goes overlooked."
The Patriots currently check in at plus-10 in turnovers, tops in the NFL. That stems from Tom Brady and the offense's careful handling of the football this season, as well as the defense's acumen in being disruptive, something it will try to do against Sanchez this weekend.
In six career games against the Patriots, he has averaged less than 200 yards passing, and thrown more interceptions (9) than touchdowns (8).
The numbers haven't been any better for him to start this regular season, as Sanchez enters Sunday with a completion percentage of just 49.7, and has gone without a turnover in just two of six games.
But Sunday presents a unique opportunity for Sanchez and the Jets' passing game, as well as the Patriots' secondary, when perceived areas of weakness will collide.
Though the Jets prefer to implement a "ground and pound" rushing-based offensive strategy, Week 6's performance notwithstanding, they've struggled to get it going in that way as well.
Couple that with the Patriots' proficiency at stopping the run, and the stage would appear to be set for Sanchez and the Jets to test the Patriots' secondary on Sunday.
His top target, receiver Santonio Holmes, is out for the balance of 2013 after suffering a foot injury, and tight end Dustin Keller has been limited to just two games as he has dealt with a hamstring issue. Despite the lack of weapons, however, it would figure that the Jets' best chance to play keep-up with the Patriots' high-flying offensive attack would be through the air.
That would lead all eyes back to Sanchez versus the Patriots' secondary.
If that turns out to be the case, something will indeed have to give.
|Mark Sanchez and Rex Ryan expressed respect for the Patriots' defense Wednesday.|
Field Yates covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.