FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Santonio Holmes didn't want to say anything derogatory about the New England Patriots' young secondary, but his politically correct nonanswer said plenty -- and it wasn't flattering.
"If I could speak my mind, I would," he said Thursday. "But just off the strength of me being a professional, I don't worry about those guys."
Translation: The New York Jets believe they can do some serious damage against a New England pass defense that is uncommonly poor. The Patriots are allowing 289 passing yards per game, the most in the NFL and by far the worst of the Bill Belichick era.
Save for last week against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Jets' passing offense has perked up considerably since Holmes replaced Jerricho Cotchery at wide receiver five weeks ago. On Monday night, Holmes, Braylon Edwards and Cotchery will take turns against a cornerback tandem that has a combined total of only 20 career starts -- rookie Devin McCourty and journeyman Kyle Arrington, a former free agent from Hofstra.
When asked if he's ever faced a rookie cornerback who could cover him, Holmes smiled.
"Negative," he said. "That was proven Super Bowl Sunday two years ago when [the Cardinals] had a rookie follow me around the whole game. I wouldn't do it if I was them. Don't do it."
As the split end, Holmes usually lines up on the left of the formation, meaning he'll probably be covered by Arrington, the right cornerback. Arrington, playing for his third team, replaced Darius Butler in Week 3. Butler lost his starting job after getting torched by Edwards in Week 2, a 28-14 Jets win.
Belichick is supposed to be a defensive genius, but he has a young defense and has been searching all season for the right combinations. The Patriots have allowed 21 touchdown passes and quarterbacks are completing 68 percent of their attempts against them -- numbers that are anything but Belichickian.
The one thing the Patriots do well is limit big plays -- only seven completions in the 30-plus-yard category. But they're vulnerable to the slow death, and the Jets evidently believe they can exploit the inexperience of the secondary.
"If you play young guys, you have that edge, no matter how talented they are," Edwards said. "You have to use that edge. If you get caught in a back-and-forth with a young guy, you turn into that young guy, too. The key is to show them on every play that you're the veteran, why I've been in the league six years and you've been in the league two or three."
If the Jets play consistently, they "can take advantage of the weaknesses in their secondary," Edwards said.
They did that in the first meeting, as Edwards and Cotchery combined for nine catches, two touchdowns and one two-point conversion. The biggest force was tight end Dustin Keller, who was deadly on seam routes against the Patriots' Cover 2 scheme -- seven catches for 115 yards and a touchdown.
And, remember, there was no Holmes, who was serving a league suspension.
Mark Sanchez set a season-high for completion percentage (70.0) in that game, demonstrating terrific patience against the Patriots' soft zones. He lacked that poise last week against the Bengals, causing him to pout and act as if he had lost the game. He passed up easy completions and made poor decisions outside the pocket.
"Those kinds of things, especially down the stretch ... they'll get you beat -- bad," said Sanchez, who threw four interceptions in his rookie trip to Foxborough, Mass.
That was a long time ago. Now, with Holmes in the lineup, and with Cotchery (groin) apparently healthy, the Jets can hit the Patriots with perhaps their most talented receiver corps ever. And they will face Belichick's embattled Kiddie Corps in the secondary.
"Our job is to go out and exploit those guys, physically," Holmes said. "I'm here now and my job is to get the job done. And I plan on getting the job done Monday night."