What to Watch For: Patriots at Jets, Round Two
Friday, October 18, 2013
The theme going in has a familiar tone to it - one team is breaking away, the other has its back to the wall.
When it comes to the New England Patriots facing the New York Jets, this has been a rather lopsided matchup the past couple of years, if you look strictly at wins and losses. The Patriots will be going after their third straight season-sweep of the Jets this Sunday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ, even though the first game between the two this year was a closer-than-it-felt 13-10 NE win in Foxboro September 12th.
But for a Patriots team that surely must consider itself fortunate, with all of the injuries and roster trouble they've faced thus far in breaking out to a 5-1 start, it's still business as usual...as it has been over the past few seasons within the AFC East. New England has won 12 straight over divisional "rivals," and is an NFL-best 61-15 within the division since 2001. Status Quo.
For New York, subjected to the role of "little brother" in their games with New England over the past few years, you've got to wonder when big brother might finally face a beat down. A loss this Sunday would drop NY to 3-4 overall, three games behind NE...with an inglorious 0-2 black eye to the Pats...making it tough to overcome their tormentors for any shot at claiming a divisional flag. Again, the Jets have a sense of urgency on their side...and this time, the home field advantage.
Except for the fact the Patriots are 2-1 at MetLife Stadium (with the infamous "buttfumble" 49-19 win a season ago), and they're 10-2 in the last dozen encounters with the Jets on their home field. Beat down, indeed.
So, no shot for the Jets? Hardly. While rookie QB Geno Smith struggled in his series debut last month (15-of-35 passing, three 4th quarter INT's, four sacks), he IS further along in his development, if only by a few weeks. And a Jets defense that harassed Tom Brady into a less than 50% completion rate (19-for-39) and shut the rest of the offense down after the opening series, forcing 11 punts and just nine first downs thereafter, must be feeling confident. And let's add the X-factor into this equation.
Injuries. They're no excuse, but they are a factor. On offense, likely no Danny Amendola, no Dan Connolly (concussions), no Shane Vereen (broken wrist) and we don't know yet about Rob Gronkowski (he has been medically cleared). Defensively, no Vince Wilfork or Jerod Mayo (both out for the season) and perhaps no Tommy Kelly (leg) or Aqib Talib (hip flexor)? That's no simple injury report for the Patriots - it's an all-star lineup card. But it's what has to give the New York Jets reason to believe they've got more than just a shot at big brother this Sunday.
You know what they say about payback.
Someone call a doctor
The injury report definitely reads more like a casualty list, so this is why depth is ultra-important in the NFL. The good teams somehow find it, and manage to keep it around. In the Patriots' case, rookie LB Jamie Collins and veteran Dane Fletcher will likely see the time in replacing Mayo's minutes, but can they replace his leadership? Not initially, and the play-calling responsibility will now fall in the hands of Dont'a Hightower. There's likely to be an adjustment period for all parties. If Talib can't go in the secondary, expect to see Devin McCourty slide over from safety to the corner on occasion, with Kyle Arrington also facing increased targeting from the Jets.
Wookies go crazy
The "wookies" (rookie wide receivers) had their best collective game of the year last week against the Saints, and they'll need to follow that up with another one this week. That's always a challenge for first-year players, finding a "floor" to their abilities and building from there. If Gronk returns to the lineup, that surely helps Tom Brady...but Brady can't rely solely on someone who has been shutdown as long as his TE has been. TB12 needs to be better in the pocket, needs to be more accurate in his targets overall...and the offensive line MUST keep him clean. Nine sacks over the last two weeks isn't the recipe for continued success.
Tougher in the trenches
The Jets beat the Patriots on the line of scrimmage in September, on both sides of the ball...which is a major reason why they almost won the game. No doubt, they'll be full of confidence again Sunday. NE must match the intensity and physical play in the trenches, and steer clear of turnovers and penalties, or little brother might just smack big brother on the side of the head this week. Conversely, turnovers and penalties have the Jets where they are at 3-3. When they make mistakes, they usually lose. When they don't (see Atlanta, zero turnovers in a 30-28 victory)...they can win. The Patriots have forced opponents into at least one turnover for 33 consecutive games. Running that streak to 34 games will help.
Patriots 20, Jets 19
- Patriots march past the Saints, 30-27
- Pats-Jets clash and crash at Gillette
- What to Watch For: Patriots vs. Jets