The New England Patriots (3-1) return to Foxboro to face the arch-rival J-E-T-S– Jets! Jets! Jets! — on Sunday at 4:15 pm. It will be payback time for what happened in the playoffs last year, with the exception that last year– it was the playoffs.
The Jets (2-2) come in strugg-a-ling, as former Jets great Joe Namath would say. Fans in New York are questioning if current quarterback Mark Sanchez has what it takes to make the Jets a championship team. Jets players are questioning offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s play calling. Sanchez is coming off a rough week in which he completed only 11 of 35 passes for 119 yards against the Baltimore Ravens.
Despite having had success in the past with their “ground-and-pound” philosophy, the Jets have come out passing more than usual this year. Running back Shonn Greene has not developed like they’d like—averaging only 3.1 yards per carry. His backup, future Hall-of-Famer LaDainian Tomlinson,is approaching the end of his illustrious career and is a non-factor in the Jets offense, averaging only five carries per game.
The Jets offensive line is in a shambles. All-Pro center Nick Mangold is expected to play after missing the last three weeks with a high ankle sprain, but he won’t be at 100%. The rest of the offensive line has struggled to pass protect or to create holes for the running game.
Veteran wide receivers Plaxico Burress, Derrick Mason, and Santonio Holmes are having a hard time finding separation from younger, more athletic cornerbacks.
Defensively, the Jets were disappointed to have missed out on signing stud free agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha in the offseason. They also lost Shaun Ellis who signed with the Patriots. They do still have Darelle Revis, and that alone makes them a formidable defense. The Jets have given up the second fewest passing yards (180.3) in the NFL, but rank 27th in rushing yards allowed (130.5).
Here are some things I will be looking for in Sunday’s game:
Will the Patriots be able to apply pressure on the quarterback and actually record a couple of sacks?
A sack is defined as occurring when the quarterback is tackled behind the line of scrimmage before he can throw a forward pass. I thought I’d refresh people’s memories as the Patriots have had only four sacks all season. Lawrence Taylor, back in the day, would be able to rack up four sacks in one game for then-defensive coordinator Bill Belichick. Christopher Price of WEEI.com points out the Patriots have now gone the last 121 minutes and 9 seconds of game action without a sack.
If the Patriots do get a sack, I may very well get up and do a Mark Gastineau sack dance. There is no reason New England shouldn’t rack up a couple against a decimated Jets offensive line. If the Patriots are unable to get pressure on Sanchez this week, the Patriots might as well not cancel any family plans for late January because they won’t be playing deep into the playoffs.
Will this be the week that Chad Ochocinco and Albert Haynesworth make an impact?
It feels like we’ve been looking for Ochocinco to “step up” (a clever little dance movie reference, if I should say so myself) every week. In the first week, some apologists were saying the preseason was just a ruse. Once the season began, Belichick was going to unleash his not-so-secret weapon. Well, it didn’t happen.
Then came Week Three and one of Tom Brady’s favorite targets, Aaron Hernandez, was out with an injury. Ochocinco again did not rise to the occasion. In fact, just the opposite happened. He dropped an easy long touchdown pass against Buffalo which could have been the difference in the Patriots only loss of the season.
Now this week, the Patriots may need Ochocinco again. Wes Welker has been targeted an inordinate amount of times by quarterback Tom Brady. The Jets will look to clamp Revis on Wes Welker a majority of the times. Aaron Hernandez has practiced the last few days, but if he can’t go or if he is less than 100%, Brady will need other options to pass to, i.e. Ochocinco.
In Haynesworth’s case, it would just be nice to see him on the field for 10-15 snaps. His presence in the middle, along with Vince Wilfork, would effectively neutralize the Jets “ground-and-pound” offense and put the onus on Mark Sanchez to win the game with his arm.
How will the Patriots defense adjust to life without Jerod Mayo?
In 2009, Gary Guyton stepped in and did an admirable job replacing Mayo when Mayo suffered a similar injury on Opening Day. Mayo missed three games that season with an MCL sprain. He is expected to miss up to six weeks this time with an MCL sprain of his opposite knee.
The Patriots defense was already bad enough with him. The defense ranks dead last in the NFL, giving up 477.5 yards per game. How much worse could they possibly be without Mayo? It is scary to imagine.
Will the Patriots offense continue to maintain some balance of run and pass?
Last week against the Raiders, the Patriots exhibited a perfect 50-50 split of run vs. pass on offense. They ran the ball 30 times for 183 yards. Brady passed the ball 30 times for 226 yards. As much fun as it may be to see Brady throw 50 times for 400 yards, the Patriots need to run the ball more in order to succeed. The defense needs to be off the field as much as possible, so the more the offense can hold the ball for five minutes or more at a time, the better.
Rookie Stevan Ridley was impressive in the preseason and he has carried it over to the regular season. Last week, he almost had his first career 100-yard game, rushing for 96 yards on only 10 carries. He has shown good explosion and a little wiggle to his game which was not expected when he was the second running back drafted by Bill Belichick in this year’s draft.
The Patriots have always used a running back-by-committee approach, but it will be interesting to see if Ridley gets the bulk of the carries going forward. BenJarvus Green-Ellis has been a serviceable back, even rushing for over 1,000 yards last year, but he lacks explosiveness and breakaway speed. With Danny Woodhead unlikely to play because of an injured ankle, look for Ridley to get even more playing time.
Is Devin McCourty going to snap out of it this week?
More specifically, can McCourty snap his head around when the ball is thrown in his direction. McCourty was one of the few players on defense the Patriots could count on last year, along with Mayo and Vince Wilfork. Now Mayo is out, and McCourty is struggling. Heck, defensive tackle Wilfork has two more interceptions this year than McCourty. McCourty has none.
McCourty has been burnt for big games by San Diego’s Vincent Jackson and Miami’s Brandon Marshall early on. He has been asked to play more man-to-man this season and has struggled doing so. He has shown improvement the last two weeks, and it will be interesting to see how often the Jets throw to his side. It will also be interesting to see if Belichick resorts to more of a zone look, allowing McCourty to see the quarterback better instead of always having his back turned towards him.
Will the Patriots play with more fire and emotion?
I’ve given up on this one, yet I hope for it every week. I am resigned to the fact that I will never see the old Tom Brady that used to run to the endzone and jump in the middle of touchdown celebrations. No longer will I see Brady doing exaggerated fist pumps after a big completion. No longer will I ever see Brady prancing up and down the bench exhorting his teammates on the sidelines during crunch time.
‘Oh, Ochocinco just dropped a perfect bomb thrown by me which could be pivotal in this game. Oh well.’ I am still stunned by Brady’s stoicism on that play in the Buffalo game. As much as I can appreciate the advantages of keeping an even keel at times, I’d still like to see more fire.
I know what I’m going to see on Sunday, though. I expect more of the ho-hum, let me sit by myself on the bench, Belichickian-type personality out of Brady.
LOOKING INTO MY CRYSTAL BALL
- The Patriots defense will produce at least two sacks and two turnovers.
- McCourty will get his first interception of the year.
- Rookie running back Stevan Ridley will get his first 100-yard game.
- Ochocinco will have no more than two receptions, and may be shutout altogether.
- The Jets will take away Welker causing the Patriots offense to be frustrated and struggle.
- With the Jets focusing on Welker, tight end Rob Gronkowski will have a big game, with at least six receptions and two touchdowns.
- It will be a surprisingly low scoring game with the Patriots pulling away in the fourth quarter, 27-16
I think it is telling that Jets coach Rex Ryan has not been his typical bombastic, confrontational, hype-seeking self this week. Is it that he is maturing as a coach or that he doesn’t feel as confident that his team can back up his talk this week? I feel it is the latter.