Preview – Jets vs. Patriots
Florham Park, N.J.- Preparations for this have been made all season long, but the final touches for the stage that has now been set were completed last Thursday night.
After both the Jets and the Patriots struggled a bit in the first half of their Thanksgiving games, both teams turned it on in the second-half and instantly started a storm of insane media/fan related hype about this Monday’s epic regular season game.
9-2 vs. 9-2, AFC East division title, not quite on the line but as close as it can be at this time of year, then on top of that this game could very well determine home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. And, yeah it’s Jets vs. Patriots, Boston vs. New York, these teams/areas have a bit of a history of, well let’s just say, not being too fond of each other.
Is there any wonder why this game is receiving so much hype?
So often in sports, the hype completely overshadows the actual significance of the game (see, LeBron vs. the Cavs Thursday night), but this is one of those rare cases where the hype is warranted.
Before the breakdown of the game, it’s important to note that a preview was all set and done, ready to go, but just before the final editing was finished some alarming news for the Jets and their fans broke. Jim Leonhard suffered a, “severe shin injury,” during practice yesterday when he collided with Patrick Turner. By now we all know Leonhard fractured his right tibia and has been placed on the injured reserve. For more specifics of just exactly what this injury means to the Jets defense click here.
With the news of the loss of the Jets defensive QB, this preview needed a dramatic overhaul and an audible had to be made, but without further ado here is the Jetsinsider breakdown of the Jets-Patriots preview.
When and Where?: Monday night (Dec. 6) at 8:30 P.M. on ESPN. At Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts.
Patriots at 9-2, how did they get there? The quick, simple answer is Tom Brady. The Patriots only two losses have come against the Jets (week two) and the Browns (week nine). When listening to traditional media it can often seem as if the Jets are the only team that has used some sort of luck to earn their wins, but football fans know that’s not how it works. The Pats were lucky to beat the Ravens, as the Ravens were up the entire game, but were just to scared to try and bury the Pats and let Brady mount a comeback to win in overtime. The next week the Pats got even luckier in San Diego as the Chargers did everything they could to make sure they handed the Pats the game.
Does this mean they aren’t as good as their 9-2 record? Of course not, it just means luck always plays a factor in the way a game is decided, but ultimately it comes down to which team made the plays when they needed and which team didn’t and the Patriots and Jets have both been the ones making the plays this year. On Monday night there will almost definitely be a couple of lucky breaks for both teams, the team who takes the most advantage of the lucky bounces will most likely come out victorious.
The Patriots have won 25 straight regular season home games with Brady as their QB and the Jets have won eight straight regular season road games. This year the Patriots are a perfect 5-0 at home and the Jets a perfect 5-0 on the road, clearly one of those streaks is about to come to an abrupt end.
Patriots Offense vs. Jets Defense
Rushing - The Jets once again have one of the best rush defenses in the league and in fact they might have the best if it weren’t for a lot of garbage time rush yards or big rushing gains on long yardage situations. The Patriots meanwhile have the 16th ranked rushing attack averaging 112.5 yards a game on 4.3 yards a carry. The Pats are clearly a pass first team, but because of the effectiveness of their passing game and the way they casually sprinkle the running game into their game plan they are able to be fairly productive when they do decide to run the ball. However the Pats do struggle to run against the more elite rushing defenses like the Jets.
According to Aaron Schatz from ESPN’s Football Outsiders, “The Jets are second in run defense DVOA behind Pittsburgh, and second in defense against running backs in the passing game behind Cincinnati. The Pats had just 52 yards on 20 carries in the first meeting.” BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a powerful downhill runner and, ex-Jet, Danny Woodhead is a slippery back who can do damage out of the backfield as a receiver, but the Pats o-line is built more to protect Brady than to dominate on the ground and the Jets aren’t about to let anyone push them around on the ground.
Edge - Jets
Passing -With the way the Jets defense has been easing their way back into last year’s elite form, it’s almost automatic that the Jets defense wins this edge during any given week. Almost being the key word there, because there is only one team that has Tom Brady. There has been a lot of debate about whether this offense is tougher to matchup against now that Moss is gone, but really there is no need for a debate the answer is an obvious yes. Especially for this Jets defense, the one area they are weakest at, jut so happens to be the area where Brady has made his hall-of-fame career what it is today, and that’s by spreading the ball to whoever is open.
That’s what was written before the news of Leonhard’s injury, without Leonhard the Jets are in even more trouble against this pass-happy, throw it wherever Brady feels like offense.
Edge - Brady, I mean the Patriots
Jets Offense vs. Patriots Defense
Rushing - The Pats give up 110.6 rushing yards a game on 4.2 yards per carry, meanwhile the Jets are averaging 148.1 yards a game on 4.5 yards per carry. The Jets have two elite backs they can use in different ways. L.T. is more dangerous in open space and when used as a check-down receiver, but Shonn Greene is a physically punishing runner, who wears down opposing defenses and gets stronger and harder to tackle with each carry he gets.
Edge - Jets
Passing - Pats rank 30th overall in defense and have the second worst passing defense in the league, but Rex Ryan and these Jets players know that’s a misleading stat.
“It’s Coach Belichick’s defense. There’s nothing else to it. Regardless of who is on the field and what guys are playing, it’s his defense that he’s been running for a number of years.” Santonio Holmes said, “He’s going to continue doing the same thing, regardless of whether anyone wants to exploit his team as the 32nd team in the NFL in passing defense. He doesn’t care. His record speaks for himself.”
The numbers are misleading for a number of reasons. One reason is because the Patriots tend to put a lot of points on the board themselves so teams are coming from behind or preparing for a shootout. Also the Patriots have transformed into a classic bend, but don’t break defense over the last few weeks and although they give up more yards then they would like, they do find ways to make big defensive stops when needed and they have forced just as many turnovers as the Jets (20).
“I think (the ranking) is misleading because they are creating turnovers. The biggest thing that (makes them) a good defense is that they win. They’ve won nine games. That’s where stats can be misleading. The team has found ways to win.” Ryan said, “This is probably the best their defense has looked. The numbers say one thing, but their defense is much better than what their numbers say.”
All the compliments aside, the Jets torched the Patriots secondary in week two and will need to do much of the same to get the win against the Patriots in their house. Last time it was Braylon Edwards and Dustin Keller who gave the Patriots fits, the Jets were without Holmes due to his four-game suspension. Over the last few weeks Holmes has become the Jets most explosive and trusted weapon and he presents all types of matchup problems for this inexperienced defense with his ability to make a variety of different plays. He can burn you deep, shake a defender with a comeback route or do his damage over the middle.
The Jets have the clear matchup advantage here, but it will be up to offensive coordinator Brian Scottenheimer to make sure he calls the right plays, at the right time, to take advantage of the Patriots weak spots.
Edge - Jets
Special Teams - Nick Folk has struggled a bit recently, but it hasn’t been as bad as the numbers look with most of his misses coming from long range. Still the fact that the Jets tried out Kris Brown during the week had to get Folk’s attention and it’s a challenge Folk insisted he’s ready for.
Special teams is about winning the battle for field position and between their punter Steve Weatherford booming punts inside the 10 or 20 and Brad Smith and his electric returning capabilities the Jets are usually on the winning side of the starting field position battle. Which is what makes the Jets special teams unit, one of, if not the, best special teams unit in the league.
Edge - Jets
Pats Two Tight-Ends vs. Jets Safeties and Linebackers - The Patriots have a set of rookie tight-ends who they use in different ways at different parts of the field. The Jets have had their issues with covering tight-ends and secondary options so they will have to pay extra attention to these two tight-ends and where the Pats have the ball.
Rob Gronkowski has developed into a reliable and productive red zone and short yardage target, making big plays over the middle in traffic, while Aaron Hernandez is much more likely to catch a eight yard in route and then take off for another 50 yards or so after the catch, as he is most dangerous in open space. It will be important for the Jets to figure out the exact strategy to keep both of these guys in check when the Patriots need to rely on them.
L.T. and Greene vs. the Clock – L.T. got off to a burning hot start this season, but lately the Jets have started to give Greene more carries and they will need to ride Greene, not just to gain yards and wear down the defense, but also to eat up clock to keep Brady off the field. The more time the Jets spend running the ball the less time Brady has to make plays. The Jets must use a steady blend of running and passing to get a lead and then concentrate on keeping Brady off the field.
Sanchez vs. Belichick and the Weather - Sanchez is having an outstanding year overall and completely outplayed Brady in the second-half of their earlier matchup this year, the question now is, can he do it again, this time in Foxboro?
As stated earlier the Patriots defensive stats are misleading and Belichick is still a mad scientist when it comes to calling defensive plays to confuse the opposing QB, so will Sanchez be able to decipher the secret to beating Belichick’s defense twice? Also important to note, because both of these teams played last Thursday, they had 10 days to prepare for each other and Belichick historically thrives when given extra time to prepare for his opponent.
Early forecasts had the weather both cold and windy for game time and any Jets fan can tell you Sanchez often finds himself in trouble when having to pass in windy conditions. Sanchez had a bad game last week, with the Jets winning despite his play and throughout his career has always found a way to bounce back from a poor outing. It will be interesting to see how he responds for this game. There has been an awful lot for Jets fans to like from what Sanchez has shown them so far this season and a bad game won’t prove anything negatively, but if Sanchez can have a huge game on Monday in this hostile environment it should prove to everyone that Sanchez will not be responsible for holding this team back.
Attack Brady up the middle - Make Brady uncomfortable in the pocket, stay active near his feet as Brady is probably the best QB in the league at feeling and slyly avoiding pressure with his excellent footwork. If the Jets defenders can wrap up his legs or get a hand or two on his shoes to trip him up it will make him uncomfortable even on plays where there is no pressure.
Cover Everyone and Confuses Brady - Be prepared for a hurry-up offense. The Patriots love to go into hurry-up anyway, but it will make their life a lot easier this week, as the more no huddle offense they run, the harder it will be for the Jets to confuse Brady by disguising coverages because they simply won’t have the time to.
The Jets have two elite corners, probably the best duo in the NFL and definitely the undisputed champ of the cornerback position in Revis. Revis and Cromartie are the biggest reasons why the Jets normally win this matchup, but Brady isn’t like most quarterbacks. With this Patriots offense, there is no telling who Brady will target the most, until he gets a look at the coverages the Jets are giving him and decides which matchup he likes the best.
This is the Jets worst nightmare as it has been the opposing teams third, fourth and fifth options that have been having the most success against the Jets defense. To Brady there is no difference between his first read and his seventh read, he trusts them all to make a play and he won’t decide who he is targeting until he recognizes where the open area of the field is for him to attack.
Everyone is fixated on who Revis will cover, but Brady will instead turn his focus on whoever Revis and Cromartie aren’t covering. Whether it’s Welker in the slot or on bubble screens, Branch anywhere on the field, Ben Tate deep, Rob Gronkowski in the red zone or Aaron Hernandez over the middle in open space, the Patriots have a seemingly never ending supply of weapons for Brady to choose from.
Third-Down and Red Zone - The Jets offense has struggled all season long in both third down and red zone situations. The Jets have only converted 15 of their 35 trips in the red zone into touchdowns, which has been one of the biggest reasons these last bunch of games have been closer than they should have been. The Jets can’t settle for field-goals against Brady, they will need to score some touchdowns otherwise they could easily find themselves losing a winnable game.
The Jets offense has had trouble building and keeping a steady rhythm, often times it seems Schotty has figured out a formula to move the ball successfully then he switches up the play calls and the drive stalls on third down. Penalties have also been a big reason for this problem, but the Jets do get a bit of a break this week because the Patriots are allowing opponents to convert on third downs 50.7 percent of the time, so the Jets have no excuse to stall on Monday.
Brian Scottenheimer - Schotty is considered a young bright offensive mind by many around the league and has been a hot name mentioned for possible head coaching jobs, but many Jets fans are begging for another team to take him off their hands. Schotty has the ability to call a beautifully scripted game plane, but also has a tendency to over think things and try and go away from what works. There are very clear and obvious mismatches between this Jets offense and Patriots defense and Schotty must exploit them correctly.
Schatz from ESPN’s Football Outsiders had another great stat and point about exactly what Schotty has to do to beat this Jets defense and it would behoove the Jets to listen to him.
“The Patriots’ defense is poor, but it’s important to understand where it is poor. You can slice their zone coverages to death with short and midrange passes, but New England has been surprisingly strong against deep passes. The Patriots are 31st in DVOA against passes that travel up to 15 yards from the line of scrimmage, ahead of only Houston, but they actually rank fifth in DVOA against deep passes over 15 yards from the line of scrimmage.” Schatz said.
This sounds simple enough, but the same things were said about the Houston secondary (ranked worst in the NFL) and the Bengals secondary which was decimated by injuries and was missing four starters. Still the offense didn’t light it up as expected, Schotty must learn from those games and concentrate on hitting Holmes on slant and in routes, and continually mixing in passes to Edwards, Keller, Cotchery and of course L.T., when Sanchez doesn’t see anything else he likes. Schotty will no doubt take his shots deep, but especially if it’s windy he’d be wise to limit those shots as it’s clear the Pats defense is weakest on shorter routes and the Jets have the perfect players to use on those routes to break big plays.
Rob Ryan - He may not be an evil twin, but he is the twin brother of Rex Ryan and the Ryans are both coaches on the only two teams that have beaten the Patriots and both did it in convincing fashion. It’s not a stretch by any means to think Rex gave his brother Rob some pointers as to how to defend the Pats and it’s hardly a secret that this week, it will be Rob sharing his insight to help his brother Rex.
On Monday when Rex was asked if he would be exchanging ideas with his brother this week he said, “I’m not going to say a word because it could be tampering, it could be this, it could be that. I don’t want to get into that. But, it absolutely is a yes (laughter). No question.”
There is a whole lot to dissect about this game and the hype that comes with it, but ultimately it’s going to come down to which team executes to perfection more times than the other. These teams have different strengths and weaknesses and are built to win in different ways, whichever team can create the tempo and style of game, will most likely come out the victor.
Even with all the discrepancies these teams are very evenly matched and on a neutral field I’d be more tempted to pick the Jets, but they aren’t playing on a neutral field. They are playing in New England and they have Brady under center, as much as Sanchez has improved he has a ways to go before he can earn the benefit of the doubt on the road against Brady, but Monday night will be a great chance for him to earn that benefit by proving me wrong.
Prediction - Pats Win 23-16