Jets-Pats Key Matchups

It’s now or never for the Jets. The Patriots have defeated their AFC East rival in 11 of the last 12 matchups, which includes a 19-10 loss with quarterback Brett Favre in September. This time both teams sit in first place with 6-3 records, but it’s the Jets who enter tonight’s battle in Foxborough with more momentum. The Jets have won five of their last six games, which includes a key 26-17 road victory at Buffalo two weeks ago. However, more impressive than the Jets’ improved play is the way they have reached that point. The path to victory has been carved by running back Thomas Jones and a stout run defense, with a little help from their future Hall of Fame quarterback.

Excluding the 56-35 win over the Cardinals in which Favre tossed six touchdown passes, he has thrown just four touchdowns and eight interceptions dating back to a 26-14 win over the Bengals on Oct. 12. Obviously Favre’s recent struggles have not hurt the Jets. The Jets are turning all the right cylinders and have played their best football all season. On the New England side, the Patriots may be standing right next to the Jets in the division with a 6-3 record, but concern again has to be pointed toward the injury front. While Matt Cassel has shown improved poise and confidence since replacing Tom Brady at quarterback in the season opener, you still have to worry how the youthful quarterback will respond to the Jets’ pass rush. Running back Laurence Maroney  is on Injured Reserve with a shoulder injury and Sammy Morris is questionable for tonight’s matchup with a knee injury. Former Jet running back LaMont Jordan, who gained 62 yards on 11 carries (5.6 avg) against New York in a Week Two victory is doubtful with a calf injury. On the defensive side of the ball, Pro-Bowl linebacker Adalius Thomas is expected to miss the rest of the season after breaking his forearm in last week’s win over the Bills. Somehow with all these injuries to key players, mastermind head coach Bill Belichick continues to lead his team to victories. It’s now the Jets’ time to capitalize on these banged-up Patriots and send the rivalry in a different direction. If the Jets are going to win the AFC East and return to the playoffs, their run will start tonight.

Key Matchups:

Patriots WR Wes Welker v. Jets CB’s Ty Law/Hank Poteat: While the Patriots’ offense hasn’t come close to matching it’s record-setting 2007 season with Brady sidelined, Wes Welker hasn’t lost a beat. Welker ranks second in the NFL in with 66 receptions, again proving why he’s the most dangerous slot receiver in the league. Cassel cannot match Brady’s downfield arm strength, so Welker has been targeted on quick slants and underneath routes. His prowess on third-down is hard to ignore, as he ranks tenth in the NFL with 15 catches on third-down. It is unclear how much Law will play, but if he’s lined up as a nickel corner, he will be relied upon to slow down Welker. Having such a responsibility is tough for even the elite corners, but it will be interesting to watch if Law, who hasn’t played all season, can control Welker. While Law said that he’s been working out nearly every day, nothing compares to playing on Sunday from an endurance standpoint. Poteat is a savvy veteran, but that may not help him cover one of the NFL’s top receivers. If the weather remains rainy and windy, Cassel will likely rely on a short passing game.

Patriots QB Matt Cassel v. Jets’ Pass Rush: In the Patriots’ 19-10 victory over the Jets in September, Cassel was sacked four times, but was rarely pressured otherwise. Cassel, who was making his first start at quarterback since high school, neutralized the Jets’ rush with short passes to Welker and running back Kevin Faulk. Cassel has shown his smarts with only seven interceptions, but he has also been sacked 30 times (27th in NFL). Belichick won’t be asking Cassel to do too much, but if the Jets can pressure the youthful quarterback they can force a few turnovers. The Jets’ run defense ranks fifth in the NFL, so Cassel will surely need to make a big play or two if the Patriots are to extend their success against the Jets.

Patriots RB Kevin Faulk v. Jets LB David Bowens: Patriots rookie BenJarvus Ellis will likely handle most of the carries, but Faulk will have a significant role in the offense. Faulk’s 26 receptions rank sixth among AFC running backs and the Jets are well aware of how dangerous Faulk can be. In the Week Two victory over the Jets, he caught four passes for 50 yards. Bowens is a solid run defender, but his coverage skills could be exposed. As New England does with Welker, the Patriots pinpoint Faulk to help neutralize the opponent’s pass rush and Cassel’s lack of downfield arm strength.

Brett Favre v. Patriots’ Pass Defense: Through nine games, the New England pass defense ranks middle of the pack in the NFL. The Patriots are allowing 223 passing yards per game (15th in NFL), but they neutralized Favre back in September. Favre threw for only 181 yards in the loss and rarely had open targets downfield. After subpar performances in recent weeks, it’s time for Favre to carry the Jets on his back.

Patriots K Stephen Gostowski/P Chris Hanson v. Jets KR/PR Leon Washington: The Jets were reminded how critical special teams can be when the teams last met, as Washington was limited to only one kick return. Usually that’s a positive statistic because it means the opponent doesn’t score, but a closer look shows that Gostowski had five touchbacks. Washington is one of the Jets’ most explosive threats, but if he doesn’t touch the football, his impact is limited.

Yes tonight’s game is in unfriendly Foxborough, but this is a season-changing game for the Jets. Even though it’s only Week 11, a win tonight would do the Jets wonders in the ultra-competitive AFC East. The Jets have hit their stride at the right time this season and I expect it to continue tonight….Jets 16, Patriots 13

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