Chandler Jones and Logan Mankins of New England Patriots to sit against Jets
We already new that Rob Gronkowski wouldnít be playing against the New York Jets. Now we know that defensive end Chandler Jones and guard Logan Mankins will be joining him on the sidelines.
Jones, who suffered an ankle injury in the first half of Sundayís win over the Colts, is tied with Rob Ninkovich for the team lead in sacks with six. Jermaine Cunningham stepped into a more prominent role on defense after Jones was injured.
Mankins (calf/ankle) also missed last weekís game against the Colts. Itís likely that Donald Thomas or Nick McDonald takes his place on the line.
The list of questionable players is as follows :
DL Ron Brace (elbow), S Patrick Chung (shoulder/hamstring), G Dan Connolly (back), S Steve Gregory (hip), TE Aaron Hernandez (ankle), LB Dontía Hightower (hamstring), WR Brandon Lloyd (knee), OL Nick McDonald (shoulder), DE Trevor Scott (hamstring), LB Brandon Spikes (knee), OT Sebastian Vollmer (back/kee), WR Wes Welker (ankle), LB Tracy White (foot).
Probable : WR Julian Edelman (hand), DT Kyle Love (knee), LB Jerod Mayo (elbow).
Life without Rob Gronkowski (at least temporarily) has begun for the Patriots, and their first test will take place Thursday night against the Jets in New York (8 p.m. ET, NBC).Intrigue has never been an issue when these two teams face off, as the Rex Ryan-led Jets have largely provided a stiff test to the Patriots. Couple that with the absence of Gronkowski and a primetime slot on Thanksgiving, and this game is likely to be anxiously-anticipated by many.Questions have arisen as to how the Patriots will replace Gronkowski, if such a feat is even possible. Hereís the truth of the matter: leading into Thursday, we have no idea. Since entering the league as a second-round pick in 2010, Gronkowski has been an offensive staple for the Patriots, a dominant force, and impressively durable -- heís never missed a game.
The Patriots are literally entering uncharted territory without their hulking third-year tight end, but it wonít be the first time this team has dealt with an injury to a star player. In 2012 alone the Patriots have played six games without Aaron Hernandez and four without guard Logan Mankins.Itís impossible to quantify how much a single player means to an offense, but Gronkowskiís gaudy statistics paint an accurate picture of the most dominant tight end in all of football. His injury presents the Patriots with a challenge, thereís no two ways about it.But the show must go on, and as kickoff draws close, hereís what weíll be watching for when the Patriots take on the Jets for some Turkey Day Football.
1. Dealing with Gronkowskiís absence, of course. As weíve already mentioned, we donít yet know how the team will deal with being without Gronk. Will Visanthe Shiancoe and Daniel Fells be called upon to replicate his presence, albeit likely at a less effective rate? Will the team turn to more four receiver sets? Or perhaps sprinkle in some three wide receiver, two running back sets? Might Thursday be a night when the Patriots lean heavily on the running game? Time will tell, but Josh McDaniels is a tactful game planner who has dealt with adjustments before and can maneuver on the fly when needed to.
2. Hernandez in play? Indications are pointing towards tight end Aaron Hernandez returning to the lineup, and thatís a boon for the Patriots offense without Gronkowski. The two share a position in title, but not in role. Hernandez is much more a move tight end who can line up anywhere in the formation, while Gronkowski can dominate as an in-line blocker with his speed, strength and size advantage. Hernandez is a matchup nightmare for defenses when healthy, and weíll be watching his right ankle closely. If heís 100 percent, that spells trouble for opposing defenses and really makes the Patriots dangerous near the goal line, because he keeps a defense honest with the threat of both blocking and catching.
3. Containing Sanchez. Mark Sanchez has endured his ups and downs this season, but he was very good against the Patriots in their first matchup, surpassing 300 yards through the air. The Patriotsí secondary did well to limit big plays against the Jets in Week 7, and will likely look to replicate that success while also cutting down on the underneath yardage allowed. Sanchez has enough mobility to buy time in the pocket, and has the arm to make throws when given time. The Patriots could be without Chandler Joneson Thursday night, but will need to find way to disrupt Sanchez nonetheless.
4. Back on track in the running game. The Patriots havenít struggled in the running game during their consecutive victories following the bye, but thereís room for improvement to be had as well. One has to wonder how much the absence of starting guards Mankins and Dan Connolly has played a part in the decreased rushing efficiency, and the Patriots need to find a way to get back on track running the football and stopping the run as well. The Patriots havenít held a team under 100 yards rushing since Week 6, and will need to keep things tight against a Jets team that has been known to want to establish a ground and pound tempo on offense. Primary back Shonn Greene isnít a speedster or much of a big-play threat (he has just two runs of 20-plus yards this season), but heís durable and dependable to carry a heavy load.
5. Divisional implications. After sweeping the season series with the Bills and sneaking past the Jets in overtime during a Week 7 win, the Patriots are 60 minutes away from firmly planting their foot on the rest of the division with another win over the Jets. A victory would put the Patriots effectively five games ahead of the Jets, and they would close in on yet another division title. While two contests with the Dolphins remain, the Patriots can really distance themselves from the pack this weekend. Buffalo travels to Indianapolis (where Andrew Luck and the Colts have been much better than what they showed last Sunday), and the Dolphins host a tough Seahawks squad. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have talked about how the season really starts right around Thanksgiving time, and each victory the Patriots earn from here on out comes with a significant payoff.
Between the incessant Sanchez/Tebow discussions and Bart Scottís recent mutiny against the media, the Jets have no shortage of headlines. They are running short on time, though -- the 4-6 Jets are tied with the Bills and Dolphins in the AFC East, two games behind the Steelers and Colts for the two wild-card spots.Injuries to the likes of Darrelle Revis and Santonio Holmes have left New York short on impact talent, with Jeremy Kerley the most-targeted Jets receiver this season and the pass defense tied for third worst in the league with a plus-4 TD-Int differential on throws deeper than 20 yards downfield. Still, easy games are never the expectation against the Jets, particularly on the road.
Here are three areas to watch for on Thanksgiving night :
1. Sanchez has bettered Brady.
Mark Sanchez has a winning record against the Patriots at home, winning two of his three career starts. Sanchez has averaged 7.6 yards per attempt with five touchdowns and two interceptions in those games. Sanchez actually has outplayed Brady in those three games. He faces a taller task this Thursday than in previous years, given the weapons around him. Though Holmes hasnít played since Week 4, he still ranks second on the team with 272 receiving yards and 117 yards after catch. This patchwork group of receivers produced in the first meeting between the teams, with Kerley and Dustin Keller posting seven catches each and combining for 213 yards and a touchdown. Chaz Schilens also has been productive, catching Sanchezís only two passing touchdowns over the last three games. Given that Sanchez threw for more than 300 yards in the last meeting (also without Holmes), moving venues might make them even better.
2. Tackling a problem. If Bart Scott attacked running backs the way he did the media last week, the Jets might not rank last in rush yards allowed after contact. New York has allowed 599 yards after contact this season, a total that would rank 19th among running backs in total rushing yards. That total averages to 1.9 yards after contact per rush, 29th in the league, and is a big reason why the Jets have the seventh-worst rushing defense in the league. From 2008-11, the Jets' run defense had been excellent, ranking fourth in the league with a 3.76-yards-per-rush average from 2009-11 (the start of the Rex Ryan era), and ranking 11th in yards after contact per rush over that span. The Patriots cycled running backs in during the Week 7 meeting between the teams, with Shane Vereen posting career highs with eight rushes for 49 yards and three first downs to go with Stevan Ridleyís 65 yards on 17 carries. The Patriots should exploit the Jetsí vulnerability against the run.
3. Ground to a halt. Ground and pound has been the espoused mantra for Ryan, but the Jets simply been an ineffective unit. New York ranks as the seventh-worst rushing team in the league with a 3.73-yards-per-rush average. Shonn Greeneís production has been inconsistent this season, but the offensive line shares blame. The Jets average 2.13 yards before contact per rush, eighth worst in the league. A Week 6 win against the Colts (252 rushing yards) was the only time this season the Jets have rushed for at least 130 yards, while they have given up at least 130 rushing yards on six occasions.
The Patriots will be traveling to New York to face old and hated rival Jets in what will be a primetime clash on Thanksgiving. The last time the two met, the Patriots were victorious, 29-26. Not much has changed offensively for the Jets since then, who are still a ball control offense under coordinator Tony Sparano.Sparano relies on a power running game with running back Shonn Greene and most recently, second-year man Bilal Powell. Powell complemented Greene's 18 carries last week with 11 of his own in a 27-13 win.During that game, we saw the Jets utilize 11 (one back, one tight end), 21 (two backs, one tight end) and two forms of 12 personnel: one back, two tight ends and one back, one tight end and an eligible offensive lineman. The popular and controversial Tim Tebow also got onto the field, running the ball once with the usual quarterback power run concept. These typically come in between the 30 to 40 yard lines.Per usual, they ran various forms of run concepts that come from the base NFL package, which include toss, draw, lead, counter and toss. When they weren't running the ball, they were relying on mesh (two shallow crossers), dig-option, all-outs, double slants and slant-flat concepts in the passing game from three- and five-step dropbacks with quarterback Mark Sanchez.
INSIDE THE JETS' DEFENSE
New York's defense hasn't lived up to expectations this year, still struggling to defend the run. Theyíre giving up an abysmal 141.9 yards rushing per game, which ranks 30th in the NFL. A big reason why is the lack of speed in between the hashes. Linebackers David Harris and Bart Scott are having issues playing the run at times, particularly when they're asked to serve as two-gap defenders because of the Jets' double 3-techniques front.The double 3-techniques front is only one of the multiple fronts that the Jets use. They have also spent time in four man fronts this year, relying on the 3-techniques along with the Under and Over fronts.When they turn to their old 3-4 front, they use a variety of techniques with the defensive ends, most notably standout Muhammad Wilkerson at several techniques. Nose tackle Sione Pouha is typically a 0 (head up on center) or 1 (outside shoulder of center) technique.Deep into the secondary, the Jets are still playing a variety of coverages, which includes but is not limited to Cover 0, Cover 1, Cover 3, Cover 4 and Quarter-Quarter-Half.They will rotate and double rotate their safeties at times when playing these coverages, so it will be interesting if they get caught out of position. It was an issue a couple of times against the St. Louis Rams and on other occasions in previous weeks.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Mark Sanchez deep passing :
Believe it or not, Mark Sanchez is top 15 in percentage of pass attempts deep. Nearly 20 percent of Sanchez's throws have come deep, which puts him 14th in the league per Advanced Football Stats. Some of these have come off of play action passing, nailing post patterns in the middle of the field while others have come outside the numbers with wheel routes by running backs and fake flanker screens.
Jets run defense :
As noted, the Jets give up an abundance of rushing yards and there are three things to note here: the Jets' slow linebackers and nose tackle Sione Pouha and the Patriots' horizontal running game.The slow linebackers of the Jets, namely Scott and Harris, have had some issues moving laterally and defending the run. They are simply not quick enough to get to the outsides and that could be a problem if or when the Patriots look to attack the edges with stretch runs like they've done in years past.Pouha has stood out in the past for his intense run defense but when he's operating as a 0-technique, two-gap tackle, he can be vulnerable. Rex Ryan teaches his nose tackles to mirror the movement of the center when two-gapping and at times, Pouha has been misled by centers, consequently leaving backside A-gap running lanes uncovered.
Jets run offense :
New York's running game is not pretty. There's no hiding it but they will rely on it in short yardage situations to move the chains and manage the down and distance for Sanchez, who throws a lot of three-step drops. The Patriots have to make sure the Jets are forced into the long third downs in order to pressure Sanchez into winning the game on his own, which he most likely won't do.
LaRon Landry deep :
Since his days at LSU, Landry has had a reputation for sometimes being undisciplined, which the reason I will forever point him out as a potential target for offenses. The deep passing game against Landry can be successful when he's in the middle of the field, where you put him in a bind with two vertical routes. Force him to pick one -- odds are, you'll have at least one big play.
Patriots' pass rush vs. Jets three-step drops :
The Jetsí receivers have had problems getting open underneath at times and their three-step passing game has suffered. Sanchez has had issues getting the ball out of his hands in these situations and has taken sacks as a result. The Patriots have to continue this trend, getting physical with the slot receivers who are going to be running option routes (pivots) and force Sanchez to hold on to the ball.
The New England Patriots (7-3) and New York Jets (4-6) released their final injury report for the Thanksgiving game. Here is a look at who is expected to miss the AFC East showdown and what it means for both teams :
Out : TE Rob Gronkowski (arm), DE Chandler Jones (ankle), G Logan Mankins (hip, calf)
Questionable : TE Aaron Hernandez (ankle), LB Tracy White (foot), WR Wes Welker (ankle), OT Sebastian Vollmer (back, knee), LB Brandon Spikes (knee), DL Nick McDonald (shoulder), WR Brandon Lloyd (knee), LB Dont'a Hightower (hamstring), S Steve Gregory (hip), G Dan Connolly (back), S Patrick Chung (hamstring), DL Ron Brace (elbow, shoulder)
Probable : WR Julian Edelman (hand), DL Kyle Love (knee), LB Jerod Mayo (elbow)
Gronkowski is obviously the big injury for New England. He is expected to miss several weeks with a broken forearm. However, the NFL Network reports Hernandez, who is listed as "questionable," will return from his ankle injury on Thursday. That would be a big boost for New Englandís top-rated offense. Jones is a loss, as well. But itís best for him to sit this game and utilize the long week to try to get back for the next game. The Patriots have a ton of players questionable, but thatís always the case. New England coach Bill Belichick likes to keep opponents (and the media) guessing on who will play.
Questionable : DL Sione Pouha (back), DL Kenrick Ellis (knee), RB Joe McKnight (ankle), LB Bart Scott (toe), WR Jeremy Kerley (hamstring), DB Aaron Berry (quad), QB Tim Tebow (ribs)
Probable : RB Bilal Powell (shoulder), QB Mark Sanchez (back), OL Brandon Moore (hip), OL Matt Slauson, DL Mike Devito (finger), WR Clyde Gates (shoulder), TE Jeff Cumberland (wrist), LB Calvin Pace (shoulder), WR Stephen Hill (ankle), S LaRon Landry (heel), C Nick Mangold (thumb)
The Jets are getting healthier, and they need all their weapons to upset New England. Ellis re-injured his knee last week against the St. Louis Rams and could be the biggest question mark. But I expect pretty much all hands on deck for this game. Everyone practiced at some point during this short week and itís a huge game. A loss would put to rest any chance of the Jets making the playoffs.
Jets interior offensive line vs. Kyle Love and Vince Wilfork
To achieve the ground-and-pound offense the Jets strive for, they will have to neutralize this fearsome and space-eating middle of the Patriotsí defensive line. The Jets had trouble last time around, rushing for 3.2 yards per carry in Week 7 in New England. The Patriots are seventh in the NFL in run defense, allowing 3.9 yards per carry ó but are trending down as that average has risen by half a yard since late October. The Jetsí rushing attack, however, is ascending. While the Jets rank 26th in the NFL at 3.7 yards per carry, their offensive line is 10th-best in the league, according to Football Outsiders. Shonn Greene is averaging 4.1 yards per carry since they last faced the Pats, and last week the Jets used a three-back rotation of Greene, Bilal Powell and Joe McKnight to success ó a scenario coach Rex Ryan called "ideal."
2. Aaron Hernandez vs. the Jets defense
With Rob Gronkowski out of this game, Aaron Hernandez takes over the mantle of the Patriotsí top tight end. He caught five passes for 54 yards last month in the first meeting and drew a critical pass interference penalty in overtime, while being deployed all over the field. Gronkowskiís rare combination of size and speed at the position is tough to replace but it may become incumbent on Hernandez to give Tom Brady that agile, yet sizable, presence in the middle of the field. The Jets have had trouble with tight ends this year, ranking 23rd in the NFL against the position according to Football Outsiders and giving up 59 yards per game. They wonít use any one defender on Hernandez so their linebackers and safeties will be drawn into duty, and maybe a cornerback -- Isaiah Trufant was caught on Gronkowski a few times.
3. Patriots QB Tom Brady vs. Jets QB Mark Sanchez
On paper this isnít much of a matchup, but itís one the Jets will need to keep close. Sanchez and Brady battled to a near draw last month. Not coincidentally, the Jets lost in overtime instead of the blowout many predicted. That game also happened to be, arguably, Sanchezís best of the season. He completed 28-of-41 passes for 328 yards, one touchdown and one interception. The Jets also kept Brady relatively quiet. Of the eight teams Brady has faced more than once over the past three seasons, his 106.1 QB rating against the Jets is the second-lowest of those teams. And of the seven teams Sanchez has faced multiple times, his 80.6 rating is the second-highest (and above his 76.0 total rating).
4 DOWNS with cornerback Ellis Lankster
1. Whatís the hardest part of covering Wes Welker?
His pivot routes. If youíre outside leverage heís going to run inside. If youíre inside, heís going to run outside. Thatís basically the hardest thing with him.
2. Danny Amendola is quicker than Welker. How does that play into covering him ?
You still canít sleep on Wes. Wes Welker is Wes Welker. Wes Welker has Tom Brady throwing the ball. Thatís another thing right there. Iím not going to lie. Thatís going to be a good matchup.
3. What is your confidence going into this matchup? You were very demonstrative against the Rams.
Thatís how the defense is here. You cannot play scared here. If you play scared here youíre not going to get on the field. As the Jets say, you have to play relentless. Thatís what Iím trying to do.
4. Have you talked to Isaiah Trufant about covering Welker ?
I always talk to Trufant about whoever he already stuck. Trufant told me just put my hands on him and watch him. After that everything should be okay, so thatís what Iím going to do.
THE NUMBER : 68.5
That would be the amount of offensive snaps per game for New England over its past four games. Coming into the first meeting between these two teams, all the talk was about the Patriotsí breakneck pace and no-huddle offense. That game they ran 80 plays but 68 of those were in regulation ó well below their season average of 78 coming into the night. Since then their offense has slowed down, with Rex Ryan this week making note of the change in tempo. But just because the Patriotsí offense has slowed, doesnít mean it has gotten worse. They are averaging 40 points per game in their last three games.
DID YOU KNOW ?
The Jets may be tied for 25th in the NFL with 17 sacks but theyíve found a spark in their pass rush the past month. Over their last three games, the Jets have seven sacks. They had four in the loss to Seattle. But itís not just taking down the quarterback, the Jets have 32 of their cumulative 111 quarterback hits and hurries in that time. New England has allowed 15 sacks this season ó fifth fewest in the NFL ó and the Jets sacked Tom Brady just once in their meeting last month.
The Patriots have won three straight games against the Jets, and theyíll make it four straight if they hit on these five keys tonight at MetLife Stadium :
1.Stop the run :
Itís not rocket science. The Jets want to run the ball well to keep quarterback Mark Sanchez in manageable down and distance situations. Stop them, and Sanchez has to beat you by himself with limited weapons. The Patriots did a solid job against the Jets the first time around against Shonn Greene (3.4-yard average) and James McKnight (3.3). The Jets will add Bilal Powell to the mix tonight, and heís decent. A little more speed than Greene, and definitely tougher than McKnight. Little bit more of a challenge defending the run with DE Chandler Jones out. Jermaine Cunningham is mediocre at setting the edge. I would not be surprised if the Patriots went with more 3-4 against the Jets. Itís their best run defense.
2.Run the ball :
The Jets have gotten a little bit better against the run since NT Sione Pouha has returned to the lineup, but theyíre still pretty shaky, especially to edge runs because the inside linebackers are slow and the outside linebackers donít set the edge well. With TE Rob Gronkowski out, I think we could see a lot more of Nate Solder playing TE (maybe even catch a touchdown pass). The activation of Markus Zusevics, who can play guard and tackle but is more of a tackle, points to that a little bit (though there may be a surprise OT deactivation tonight). If you run the ball well against the Jets, that keeps Tom Brady from having too drop back all game against a Jets defense that almost always gives him fits for a good part of the game.
3.Get physical with the receivers, especially Keller :
The Patriots have not blitzed Mark Sanchez much of late (8-10 percent in three victories). If that trend continues, the Patriots need tight coverage to make Sanchez hesitate, which would allow the pressure to get there. Expect the Patriots to bang TE Dustin Keller fairly hard Ė heís a security blanket for Sanchez who has played well against the Patriots. The Patriots have not done a good job against tight ends, and that needs to stop. With safety a bit solidified now (getting a true strong safety back in Patrick Chung would help more), Tavon Wilson should be back in his TE-killer role. The teams needs him there.
4.Control Wilkerson :
DE Muhammad Wilkerson been the Jetsí best player of late, and he can be dominating on the inside, especially with Pouha back. Wilkerson has the ability to have an impact against the Patriots, like Shaun Ellis used to, but the Patriots need to make sure heís taken care of.
5.Go fast, but pick your spots :
It would be to the Patriotsí advantage to use the no-huddle because it would affect the Jetsí ability to get their pressures and coverages set, but I think itís too much, four days after playing, to do much of it. But could be a good chance of pace.
Outside of the 45-3 game after the Jetsí defensive quarterback, safety Jim Leonhard, broke his leg on the Friday before the game, these games are almost always tight until the fourth quarter. Nobody does a better job against Tom Brady than Rex Ryan, and not having Gronkowski will allow the Jets to concentrate on Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez. I expect there to be a post-Gronk adjustment period, but the Patriots should play better on defense this around and emerge with a comfortable victory at some point.