Florham Park, N.J.– I briefly touched on this subject in Monday’s article, but today I will dig a bit deeper examining just how much both these teams have grown and improved since their early season matchup.
With the game just under a week away, this will serve as sort of a pre-preview of the game, but then again so will just about every article you read until Monday, as there is no way to avoid it with all the hype surrounding this game.
Moss Out, Branch In – What can you say about Deion Branch other than, ‘he was juvenated before, lost it (when he went to Seattle) and got juvenated again (when he returned to New England). Rejuvenated!‘
One member on the Jets media scoffed at the notion of Branch being anywhere near as much of a threat as Moss when Calvin Pace mentioned it, but Branch has clearly been the more productive receiver for the Pats this year, this time the numbers don’t lie. In the seven games Branch has played since his return to the Patriots he has become the team’s third leading receiver with 33 receptions for 433 yards and three touchdowns. Now consider Randy Moss’ stats during his time in New England this season, just nine receptions for 139 yards and three touchdowns in four games.
Many people questioned the bold move by Belichick and the Patriots to essentially trade Moss for Branch and rightly so, but Patriot fans stayed the course and simply said, ‘In Belichick we trust’ and they have been rewarded for it. No one denied Moss was past his prime, but he still commands double and sometimes triple teams, so people were wondering if these other receivers would be able to find open space to make plays without Moss?
The flaw in that logic was of course Tom Brady didn’t get traded too and he did win three Super Bowls without having a better receiver than Branch and never won one with Moss, so is it really a surprise that he can excel at doing what he has always done best? Which is spread the ball around to any number of receivers.
The Two TE’s – At the beginning of the season there was a whole lot of rumbling about the potential of these two tight-ends. Early in the season it was Aaron Hernandez who seemed to be by far the more dangerous of the two, but lately Rob Gronkowski has come along just fine and is proving to be a problem for opposing defenses in the red zone. So far this season Hernandez has 36 receptions for 462 yards and three touchdowns and Gronkowski has 25 receptions for 310 yards and six touchdowns.
In the red zone and short-yardage situations Gronkowski is a bigger threat, but Hernandez is more explosive and better equipped to make a big run after the catch. The size, strength and speed of these two are a complete nightmare of a matchup for the Jets safeties and linebackers.
The Running Game of Woodhead and BenJarvus Green-Ellis–
“I don’t know if he couldn’t do it here, they just run their offense a little different than we do. He’s perfect for what they do. Kevin Faulk had that role for years and was so successful. Danny Woodhead is doing a great job doing that.” Ryan said, “Number one, he’s a heck of a football player, but the thing you’re most proud of is the type of kid he is. He is one heck of a person. He’s tougher than heck. I love the fact that he’s having success. I just wish him no success on Monday. He can have success this Monday, but not next Monday. I think he’s a great kid and a great talent and I’m happy for him.”
Woodhead has been both, an effective runner and receiver for the Patriots as he has rushed the ball 64 times for 344 yards (5.4 yards per carry) and three touchdowns. He also has 24 receptions for 230 yards (9.6 yards per reception) and a touchdown. Woodhead is a talented kid and an extremely hard worker, but the truth is no one could have built him a more perfect situation to succeed in than what he has with the Patriots offense.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a bulldozing pure downhill runner who has rushed for 627 yards at a clip of 4.3 yards a carry and has found the end zone nine times. When the Patriots do need to milk the clock or play ball-control they let Green-Ellis go to work. The Patriots may struggle to have a consistently strong running-game against the elite rushing defenses like the Jets, but they will still be able to be productive because opposing defenses have to protect against the pass first.
Defense Makes Plays at the End of Games and When Needed Most – Linebacker Jerod Mayo does lead the league in tackles with 132 and they still have this big guy upfront named Vince Wilfork. So it’s not like the Patriots defense is filled with scrubs. Most importantly though the Pats are tied with the Steelers with the best turnover differential in the AFC (plus 11), mostly because Brady doesn’t turn the ball over, but also because this defense does find a way to make plays as they have just as many takeaways as the Jets (20, tied for fifth in the AFC).
Tom Brady – Not that he has really improved so much, even though he has since early in the season, but really it’s just to point out he’s still there and he’s been pretty good, especially at home. Brady is after all, second to only Mike Vick in QB rating at 105.8.
Really the only thing you can criticize him for is his hair, which wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the fact that he is now the spokesmodel for Uggs for men, seriously? Uggs for men?
Belichick – Much like Brady it’s not that he could have really improved much, but he clearly seems to have a better grasp on how to properly utilize the talent he has to work with.
Santonio Holmes – This is pretty self-explanatory I would think, after all you are on a Jets-centric website so you should be fully aware of just how much of a threat Holmes is as soon as he steps on the field. What Jets fans have to love even more however, is his knack for taking over games with the clocking ticking down to it’s final seconds.
Of course Holmes hasn’t been the only valuable receiver for the Jets; Braylon Edwards, Dustin Keller and Jerricho Cotchery have all taken turns making game changing plays. Keller hasn’t been putting up the big numbers like he was early in the season due to the way defenses are playing him, but when he does make a catch it’s almost always a crucial play.
The Defense – On Monday Ryan was asked about facing the Patriots 31st ranked defense and cleverly spun the question to take a chance to poke fun at the perception that his own defense hasn’t been as dominate as expected.
“I don’t know. With the way you guys report, I thought we had the worst defense (laughter). I don’t know where we’re ranked, but I know it’s embarrassing.” Ryan said, “I think we’re third. I know it’s not up to our standards, which is true. It’s not. The season (isn’t) over yet, either.”
Since Revis and Pace have returned, this defense has most certainly been elite on all but, just a couple of drives. Of course not being perfect or dominate on just a couple of drives against Tom Brady may just be enough to get the Jets beat. Though there is no denying that this defense was built specifically to beat the elite passing teams in the league and Ryan wasn’t about to sidestep that question.
“We just tried to put a great team together, that’s for sure. We did try to specifically, I felt we needed to get another corner to match up with New England. We drafted Kyle Wilson also, and that was to try to beat New England and Indianapolis and whoever else got in our way.” Ryan said, “We tried to build our team to win a Super Bowl. We thought to win a Super Bowl, you have to beat New England, so we’ll see if it works, if that blue print works or not. We beat them once already.”
Brad Smith – Pick your poison with this guy. He is a solid receiver, a serious threat to run the ball in open space and absolutely electric at returning kickoffs. Even when he isn’t returning kicks all the way to the end zone with one shoe, he is consistently setting the Jets offense up with excellent starting field position. If the Jets are going to keep using him in the, ‘Wildcat,’ sooner or later they are going to have to let him throw it, but it seems they are saving that for an specific situation, which could come as early as this Monday.
Sanchez late game rallies – As much headlines as the Patriots are creating with their offense, they are the 13th ranked total offense and the Jets are currently ranked 11th. Granted that’s one of those misleading numbers, because the most important stat for an offense is points scored per game and there is only one team who averages over 30 points a game and that’s the Patriots. The Jets average six points less, but then again they also give up 7.2 less points than the Patriots.
But the real story of the season for the Jets, and the most promising thing for the future of this Jets team, has been Sanchez’s ability to make game-tying and or winning drives at the end of games. When Sanchez is put in a position where he doesn’t have to think as much, he can just react and make plays, he is clearly at his best. Which is a great sign for the confidence of this team if they find themselves behind late in a game.
Greene/L.T. – L.T. started off the season red hot and has cooled off some, but if you just look at his total yards each game you’ll see he is still being very productive. What’s even more encouraging for Jets fans is that Shonn Greene has been getting more carries lately and he is built to punish and wear out opposing defense this time of year.
What they need to fix
Defense – Ranks 31st overall, 16th in rush defense allowing 110.6 yards a game at 4.2 yards a carry. They are even worse against the pass ranking last in the NFL, allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 68.3 percent of their passes for 288 yards per game, but again they have caused 15 interceptions this season and find ways to make plays when they need them most.
Running Game – I could say their running game just to nitpick, so I will. They have the 16th ranked rushing attack averaging 112.5 yards a game on 4.3 yards per carry. They do a great job mixing in the run and controlling the ball against inferior rush defenses, but still struggle to find a productive running attack against the superior rush defenses. Of course, that’s not really too big of an issue for them considering they can still play a ball control style of offense with their short passing attack.
PENALTIES – It’s been a season long problem and it is showing no signs of going away anytime soon. It’s uncharacteristic for a team like this to keep shooting themselves in the foot with so many penalties, but for some reason they keep doing it. The penalties are constantly stalling offensive drives and if not for all the penalties the Jets would have won most of these games with much more ease. The Patriots are too good of a team for the Jets to beat, if they keep helping them out so this has to be the most pressing concern for the Jets.
Red Zone, Third-Down Efficiency – It doesn’t matter exactly how they do it, but the Jets need to figure out a more steady rhythm on offense. Eliminating the penalties would be a good start, but Schotty also needs to get a better feel for calling the game earlier. Too often you see the Jets march down the field one way and then switch it up when they get in the red zone, that’s inexcusable, go with what works.
And what works is the running game, slants and inside routes. Then once the corners start playing up closer to the receivers then take the deep shots down-field. Sanchez also needs to improve on his deep ball, as he is somehow overthrowing Edwards and Holmes far too often on deep routes.
Run the ball, hit the slants or beat them deep, the Jets must recognize what the defense is giving them and take it, because they can’t keep surviving by settling for field-goals.
Folk – Since I mentioned field-goals, we need to talk about Nick Folk. It’s been reported by ESPN that the Jets tried out kicker Kris Brown yesterday. While no offer was made and Folk is safe for this week at least, it’s a clear sign that Folk needs to improve if he wants to stay apart of this team and the Jets are going to need him to be clutch to win more of these close games.
Depth in the Secondary – The Jets defense can shut down most offenses with relative ease, because they have two elite corners who can take the opposing teams best two receivers out of the game. Problem is, how do you determine who the two best receivers are on the Patriots?
Sure, technically you’d say Welker and Branch, but the truth is it’s whoever Brady decides has the best matchup and the Jets one weak spot on defense has been their inability to cover teams third, fourth or fifth options, especially on underneath routes. The tight-ends cause all types of matchup issues with the Jets undersized safeties, so if Brady decides to start going to his tight-ends don’t be surprised to see Revis covering one of them on certain plays.
I’m in the minority on thinking the Jets pass rush isn’t nearly as bad as people are making it out to be. It’s not like the Jets aren’t applying a lot of quick pressure, it’s just teams are ready for it and call plays specifically designed to get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands as quick as possible. Still there is no one better at that game than Brady and the best way to beat Brady is to create a lot of action at his feet and make him uncomfortable so hitting and sacking Brady would obviously go along way to helping the Jets win.
The Importance of This Game
Brady has tried to downplay the significance of their 9-2 record saying they haven’t accomplished anything yet and guys on their team have played in way bigger games than any regular season game. All of that may be true, but the Jets have some players who have been in some big games and even if they didn’t this game will most likely determine the division winner and possibly home-field advantage. So while yes, obviously any and every playoff game will have more significance than this Monday night matchup, there is no denying the winner of this game earns themselves a better shot at having an edge come playoff time.
If the Jets win they will have a two game lead over the Patriots for the division (since they won the first game, the Patriots would need to finish with a better record than the Jets to win the division) and be in great shape for home-field advantage. On the flip side if the Pats win they have a one game lead and put themselves in pole position for home-field advantage.
I’ve argued home-field advantage is losing it’s impact throughout a majority of the league and the Jets are one of the many teams who seem to no longer have a real home-field advantage, but clearly the Patriots are one of the few teams who do have a home-field advantage considering Brady has won 25 straight at home. So yes this is just a regular season game and both teams are likely to make the playoffs either way, but the significance of this game can’t be understated because of it’s direct playoff implications.
“The only way it would be better is if it was the last game of the year. This is huge. Both teams are at the top of the AFC in wins, the league in wins for that matter.” Ryan said on Monday, “We’re on the road. They’ve won 25 in a row at home (with Tom Brady as the starter). We’ve won eight in a row on the road. You can’t deny the fact that’s it’s two excellent football teams going at it. We’ll see what happens.”