The Patriots kick off the first of three straight divisional games against the rival New York Jets in the new Meadowlands Sunday. It’s not going to be easy, despite what offensive woes the Jets had last week against the Ravens. Last season, the Pats lost to the Jets Week 2 in the Meadowlands 16-9 thanks to the Jets vaunted defense, which looks just as good as it did last year. Despite it being only Week 2, the Jets are treating the game like it’s a must-win playoff game. They do not want to open 0-2, especially 0-2 at home. The two teams have a deep-seated dislike, maybe even “hatred” (according to Tom Brady) for each other. They have exchanged numerous players and coaches over the years. Last season, the Jets picked up Pats cast-off QB Kevin O’Connell, likely to get information from him, and made him a captain for their Week 2 game against the Pats. This year, the Patriots signed Jets fan favorite, “Hard Knocks” star and favorite of Mark Sanchez, diminutive RB/WR Danny Woodhead. Will the Pats make him a captain this week as a shot for the O’Connell incident last season? Is this simply an intelligence-gathering move? I have a gut feeling Woodhead will stick. His ability to do just about anything and everything asked of him is the trademark of a “Patriots’ type” player.
Here are 5 keys for the Patriots to pull out a victory in the Meadowlands:
1. Stop the run. This is important every week, but it is especially important this week. Everything the Jets do is predicated on a strong running game. Shonn Greene only have 18 yards on 5 rushes last week, but new Jet LaDanian Tomlinson ran well, gaining 62 yards on only 11 rushes. If the Pats can stop the run, they then place the game in Mark Sanchez’s hands to win. He was horrible last week, going 10/21 for 74 yards. The Pats will likely take their chances with Sanchez running the show as opposed to watching the Jets run effectively, setting up the play-action pass.
2. Cover the short-to-intermediate routes. Sanchez is most effective throwing short-to-intermediate passes. These safe throws allow him to get into a rhythm and allow the Jets’ play makers, like TE Dustin Keller, to gain extra yards after the catch. Sanchez also likes the play-action pass after the running game gets going, catching linebackers and defensive backs overreacting to the run. Rex Ryan alluded to play action in speaking to the media this week. He was discussing S Pat Chung’s impressive Week One performance, noting his aggressiveness in coming up and providing run support. “He’s (Chung) is impressive,” Ryan said. “It shows you he gets down in the box quick to help the run. Hopefully, we can take advantage of that.” He obviously was referring to using play action against Chung. The Pats need to be careful and watch out for play action and maintain their coverage assignments. I also expect the Jets to try and take some shots down field, but the short-to-intermediate routes are the bread-and-butter of their passing game. If I’m the Patriots, I’d rather take my chances forcing Sanchez to go deep and see if he can complete those high-risk passes.
3. Protect Tom Brady. This is always something important to do, but against the aggressive Jets defense, this is especially important this week. The Pats can take advantage of the blitzing Jets with their passing game, but it will require the offensive line picking up the blitzes and allowing Tom Brady the time to find the open receiver. This will be a true test for G Dan Connolly, who is in Logan Mankins’ position at left guard. The success of the line will not be necessarily measured in the amount of sacks they allow, but in the amount of hits and pressures they allow. If Brady has time, the Pats can put up 31 points like they did Week 11 against the Jets last year.
4. Spread the ball around. I alluded to this in my previous post about the Randy Moss/Darrelle Revis match-up that everyone is focusing on. For the passing game to be effective, Tom Brady needs to include his entire corps of pass catchers. This will not allow the Jets to key in on one or two players (Moss and Wes Welker) and keep the defense on its heels. Brady certainly has the talent around him to spread the ball around, and he needs to take advantage of it. Last week, Ravens TE Todd Heap was effective against the Jets defense, catching 6 passes for 72 yards. The Patriots should utilize their impressive TE corps of Alge Crumpler, Rob Gronkowski, and Aaron Hernandez against the defense. If Brady keys in on Randy Moss and tries to force Moss off of Revis Island, it will likely be a long day for the Patriots.
5. Special teams need to give the offense a short field. Yards will be hard to come by against the Jets defense. The special teams can help the offense out through good returns, setting the offense up with a shorter field to work with. The less distance they have to cover, the greater the chances that the offense will put points on the board. Special teams looked good last week. The Jets also have strong special teams, so this will be a good battle for field position. Additionally, pinning the Jets back and giving their offense a long field to work with is key. I’m not sure that the Jet offense can march up down a long field and put points up. If the game is close, special teams play could very well be the deciding factor.
Prediction: The Patriots looked like an invigorated team last week. The youth in the team has brought speed, and the Pats just looked faster than they have in years. With all of the distractions surrounding the Jets, the pressure on Mark Sanchez and the blow of losing NT Kris Jenkins, I don’t think they can overcome and pull out a victory. Pats win 27-17.