The New England Patriots home opener will be a prime-time game tomorrow night against the bitter rival New York Jets, and it looks like it will be another dogfight for the Patriots. While I still have the Patriots coming out on top and can’t see the significantly better team losing, the Patriots aren’t going to blow the Jets out. Rivalry games, like the one we saw last week against the Buffalo Bills, have a tendency to be closer than they should, and the Patriots are dealing with a lot of injuries right now. Shane Vereen is out until Week 11, Danny Amendola will almost certainly be out, the Jets most likely won’t be facing Rob Gronkowski, and Zach Sudfeld is currently nursing a pulled hamstring.
Joining me to preview the game on the site is Alan Schechter of The Jet Press, and Alan was kind enough to do a Q&A with us. He’s a good friend of mine on the network despite our different rooting interests, and you should definitely check out the questions I answered from him on his site.
1. I was really impressed with the way Damon Harrison played in the preseason and in Week 1, and he started over Kendrick Ellis on Sunday. What do you see out of both players, and how often will they split snaps? It seems like a shame that Ellis is losing out on some playing time given how good he is, but it’s safe to say that Harrison is a very good player and probably deserves to have beaten Ellis out.
I have believed in Damon Harrison since he came on in 2012 as an undrafted rookie. He has worked his behind off, and has rapidly become a fan favorite. He actually is comparable in size to that house that plays for you guys, Vince Wilfork. Obviously he isn’t as polished as Wilfork yet, just strictly talking size-wise. Both Harrison and Ellis are stout football players, and can stop the run. They both can get to the QB from the inside as well, which will create havoc for opposing quarterbacks. As far as split? I think Harrison will take the majority at this point, especially the way he is playing now. Give maybe 75/25.
2. The Patriots have plenty of health and experience concerns among the pass-catchers heading into the game, but the Jets have their own concerns with Jeremy Kerley‘s injury. How do the Jets pass-catching options look, and which player should Patriots fans watch for the most?
You know that saying, “If you can’t beat em, join em.’”? Well, the Jets have started going in that direction, with the tight end tandem of Jeff Cumberland and Kellen Winslow. Obviously, they are not the same level of headache as Gronkowski, and Hernandez previously, but they do create their matchup problems up the seam. Kellen Winslow is proving himself as a safety valve for Geno, recording 7 catches and 1 TD last week against Tampa Bay. Cumberland has been improving all preseason, but was unfortunately knocked out of last week’s game with an injury, but should be active on Thursday night.
On the outside, watch out for Stephen Hill. He hasn’t been used as the deep threat he was supposed to be, yet, but so far, he is catching the football and not dropping it. His hands are leaps and bounds better than they were last year. As a 6’4” receiver, he will create matchup problems for any defender.
3. Evaluate Geno Smith for us in a nutshell overall. Bill Belichick and many others, myself included, really liked what we saw out of Geno on Sunday. What did you see out of him and what kind of a game will he have against New England?
Geno had an interesting performance last week. There were a lot of good things that happened. His decision making was for the most part, spot on. As the game went along, he felt more and more comfortable, and was decisive with the football. There is no question on his arm strength, he can make all of the throws. He had pocket presence as well, which you really can’t teach. I call it interesting, because they had trouble moving the football in the middle of the game. The game did not have to come down to that last drive, if he could have led them to one more score. So, he had a lot of good things to talk about, but has what to improve as well.
The litmus test will absolutely be Thursday night. Bill is the master, until proven otherwise. I am sure that he is licking his chops getting ready to take on the Jets and a rookie quarterback. What kind of different looks is he going to show Geno? What will he do to try and confuse him? Can he confuse him? These are questions that are tough to answer right now, and will decide how his performance will turn out, for better or for worse.
4. Do you have any concerns with this secondary, or do you think they have what it takes to be a solid unit this season? Everyone has to love Antonio Cromartie, but I have the safety position as a question mark and am unsure about the Jets depth at CB. Is there somebody I am underrating here?
I have definite concerns about this secondary. Cromartie was eaten alive last week by Vincent Jackson, although that should turn out to be an aberration. He should be fine. However, I do not feel that Dee Milliner is ready for the big stage, yet, and Kyle Wilson has never been ready for the big stage in my opinion. The cornerbacks worry me a bit. The safeties I think will surprise, though. Dawan Landry had a nice game last week, and Antonio Allen is turning into a fine safety. He recorded a pick six last week and he will only get better.
5. I stated in our previous exchange that I think the Patriots will win in a narrow, ugly rivalry game. So now it’s only fair to ask you how you think things will shake up on Sunday. Do you agree with the way I see things, or do you think the Jets will be able to pull off the upset? Are you game for a prediction of the score?
I am not ready to make a prediction of the score, because it’s so close. With all of the injuries you guys have on the offensive side, I can’t say that a Jets win is impossible. It’s odd, but the Jets always seem to play better up in New England than at home, at least in recent years. I think it will come down to Geno. If Geno can withstand the tricks that Bill Belichick will throw his way, the Jets have a chance. If not, it will be a long evening.