The New England Patriots and New York Jets are hours away from kick-off, and it looks to be another great rivalry matchup between these two teams. All of the injuries on the Patriots offense will make this game a closer and sloppier game than it should be, but the Patriots superior talent will allow them to pull another close, rivalry win out. At least, that’s the way I see it, but here are five players on the New York Jets defense who could help turn this into an upset for the Jets.
1. DE Muhammad Wilkerson
Muhammad Wilkerson went from “good” to “elite” last season, and he is simply one of the most dominant three-tech defensive linemen in the National Football League. Wilkerson captures the meaning of “disruptive”, and he is a massive talent as a pass rusher and run defender. Last season, Wilkerson was responsible for 11 hits on the QB, three fumbles forced, and a myriad of great plays against the run. He is undoubtedly one of the best 3-4 DEs in the NFL against the run, and he will definitely make life difficult for Logan Mankins and Stevan Ridley. We’ll see if the Patriots offensive line is up to the task of stopping a dominant New York Jets defensive line, and Wilkerson is the biggest guy to watch out for. He didn’t have his best game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he’s going to bounce back tonight and should have a big say in this one.
2. CB Antonio Cromartie
Antonio Cromartie is the second elite player on the New York Jets worth watching, and he’s second to only Wilkerson in terms of talent in this secondary. Like Wilkerson, Antonio Cromartie didn’t have his best game in Week 1, but he definitely gets a free pass. Cromartie was going up against another elite player in Vincent Jackson, and there’s not too much wrong with being victimized by a player of Jackson’s caliber. There is clearly nobody on the New England Patriots offense resembling Jackson in terms of skill-set and talent, and the most consistent receiver on the Patriots right now is Julian Edelman (Danny Amendola is basically a lock to miss tonight’s game). That said, Cromartie will likely be matched up against Kenbrell Thompkins, who is the Patriots “X” receiver and has the best chance of making big plays tonight. While Aaron Dobson has the most big-play ability, he isn’t nearly as polished as Thompkins and isn’t as good of a rookie receiver in general. It will be interesting to see how the New York Jets use Cromartie, because there are a lot of possibilities. My guess is he stick with either Thompkins or Edelman, with the former being the more likely target.
3. DT Damon Harrison
If you haven’t heard Damon Harrison’s name before, then you had better keep his name in mind this season, because you are going to hear it a few more times. Harrison took full advantage of incumbent Kendrick Ellis’s injury, and he played so well last month that the New York Jets decided to start Harrison over Ellis, who established himself as a solid starter. The Jets have two very good nose tackles on their hands, and both players had good games against the Buccaneers. Harrison was phenomenal, and he was one of the biggest reasons why the Jets run defense was able to totally swarm Doug Martin. Ryan Wendell is one of the best run blocking centers in the NFL, so we definitely have a tantalizing matchup on our hands between these two players, who excel in the running game. Nick Mangold vs. Vince Wilfork is the marquee matchup on the interior, but make sure to also keep your eyes peeled for the battles between Harrison and Wendell when the Patriots are on offense.
4. ILB David Harris
LILB David Harris looked like a man on a mission last week, as he seems dead set on quelling all the criticisms of an off year in 2012. There are people who view Harris as an overrated player due to his slip in play last season, and Harris needs to have a solid season in 2013 in order to turn those narratives around. He got off to a great start against Tampa Bay by playing some very good run defense and even putting a little bit of pressure on the quarterback on some ILB blitzes. Harris recorded a lot of tackles last season, but several of them were what I call “empty tackles”. There weren’t many of those on Sunday, and Harris could be back to his solid self.
5. DL Sheldon Richardson
We’ll complete this series by taking a look at a rookie three-tech in Sheldon Richardson, who is known for his versatility on the defensive line. Richardson is the final piece of an excellent New York Jets three-man front, and he had a great debut. Although his biggest assets are his ability to put pressure on the quarterback and disrupt plays in the backfield, Richardson made his biggest mark on Sunday by putting together an excellent game against the run. He was another reason why Martin just couldn’t get anything going, and Richardson was extremely active against the run with seven tackles. Although he wasn’t as good as I thought he’d be as a pass rusher, he still got a half-a-sack in. Richardon’s run defense was extremely impressive, and the thing that makes him such a valuable weapon on defense for the Jets is the fact that offenses just don’t know where he is going to line up. As promised, the Jets used him all over the defensive front on Sunday, and he made tackles on basically every side of the field.