4. The loss of linebacker and defensive captain Jerod Mayo to a torn pectoral muscle is a big obstacle for the Patriots defense to overcome. Mayo hardly ever comes off the field as no one played more snaps than Mayo before he left injured against the Saints. He will be replaced by second-year linebacker Dont’a Hightower in the defense. For Hightower, it is a chance to embrace the spotlight and make his presence known in the defense.
Hightower has recently been losing snaps to Brandon Spikes in the sub package (4-2-5 nickel alignment and 3-2-6 dime look) as Spikes has been used more to rush the passer and as a run stopper in those alignments. Without Mayo, the Patriots have a stouter run defense (Mayo has been surprisingly weaker in the run defense this year, grading out at -6.9 by PFF). Where Hightower was most effective last year was in the pass rush and with him and Spikes, the defense may feature more blitzing with one or both of them and generate pressure on Jets quarterback Geno Smith.
5. Another big loss on defense is cornerback Aqib Talib. Losing Talib throws the entire secondary in flux. The Patriots can bring safety Devin McCourty back to cornerback and insert rookie Duron Harmon who played very well last week against an explosive Saints offense. The team can insert rookie cornerback Logan Ryan and bump Alfonzo Dennard to the top cornerback role and keep Kyle Arrington in the slot where he is most effective. Arrington and Dennard have been effective but not spectacular this year, but they have been getting the most targets with Talib being so effective as a shutdown corner.
The Patriots luck-out a bit this week as the Jets will be without top wide receiver Santonio Holmes due to injury and top receiving tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. to a PED suspension. The Patriots are in a good position to absorb the loss of Talib this week, the team desperately needs him healthy soon. With a hip injury, it is difficult for a cornerback to play as he should and be effective because hip movement and rotation is so vital playing the position (think of the pre-draft process and the analysts talking about a cornerback prospects’ ability to swivel their hips and “hip flexibility”).
6. In week two against the Jets, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady had a terrible game. The only touchdown the team scored was an improvised play where the hurry-up offense had the Jets defense confused and wide receiver Aaron Dobson was uncovered and walked in from 39 yards out. After that play, the Jets defense clamped down on running back Stevan Ridley. The only weapon that Brady was able to find consistently was wide receiver Julian Edelman who he targeted eighteen of thirty-nine passes. Edelman accounted for thirteen of the nineteen completions.
Rookie wide receivers Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson combined for seventeen targets, but they only brought in five receptions. The Patriots defense picked off rookie Geno Smith three times and recovered a fumble. Where the Jets made an impact was on the ground with 129 yards rushing, and twenty-five rushes for 100 yards even and a touchdown by Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell combined. Remember, that was with Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo.
The Patriots have a number of areas to improve upon, and with both teams having had a full week to prepare this time, the game should be a little more coherent for both sides. Expect another Jets-Patriots classic, with the game coming down to turnovers and which side is able to make the big plays. Expect a bit of regression on defense by New England, but improvement in the red zone on offense.