Oct 20, 2013; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New England Patriots tight endRob Gronkowski
(87) reacts after dropping a pass against the New York Jets during the second half at MetLife Stadium. The Jets won the game 30-27 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
The New England Patriots kick-off week seven of the NFL 2014 season as they face-off against their division rival New York Jets on Thursday Night Football. The Patriots are coming off back-to-back victories as they defeated Cincinnati 43-17 on an emotional Sunday night at Gillette Stadium and then went into Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, NY and beat Buffalo decisively 37-22. Now they face a hungry Jets squad with just one win and five losses.
A short week. A desperate opponent with nothing to lose. A division rival who knows all of the Patriots’ strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies. The Patriots coming off two emotional wins and suffering a number of major injuries. It screams “trap game”.
So how do the Patriots avoid a letdown on offense Thursday night versus the Jets? Here are two ways to do it:
FIND A RUNNING BACK AND RUNNING GAME:
Oct 12, 2014; Orchard Park, NY, USA; New England Patriots running backStevan Ridley
(22) punches the ground after being injured during the 2nd half against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Patriots beat the Bills 37-22. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports
Without Stevan Ridley the Patriots are in a tight spot. LeGarrette Blount is in Pittsburgh, Shane Vereen is not a between-the-tackles feature back, Brandon Bolden is a career backup/special teams player, and rookie James White is unproven and spent most of the season inactive playing only a handful of snaps in the week four blowout loss to Kansas City on Monday night.
Knowing head coach Bill Belichick’s penchant for the unexpected, it would be no surprise to see practice squad running back Jonas Gray in the backfield and running the ball 15 times on Thursday night. Gray has the strong, low-to-the-ground size and one-cut explosion similar to Ridley. Remember, against the Eagles in the preseason Gray stole the show in the second half rushing 12 times for 98 yards.
The former Notre Dame running back forced himself into the roster battle in preseason with some strong play. Gray initially was with Miami and then Baltimore before signing a futures contract in New England at the beginning of 2014. He failed to make the roster but he was picked up for the practice squad. Gray in the backfield would be a surprise for everyone in the stadium, but it certainly seems like a “Belichickian” maneuver against a familiar opponent.
What is most likely to happen on Thursday is for White, Vereen, and Bolden to split the playing time fairly equitably. Vereen is always part of the game plan and while Bolden is not a very good receiver, White brings that receiving package to the base offense.
The Jets are difficult to run on with the trio of Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, and Damon Harrison. With 1,000 pounds of freakish athletic ability up front with their three defensive linemen, the Jets are a challenge to run on. After not allowing more than 88 yards rushing in a game through four weeks, the Jets have given up a combined 300 yards rushing in their losses to the Chargers and Broncos the past two weeks. The Patriots need to continue to exploit the holes in the Jets rushing defense on Thursday.
ATTACK THE JETS’ WEAK SECONDARY:
Sep 28, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Detroit Lions wide receiverJeremy Ross
(12) carries the ball to score a touchdown in front of New York Jets cornerbackAntonio Allen
(39) in the second quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
Two years ago the New York Jets had Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie at cornerback and were the unquestioned best secondary in the NFL. Since then Revis went down for the season with a knee injury, Cromartie left in free agency, and now Seattle has the premier secondary in the NFL. The Jets rank somewhere near the bottom in the secondary.
Rather than re-sign Cromartie or bring back Revis, the Jets went with 2013 first-round draft pick Dee Milliner and signed former Dolphins cornerback Dimitri Patterson in free agency. Patterson bizarrely went AWOL and was cut. Milliner–who was notoriously injury prone in college and missed most of training camp this year–tore his Achilles tendon last week and is on injured reserve. Their 2014 third-round draft pick Dexter McDougle tore his ACL during training camp and is out for the season. The only other drafted cornerback is sixth-round pick Brandon Dixon is playing in Tampa Bay.
The Jets have been forced into using converted safety Antonio Allen, career backup Darrin Walls and late-summer signing Phillip Adams as starters at cornerback this season. They recently signed former Cowboys, Panthers, and Seahawks cornerback Josh Thomas off the scrap heap this week. At safety, the Jets are rolling out unspectacular veteran Dawan Landry and rookie first-round draft pick Calvin Pryor.
If New England can block the Jets ferocious front seven and give Brady time to pass, he can pick apart this secondary with ease for big chunks of yardage. Last week Brady was three of four for 132 yards and two touchdowns on passes traveling over 20 yards in the air (per ProFootballFocus.com — subscription required) after completing just two of 19 in the first five games of the season. Another performance like last week by Brady attacking the secondary could spell success for the Patriots.