FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A quarterback was without one of his best slot receivers the last time the New England Patriots and New York Jets faced off.
That statement could apply to Patriots receiver Danny Amendola, but here, the subject of discussion is Jets receiver Jeremy Kerley. He is primarily a slot receiver, and as a result, he could draw the coverage of Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington.
Kerley has run 73.8 percent of his routes from the slot this season, and Arrington has spent 63.5 percent of his coverage snaps defending slot receivers.
Kerley is a small guy who makes a big impact for the Jets offense. He led the Jets in receptions in 2012, and in his four career games against the Patriots, he has logged 21 receptions for 320 yards and a touchdown.
The two battled twice last year, and Kerley picked up five receptions on seven targets for 70 yards against Arrington in the first meeting, but the second time around, he was targeted twice and did not record a single reception in Arrington's coverage.
Kerley had two big catches in the first meeting against the Patriots last year -- both from the slot, both with Arrington in coverage, and both on similar looking routes.
On the first, Kerley ran a corner route toward the right sideline.
He simply turned Arrington around at the line of scrimmage (trail technique) and was able to beat him at that point with a double-move (fake inside, break outside).
Mark Sanchez put the ball in a spot where only Kerley could make a play on the ball, and the receiver tracked the pass down and made the catch with both feet in-bounds.
The pass went for 26 yards, and was emblematic of one of the Patriots biggest problems last year -- defending long pass plays.
Sanchez went to Kerley in overtime, and Arrington was in coverage once again. Kerley ran his route out of the slot, and was running stride-for-stride directly next to wide receiver Stephen Hill on the right side. The two receivers waited, and broke in opposite directions at nearly the same time.
Kerley was able to create separation simply by out-accelerating Arrington toward the sideline, and once again made the catch in-bounds.
The diminutive slot receiver Kerley had built a strong chemistry with Sanchez -- Kerley's 63.6 percent catch rate was the highest for any Jets receiver with more than three targets last year, and Kerley's 88 targets were 42 more than the second-most on the team.
Kerley's best weapon is his quickness. He's like Houdini slipping away from contact. Defensive backs always have a really hard time getting their hands on him. He often has a free release running routes from the slot, but his quick twitch helps him shake defenders in open space, as well.
He put some of those slick moves on display against the Atlanta Falcons on an eight-yard screen. Kerley waded through traffic, shook one defender and dragged another with him past the first-down marker.
He's one of the Jets best receivers at creating yards after the catch. Put him in that role more often and he can continue to move the chains for the Jets offense -- 13 of his 16 receptions this year have picked up a first down.
He couldn't shake free of Kyle Arrington's coverage on this play in their Thanksgiving matchup last year. Kerley was trying to run an in-breaking pivot route, but Arrington kept inside leverage and created too much disruption for Kerley to freely spin and break to the middle.
As a result, Arrington was able to get his hands on the pass and broke it up.
With the Patriots playing primarily nickel defense this year, Arrington has spent most of his time in the slot. According to stats website Pro Football Focus, he has allowed 15 completions on 28 throws into his coverage when in the slot. He has an interception, and also ranks second on the team with five passes defensed this season.
The battle between Kerley and Arrington may not determine the outcome of the Patriots-Jets war, but two players who are very good at what they do will lock horns on Sunday.
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