We head down to Jets beat writer (and company cousin) Ben Shpigel of the New York Times to find out what’s going on with Gang Green heading into Sunday’s tilt:
1. Do you think center Nick Mangold will play, and what do you think that will do for the Jets’ offense?
Shpigel: “Unless the team bus is hijacked Sunday, Nick Mangold will start. The benefits of his return are obvious: stability, smarts, continuity. He makes all the line checks, all the calls, and does so decisively and swiftly. The Jets are thrilled that he’s back. It can only help the Jets that he plays, but the offensive line struggled even when he was healthy, so he’s hardly a cure-all. Best case for the Jets is that the rest of the line falls behind him and supplies Mark Sanchez with the protection he has yet to receive this season.”
2. Who is the one Jets player most Patriots fans don’t know right now, but will by the end of the game on Sunday?
Shpigel: “If I were a wise guy (Editor’s note: we like those), I’d suggest their punter, T.J. Conley, who’s in his first season. But let’s go with the hot hand, Joe McKnight, a running back who never plays running back. Against Baltimore he ran back a kickoff 107 yards for a touchdown; forced a fumble on kickoff coverage; and, lining up at cornerback, pressured Joe Flacco into making a bad pass, which David Harris intercepted and ran back for a touchdown. He’s a special-teams asset.”
3. What’s the biggest weakness on the Jets’ offense you expect the Patriots to try to exploit?
Shpigel: “The popular answer would be the Jets’ running attack, which has averaged 71 yards per game. Their longest rush last Sunday came from their fullback, John Conner. Yeesh. But ball security is a problem for Mark Sanchez, who has fumbled six times (losing four) and thrown five interceptions. Consistent pressure could create similar results on Sunday.”
4. What’s the biggest weakness on the Jets’ defense you expect the Patriots to try to exploit?
Shpigel: “The Jets tend to struggle defending against tight ends, especially the athletic, pass-catching kind (Hi, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski). I’d be shocked if the Patriots didn’t try to feed them the ball, especially over the middle, if the coverage allows.”
5. Finally, Jets win on Sunday if….
Shpigel: “….they come up with an equally brilliant plan to vex Tom Brady as they did in January. It won’t be the same plan, for sure. But any dreams of winning a second straight game at Gillette Stadium rest on their pass rush disrupting Brady and their coverage schemes bottling up Wes Welker…and Deion Branch…and Rob Gronkowski….and Aaron Hernandez. They did it once, so it’s possible they can do it again?”