EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Patriots have won three straight games against the Jets, and they’ll make it four straight if they hit on these five keys tonight at MetLife Stadium:
- Stop the run: It’s not rocket science. The Jets want to run the ball well to keep quarterback Mark Sanchez in manageable down and distance situations. Stop them, and Sanchez has to beat you by himself with limited weapons. The Patriots did a solid job against the Jets the first time around against Shonn Greene (3.4-yard average) and James McKnight (3.3). The Jets will add Bilal Powell to the mix tonight, and he’s decent. A little more speed than Greene, and definitely tougher than McKnight. Little bit more of a challenge defending the run with DE Chandler Jones out. Jermaine Cunningham is mediocre at setting the edge. I would not be surprised if the Patriots went with more 3-4 against the Jets. It’s their best run defense.
- Run the ball: The Jets have gotten a little bit better against the run since NT Sione Pouha has returned to the lineup, but they’re still pretty shaky, especially to edge runs because the inside linebackers are slow and the outside linebackers don’t set the edge well. With TE Rob Gronkowski out, I think we could see a lot more of Nate Solder playing TE (maybe even catch a touchdown pass). The activation of Markus Zusevics, who can play guard and tackle but is more of a tackle, points to that a little bit (though there may be a surprise OT deactivation tonight). If you run the ball well against the Jets, that keeps Tom Brady from having too drop back all game against a Jets defense that almost always gives him fits for a good part of the game.
- Get physical with the receivers, especially Keller: The Patriots have not blitzed Mark Sanchez much of late (8-10 percent in three victories). If that trend continues, the Patriots need tight coverage to make Sanchez hesitate, which would allow the pressure to get there. Expect the Patriots to bang TE Dustin Keller fairly hard – he’s a security blanket for Sanchez who has played well against the Patriots. The Patriots have not done a good job against tight ends, and that needs to stop. With safety a bit solidified now (getting a true strong safety back in Patrick Chung would help more), Tavon Wilson should be back in his TE-killer role. The teams needs him there.
- Control Wilkerson: DE Muhammad Wilkerson been the Jets’ best player of late, and he can be dominating on the inside, especially with Pouha back. Wilkerson has the ability to have an impact against the Patriots, like Shaun Ellis used to, but the Patriots need to make sure he’s taken care of.
- Go fast, but pick your spots: It would be to the Patriots’ advantage to use the no-huddle because it would affect the Jets’ ability to get their pressures and coverages set, but I think it’s too much, four days after playing, to do much of it. But could be a good chance of pace.
Outside of the 45-3 game after the Jets’ defensive quarterback, safety Jim Leonhard, broke his leg on the Friday before the game, these games are almost always tight until the fourth quarter. Nobody does a better job against Tom Brady than Rex Ryan, and not having Gronkowski will allow the Jets to concentrate on Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez. I expect there to be a post-Gronk adjustment period, but the Patriots should play better on defense this around and emerge with a comfortable victory at some point.
Patriots 32, Jets 20