FLORHAM PARK, N.J.—Antonio Cromartie dares Tom Brady to throw in his direction all day.
Go ahead, the New York Jets cornerback says. He's ready for the challenge.
"I hope I'm a target this game," Cromartie said with a smile. "I want to be a target every game."
Well, he better be careful what he wishes for, especially with the way the New England Patriots' offense is playing. The struggling Jets (2-2) have to figure out how to stop Brady, Wes Welker and the high-scoring Patriots (2-2) on Sunday, and know it won't be easy -- whether Cromartie is up to the task or not.
"We use the phrase, `chasing ghosts,' and sometimes you have to do that," defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said Thursday. "You don't really know what their formations are going to be, what their personnel groupings are going to be and you might work against something all week and not see it, see something totally different. So you have to be very flexible in your approach when you play New England."
The Patriots are ranked No. 1 in overall offense, along with being the top passing team in the NFL. Their running game isn't too shabby, either, ranking ninth overall. And that's what's making things so tough for opponents early on: Will they pass or run?
"They were tough enough when they were one-dimensional," Pettine said. "Now having the threat of running the football certainly presents a problem."
Not that the Jets are intimidated, of course.
"You realize he's one of the great quarterbacks of this generation," linebacker Aaron Maybin said. "At the same time, nobody's going to be out there with their spectator hat on and wanting to give him praise for how great he is. We want to go out there and make it hell for him."
That's much easier said than done, as the numbers show. Brady is off to a sensational start, throwing for a league-leading 1,553 yards and 13 touchdowns, while Welker already has 40 catches -- 13 more than Dallas' Jason Witten, who ranks second in the NFL. Throw in a running game that's averaging nearly 123 yards a game, and that's a lot to deal with for opposing defenses.
The Jets are No. 2 against the pass, though, but are a stunningly low 28th against the run. New York typically has used a smaller lineup with more defensive backs against the Patriots.
"I don't know if that plan will be able to hold up for the entire game," Pettine said. "So our menu is a little fuller this week because they are a flavor-of-the-week offense and it's smart because it's typically something you haven't practiced against."
It all starts with Brady, of course, and putting pressure on him. Rex Ryan's team has done a pretty good job of that in his five previous games against the Patriots as Jets coach. New York has won three of those matchups, including in the playoffs in January when the Jets sacked him five times.
"If you just play standard coverage against him, you've got no chance," Ryan said. "I mean, zero. You better hope for a hurricane or something because that might be your only chance. Quite honestly, I've been in the sideline wishing there was a hurricane because he's that kind of guy. He's as good as it gets right now."
The Jets players agree, and they all respect what Brady can do on the field -- and that includes Cromartie, who made headlines in the playoffs when he called the Patriots quarterback an expletive and then said earlier this week that those comments still stand.
The Jets aren't revealing their defensive strategy, but Ryan said he's "sure" All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis will match up with Welker at times. Cromartie might be on him, too. And, who knows who else? It might take a few guys to shut him down.
"It's him and Tom," Revis said. "They have a 1-2 punch with each other, great chemistry. They work well together. He's got 40 catches already, over 600 yards, so he's Tom's go-to guy. He's always looking for him. He's tough in the slot. He's probably the toughest receiver to cover in the slot."
Oh, and then the Patriots also have Deion Branch, Chad Ochocinco and tight end Rob Gronkowski to contend with.
"To beat the hell out of their receivers, that's our game plan on the outside," Cromartie said. "It's to try to mess up their timing routes as much as we can."
Or, Brady can turn around and hand it to New England's three-headed backfield with BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Stevan Ridley and Danny Woodhead.
"Coach Ryan said it best: If anybody's got as good a formula for trying to beat the Patriots, it's us," said Maybin, a newcomer to this rivalry who saw plenty of the Patriots during his first two seasons in Buffalo. "We've been able to have some success defensively in the past."
That certainly doesn't make the Jets less concerned heading into this game. They know Brady, coach Bill Belichick and the rest of the Patriots have had that playoff loss in the back of their minds for months.
"The easy thing to say is, `Well it worked the last time we played them,' and then just blow the dust off of that one and just use it," Pettine said. "I know there were more than a few days in Foxborough, whether it was over the lockout or since the season started, preparing for our defense, knowing that we had success against them in the playoff game.
"It's a challenge for us to make sure that we kind of forge ahead with some new things, but at the same time, not get away from what's been successful against them in the past."