Before each Patriots game this season, we’ll ask five questions to a beat writer from the opposing city to get insight on the Patriots’ opponent.
Today, we get the inside info on the Jets from Manish Mehta, the NFL/Jets writer and columnist at the New York Daily News. You can follow Manish on Twitter, @MMehtaNYDN.
Divine intervention… and some quality defense.
Let’s not kid ourselves. The Jets were lucky to beat the Bucs. No truth to the rumor that Rex Ryan sent Bucs’ linebacker Lavonte David, whose late hit/shove on Geno Smith set the stage for Nick Folk’s game-winning 48-yard field goal, a fruit basket. But he certainly deserved one.
Bonehead late-game penalties aside, the Jets kept it close throughout thanks to Ryan’s defense, which confused Josh Freeman and bottled up Doug Martin all day. The defensive line is the centerpiece of this team.
2. How did Geno Smith look in training camp, and how did that translate to his performance in Week 1?
The braintrust was thoroughly impressed with Smith early in training camp before he suffered a sprained ankle in the preseason opener. He struggled mightily in his first preseason start (three first-half interceptions), but he’s practiced much better in the final week before the regular-season opener as he healed up.
Smith made his fair share of rookie mistakes with a pair of first-half turnovers against the Bucs, but he bounced back by making critical plays (mostly with his feet) in critical moments in the second half. He still has plenty of room to grow, of course, but new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg did an excellent job with second-half adjustments to put him in optimal positions to succeed.
That being said, he will challenged like never before in his first road game in prime time.
3. How much has the defense changed under new defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman? Who are the standout players now that Darrelle Revis and Bart Scott are gone?
Let’s be clear: Rex Ryan is the defensive coordinator. He’s running the meetings and making every single defensive call. He’s returned to his play-calling roots after gradually ceding those responsibilities to former defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who took over in Buffalo this offseason.
Defensive lineman Mo Wilkerson has Pro Bowl ability. He opened plenty of eyes around the league last season. Look for a monster season from him. Antonio Cromartie elevated his play in Darrelle Revis’ absence last season. He’s a legitimate No. 1 cornerback.
Keep an eye on second-year linebacker Demario Davis, who is taking over for Bart Scott. Davis has natural leadership skills and sideline-to-sideline speed that will be vital in pass coverage.
4. Who is one player that Patriots fans haven’t heard of who will have an impact on Thursday?
Rookie defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson made his presence felt in his first career start last week. The Jets drafted him with the No. 13 overall pick they got in the Darrelle Revis trade. He’s athletic, versatile and should be able to cause havoc on Thursday night.
5. Finally, the Jets will win Thursday if....
Geno Smith manages the game and limits his turnovers. Of course, that’s easier said than done.
Brady will be stressed by Ryan’s defense. I’d be shocked if the depleted Patriots light it up against this defense, so I expect this to be a white knuckler entering the fourth quarter.