Patriots at Jets
Today at 1 p.m. on Ch. 4 (Line: Patriots by 3 1/2)
When the Patriots runThe Patriots’ rushing attack looked rather pedestrian in Week 1 in part because the Bills were tough at the point of attack and in part because they were playing from behind and were forced to pass most of the second half. Rushing the ball won’t be easy today, because the Jets have a tough front seven led by mammoth nose tackle Kris Jenkins (6 feet 4 inches, 360 pounds). Jenkins is a surly veteran who commands double teams. He has strong hands and uses them to shed blockers and punish ball carriers. Inside linebackers Bart Scott (great instincts and power) and David Harris (an explosive tackler) are just plain mean. Fred Taylor leads the New England ground attack, though the wily veteran with the quick feet played sparingly against the Bills. What makes Taylor special is his ability to stop defenders in their tracks with great stutter-step moves. He’ll need to turn back the clock and utilize his exceptional change-of-direction and change-of-pace skills to navigate his way through an aggressive defense. Laurence Maroney looked more like he was tiptoeing through the tulips than running with authority against the Bills. Maroney has excellent athleticism and explosive burst, but he lacks vision and the patience to set up his blocks, often running into teammates - and trouble. Kevin Faulk is a productive player with quick feet and outstanding vision. He takes big hits but rarely loses yardage.
When the Patriots passTom Brady may have started slowly, but he proved against the Bills he’s still a force to be reckoned with when it comes to crunch time. Once Brady got his timing back (pretty much the entire second half), he moved the team with his familiar precision passing. Brady scans the field quickly, sees everything, and hits his receivers in the hands. He’ll need to operate quickly today because Rex Ryan’s Jets will blitz all afternoon and from every conceivable angle. The linemen, linebackers, corners, and safeties all will come calling at some point. Nobody is scarier than 6-foot-5-inch, 295-pound end Shaun Ellis. An instinctual and surprisingly athletic player, Ellis has one mission: get to the quarterback. Chip blocking (hello, Chris Baker) is a must to counter this behemoth. Brady will get Wes Welker and Benjamin Watson involved early before taking his shots downfield with Randy Moss and Joey Galloway. Welker gets off the line quickly and exposes soft spots over the middle. Watson can be a nightmare matchup because he’s too quick for most linebackers and too powerful for defensive backs. Moss showed his value and versatility last week. Long one of the league’s top deep threats, Moss can also thrive in the short passing game. Jets corners Darrelle Revis and Lito Sheppard are above-average.
When the Jets runThomas Jones is one of the most underrated runners in the NFL. A compact, 5-foot-10-inch, 212-pounder, Jones is more of a slasher than a bruiser, but he doesn’t shy away from contact. He has excellent vision and will find and exploit cutback lanes. Jones doesn’t have breakaway speed but will consistently get to the second level and hit the occasional home run. Leon Washington is an extremely quick back with excellent change-of-pace skills. The diminutive Washington (5-8, 195) runs low and avoids big hits. If he gets to the corner unscathed, he’ll be gone in an instant. The Jets’ interior three linemen are tough and ornery. Center Nick Mangold explodes out of his stance and delivers a wallop. He gets off his initial block quickly and then looks to chop down linebackers and safeties. He’ll meet serious resistance in hulking Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork. The 6-2, 325-pound Wilfork is quick and powerful and never takes a play off. Jets left guard Alan Faneca is one of the most surly and rugged players in the game. Right guard Brandon Moore has good lower-body strength and balance but lacks athleticism. After Wilfork, the Patriots’ best run defenders will be end Ty Warren and linebackers Adalius Thomas and Gary Guyton. Warren has great strength and hits with great force. Thomas is extremely versatile and has outstanding instincts. Guyton needs to sharpen his recognition skills.
When the Jets passIt’s the home opener for rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez, and it will be a tough task to impress a Jets fandom that is expecting big things right off the bat. The 6-foot-2-inch, 225-pounder has a strong arm and above-average mobility. He’s smart and competitive and seems to have gained the trust of his veteran teammates. Sanchez has shown he can read defenses but he’s likely to see some wrinkles today that he’s unfamiliar with. Bill Belichick will disguise his coverages and bring pressure early to see how Sanchez reacts. Sanchez’s top targets are Jerricho Cotchery and Chansi Stuckey. Cotchery is a very competitive player who relies on strength and smarts. Stuckey has quick feet and excellent moves after the catch. It’s imperative that New England’s corners, Shawn Springs and Leigh Bodden, get physical to remind Cotchery and Stuckey that they’re not playing the Texans today. Sanchez will also look for Washington on screens and dump-offs. Washington can be electric in the open field. Left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson - all 6-6, 310 pounds of him - protects Sanchez’s blind side. Ferguson is quick and athletic but lacks strength and doesn’t play with a lot of fire. He’ll see heavy doses of Jarvis Green, Derrick Burgess, and Tully Banta-Cain, New England’s best past rushers.
Jets' key playerBart Scott
An exceptionally versatile and vicious playmaker, this 6-foot-2-inch, 240-pound linebacker cut his teeth with the Ravens and was paid handsomely to instill that nasty Ray Lewis-like attitude in the Jets. Hard to believe this eight-year veteran entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent.
How he beats you: With tremendous flexibility. He has the power to stuff the run between the tackles, the quickness to shoot gaps and hound the quarterback, and the speed to drop into coverage and blanket tight ends over the middle.
How to shut him down: With plenty of screens. He has a tendency to overpursue, so Tom Brady will need to dump the ball to the backs to catch Scott charging in the opposite direction.
Jets' keys to victory1. I will follow: Rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez has to play with confidence and assert his leadership. If he stands tall, his teammates will stand with him.2. The Electric Company: Take some pressure off Sanchez by letting the lightning running duo of Thomas Jones and Leon Washington carry the ball and keep the defense honest.
3. Sunday, Bloody Sunday: The defense has to pound Tom Brady at every opportunity. If he's allowed to get comfortable in the pocket, hell carve up any defense.
Patriots' keys to victory1. Elevation: The running backs need to hit the holes quickly and produce some yards to gain balance in the offense and stop the blitzcrazed Jets from playing kill the quarterback.
2. Bullet the Blue Sky: Tom Brady can destroy the Jets defensive game plan by completing quick strikes. Itll force the hard-charging linebackers to start dropping into coverage.
3. Vertigo: Throw a dizzying array of defenses at Mark Sanchez to keep him off-balance and uncomfortable. Bill Belichick lives to torture young quarterbacks.