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Sanchez, Jets encountering early turbulence

By Greg A. Bedard
Globe Staff / October 5, 2011

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What’s more valuable, an All-Pro center or a Pro Bowl linebacker and defensive captain?

The answer could determine the latest Jets - Patriots battle Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium.

The Patriots lost linebacker Jerod Mayo to a left medial collateral ligament sprain, and he is expected to miss six weeks.

The Jets have been without center Nick Mangold the previous two games - both losses - because of an ankle sprain. The offensive line has been a borderline disaster, and bottomed out with a 34-17 loss to the Ravens Sunday night in which the Jets had 150 total yards of offense.

“The Jets’ offensive line is in bad shape right now,’’ said an AFC scout, whose primary responsibility is the AFC East. “If they can’t protect [quarterback] Mark Sanchez, they’re going to have a long day. Sanchez doesn’t like to get hit. Teams that hit him early have the most success against him.

“That offensive line, if Mangold doesn’t play, it’s going to be a long day for them. I’m sure the Patriots are going to blitz them once they saw what Baltimore did to them. Once you hit Sanchez, he can’t get back on track. That will be one of the keys.’’

With or without Mangold, can the Patriots get to Sanchez? That’s the question. They didn’t in the Jets’ 28-21 victory in the playoffs, when the Patriots knocked Sanchez to the turf just once.

Besides the loss to the Browns, when quarterback Colt McCoy went untouched, that was the lowest total of the season. Sanchez was nearly flawless, completing 64 percent of his passes and throwing three touchdowns against zero interceptions.

The lack of pressure last season caused the shift to the 4-3, but that certainly hasn’t been a cure-all. The Patriots had five quarterback pressures in a loss to the Bills , but improved to 11 in Sunday’s win over the Raiders.

Against the Ravens, the Jets started rookie Colin Baxter at center and he was benched after three series. The Jets moved left guard Matt Slauson to center, but UMass product Vlad Ducasse also struggled.

“I still don’t think the Patriots can generate pressure without blitzing,’’ the scout said. “I haven’t seen them do it yet. They don’t have a premier perimeter rusher, so they need to blitz.’’

In the three meetings with the Jets last season, the Patriots did not go heavy with the blitz. They sent more than four rushers at Sanchez 28 times on 92 dropbacks (30.4 percent). Broken down by game, the Patriots sent at least one extra rusher 30.3 percent in a loss in New Jersey, 26.5 percent in the romp at Gillette, and 36 percent in the Jets’ playoff victory.

Mayo is the team’s best blitzing linebacker, but they’ll need to compensate for him in other ways.

“They are going to lose a lot,’’ the scout said. “If I was the Jets I would try to spread the Patriots out on third down, and just throw it. Or spread them out and run perimeter runs, and mix in counters.’’

Tight end Dustin Keller, now under the tutelage of former Colts offensive coordinator Tom Moore, has finally started to flourish. But receivers Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason have not had big impacts since signing as free agents.

“Santonio Holmes is the guy,’’ the scout said. “Mason runs good routes, but he’s not a burner. Plaxico is slow.’’

The other big focal point will be how quarterback Tom Brady handles the Jets defense, which flustered him in the playoff victory.

The Jets played mostly coverage against New England last year, and since the Patriots didn’t bother to run, Brady couldn’t find open receivers.

Not counting the Patriots’ final touchdown drive or short-yardage situations, the Jets played just 11 of the other 67 snaps in their base 3-4 defense. The Jets played just as much with five defensive backs (28 snaps) as they did with six, seven, and eight defensive backs combined (28).

The Patriots have some handy knowledge with end Shaun Ellis and safety James Ihedigbo being former Jets.

“[The Jets] know Brady pretty well,’’ the scout said. “Brady doesn’t like to get hit either, but I think Brady has a little bit more incentive to play because he hasn’t played well against the Jets. I think he’s a little bit more ticked off about it. I think Shaun Ellis will help him with what the Jets are thinking. By him having some knowledge of how Rex [Ryan] thinks about Brady, I think he’ll be able to help Brady out. But I just think he’s in the zone right now.’’

Greg A. Bedard can be reached at gbedard@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @gregabedard.

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