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Jets at Patriots

By Jim McBride
October 9, 2011

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Today, 4:15 p.m., Channel 4 (Line: Patriots by 7 1/2)

When the Patriots run

Stevan Ridley was just the shot of adrenaline this offense needed. A good-sized back (5 feet 11 inches, 225 pounds) with excellent vision and power, Ridley runs with confidence and is a more-than-willing blocker. He uses his muscle and leg drive to absorb hits and bounce off tacklers. The rookie may not have breakaway speed, but his quick feet allow him to get to the second level quickly. BenJarvus Green-Ellis (5-10, 215) is a chiseled, no-nonsense back who continues to excel because of a nice combination of patience and power. Green-Ellis lets his blocks develop, then plants his foot and goes. A tough player who rarely gets knocked backward, Green-Ellis will break tackles. With scatback Danny Woodhead hobbled, rookie Shane Vereen (he showed good vision and deceptive speed at Cal) could get his chance to join the party. The Patriots had success running out of passing sets in Oakland, and that should continue today. Burly Jets nose tackle Sione Pouha (6-3, 325) is the first line of defense against the run but impressive inside linebackers Bart Scott and David Harris do most of the damage. Scott is an intimidating, physical presence. He goes all-out on every play and consistently delivers vicious hits. He is emotional, and barking back at him will often cause him to lose focus. Harris is very underrated except in his own locker room. He has excellent instincts, good lateral movement, and makes plays all over the field. He is to be feared.

Edge: Patriots

When the Patriots pass

The big question is, who draws Darrelle Revis? The NFL’s best cover cornerback (and this is not debatable) clings to his assignment from snap to whistle and rarely gives up anything. He is big (5 feet 11 inches, 198 pounds), athletic, and versatile. He has the size and speed to match up with anybody on the outside and the quickness to cover slotmen, too. If the Jets put Revis on Wes Welker, it will force New England’s other playmakers to step up. Tom Brady will still get the ball to Welker, but the game’s best slot receiver won’t control the game if Revis is draped all over him. This could mean another big day for tight end Rob Gronkowski. Linebackers Bart Scott and David Harris are decent in coverage but neither can handle Gronkowski, who has become one of the league’s toughest matchups. Deion Branch could take center stage, too. He is slippery and runs tremendous routes. Chad Ochocinco continues to be brought along slowly. Brady would do well to get Ochocinco the ball early to build his confidence and force the Jets to respect the threat. Matthew Slater has the speed but hasn’t proven to be a consistent threat. Revis running mates Antonio Cromartie (he’s big and strong) and Kyle Wilson (he’s fast but lacks strength) are solid. Safeties Jim Leonhard (he’s tough and smart but not overly athletic) and Eric Smith (ditto) struggle in coverage.

Edge: Patriots

When the Jets run

Coach Rex Ryan said the Jets will return to their smashmouth ways today, but that can happen only if rugged center Nick Mangold returns from a high right ankle sprain. Mangold is among the league’s elite interior linemen. The 6-foot-4-inch, 307-pounder is a rare beast who possesses size, strength, and smarts. He delivers a nice initial pop and gets on linebackers quickly. His battles with Patriots tackle Vince “The Interceptor’’ Wilfork are always entertaining. Shonn Greene will get the bulk of the carries. A 5-11, 226-pounder, Greene is a thick, muscular tailback who runs low and will drive his shoulders into defenders. He will produce yards after initial contact, but a lack of quickness prevents him from avoiding tacklers. LaDainian Tomlinson no longer has the elite speed that made him the NFL’s best from 2001-07. He doesn’t embrace contact the way he did in his younger days - he now prefers to head for the sideline rather than dipping his shoulder and delivering a blow. Tomlinson still has some moves, however, and must be respected. Wilfork and his big-boy mates (Albert Haynesworth? Gerard Warren?) must dominate the interior so linebackers Gary Guyton (a tremendous athlete but he always seems a day late and a dollar short) and Brandon Spikes (he has tremendous instincts but only seems to give 100 percent about 50 percent of the time) can attack the ball carriers. Physical safety Patrick Chung must provide solid support.

Edge: Jets

When the Jets pass

Few players in the NFL are more Jekyll-and-Hyde than Mark Sanchez. The 6-foot-2-inch, 225-pound Southern California pretty boy (that’s not a knock) plays with great confidence some weeks and looks like a deer in the headlights other weeks. Protection is the key here. When he gets a clean pocket, Sanchez plays with poise and patience, and delivers accurate passes. When the protection breaks down, he gets flustered quickly and will make poor decisions. Although he’s athletic and has quick feet, Sanchez won’t make a lot of plays on the run. The Patriots can create pressure, but if Shaun Ellis and Andre Carter don’t punish Sanchez (i.e. knockdowns), he will have his way with this secondary. Sanchez’s reputation as a leader took a hit last week when receiver Santonio Holmes ripped his decision-making. Holmes is an exceptional playmaker with great burst and acceleration and soft hands. He runs precise routes and has a knack for making acrobatic catches. Plaxico Burress (6-5, 232) is a tough matchup because of his height and deceptive upper-body strength (he’s tough to jam at the line). Burress will never be considered an elite receiver because he runs sloppy routes and likes to take mini-vacations in the middle of games. Tight end Dustin Keller is an emerging force. He’s athletic, fiery, and dependable.

Edge: Jets

Jets' key player

Santonio Holmes

It’s put-up-or-shut-up time for this talented receiver. He called out his offensive line and quarterback after last week’s debacle in Baltimore. It’s doubtful that coach Rex Ryan (or Holmes’s teammates) appreciated the comments coming from one of the captains.

How he beats you: With soft hands and acrobatic catches. Holmes gains separation using surprising strength and explosive speed. He runs fluid routes and has impressive acceleration. He can score from anywhere.

How to shut him down: With help from the safeties. The Patriots don’t have cornerbacks who can turn and run down the field with Holmes. The corner has to bump him and redirect him to the safeties.

Jets' keys to victory

1. Screen tests: Mark Sanchez’s confidence is fragile. Use Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson on some dump-offs to get him comfortable.

2. Rush chairmen: Little-known defensive ends Muhammad Wilkerson and Mike DeVito have to make Tom Brady sweat a little. The Jets’ talented secondary can only hold on so long.

3. Snack time: Rex Ryan needs to fire this group up. Gang Green looked lethargic and uninterested vs. the Ravens. If they show up with the same mind-set today, they will get buried in a hurry.

Patriots' keys to victory

1. Spread sheets: The running game looked great last week, but this offense runs through Tom Brady, and he needs to keep slinging to keep the Jets honest.

2. Upright position: Rex Ryan likes to blitz from everywhere. He’ll send linemen, linebackers, safeties, and corners. Everyone has to do their job to keep Brady off his fanny.

3. Safety insurance: Help over the top is imperative as New England’s cornerbacks continue to struggle. Some well-timed shots on Plaxico Burress and Santonio Holmes will keep them from wreaking havoc over the middle.

Prediction

Patriots 27, Jets 21

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