Patriots at Jets
Tonight, 8:20, Channel 7 (Line: Jets by 2)
When the Patriots runThis once-promising ground attack has struggled the last few weeks. BenJarvus Green-Ellis (toe) has been less than 100 percent, but he will be needed to try to wear down a Jets defense that has been susceptible against the run. It’s imperative to get Stevan Ridley some carries. The rookie brings energy and fresh legs to an attack that sorely needs both. He is not a burner but he has good vision and will hit holes with authority. Danny Woodhead has excellent instincts and vision but hasn’t run with the same quickness and pop that endeared him to fans in 2010. Getting him on track against his former mates would be a big help. New York’s run defense starts with mammoth nose tackle Sione Pouha. The 6-foot-3-inch, 325-pounder gets off the ball quickly, delivers a nasty first punch, and has the muscle to occupy multiple blockers. Steady Patriots center Dan Connolly will have his hands full with this behemoth. The Jets have a pair of inside linebackers who strike fear in the hearts of opponents. Bart Scott gets most of the attention because he loves to talk, but David Harris is better because he lets his hits do the talking. Scott has excellent size, strength, and lateral movement. Harris has great instincts and is an explosive, reliable tackler.
When the Patriots passThere has been a lot of speculation about Tom Brady having a mysterious elbow injury, but it sure looks as though he is delivering his passes with plenty of zip (the late touchdown strike to Rob Gronkowski last week left a vapor trail). Brady faces a defense that can pressure the pocket and cover the receivers. Wes Welker is his most consistent and reliable receiver. Welker could see a healthy dose of Darrelle Revis, the league’s top cover corner. Welker caught five passes for 124 yards vs. the Jets last month, but 73 came on one reception. Deion Branch runs terrific routes and has reliable hands. He has struggled to gain separation, and that will continue today whether he is matched against Revis or Antonio Cromartie. Will Chad Ochocinco ever contribute to this offense? Brady says yes, but it’s hard to imagine him breaking out against this secondary. Gronkowski and fellow tight end Aaron Hernandez are tough matchups. Gronkowski has excellent size and power. Hernandez runs excellent routes, has good hands, and runs well after the catch. Gronkowski and Hernandez will be handfuls for Jets safeties Jim Leonhard and Eric Smith.
When the Jets runShonn Greene is a 5-foot-11-inch, 226-pound tailback who runs with a fullback’s mentality. The man thrives on contact. Thick and muscular, Greene has patience and good vision. He has a deceptively explosive first step and will slide through creases. Problem is, Greene’s aggressive nature has led to myriad injuries. Greene is a much better first-half back and he lacks the consistency to be that clock-killing bell cow. LaDainian Tomlinson is getting only a handful of carries per game as his tremendous career winds down. He no longer possesses elite explosiveness or burst but still has great vision. Fullback John Conner is an exceptional blocker and will pick up a tough yard or two. Center Nick Mangold is a fast and athletic beast. He has excellent power - his battles with Vince Wilfork have become must-see TV - and consistently reaches the second level to wipe out linebackers. Right guard Brandon Moore is tough and powerful. He has an excellent motor and rarely loses one-on-one battles. Left guard Matt Slauson is strong but has limited athleticism and will get beat consistently. Wilfork and his big-bodied friends need to clog the middle and force the backs outside and hope the battered linebacking corps can make some plays.
When the Jets passMark Sanchez is one of the league’s most inconsistent quarterbacks - but fortunately for the Jets, even average QBs can carve up the Patriots. Sanchez is coming off his best performance of the season (20 of 28, 230 yards) in a victory at Buffalo, so confidence is high. Sanchez has a nice arm and is very comfortable in the pocket. Improvisation, however, is not his forte. Sanchez panics quickly and his throws have a tendency to sail. Sanchez has two exceptionally talented targets. Santonio Holmes gets off the line quickly, runs explosive routes, and has reliable and soft hands. He has his bouts with inconsistency and will drop his share of catchable balls. Plaxico Burress has great size (6-5 but looks 6-10) and speed, and when he’s locked in, he is nearly impossible to defend. Dustin Keller has emerged as one of the best tight ends in the league. He is quick off the line, fearless over the middle, and will fight for extra yards. New England’s starting corners, Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington, are solid, but there is no depth at the position and the Patriots are horrid in nickel and dime packages. Safety Patrick Chung is a tackling machine.
JETS’ KEY PLAYER: Dustin Keller
One of the league’s best receiving tight ends, the 6-foot-2-inch, 250-pounder (he looks and plays bigger) has become Mark Sanchez’s most reliable target, particularly on third down. It would be a good idea to account for him in those situations.
How he beats you: With quickness and strength. Keller gets off the line in a flash (think Wes Welker), runs good routes (think Deion Branch), and will fight for yards after the catch (think Rob Gronkowski).
How to shut him down: By knocking him around. Chip blocking him off the line will throw him off his timing and wear him down. Make every hit count - and hurt.
JETS’ KEYS TO VICTORY:
1. Punishment duty: Outside linebackers Jamaal Westerman and Calvin Pace have to blast the tight ends at the line to knock them off their routes and disrupt their timing.
2. Middle management: Collapse the pocket using inside pressure. You have to get in Tom Brady’s face or he will simply sit back there and shred even the best defenses.
3. Greene day: Feed Shonn Greene the ball early and let him find a rhythm. This takes the pressure off Mark Sanchez, who is better as a complementary piece.
PATRIOTS’ KEYS TO VICTORY:
1. Special forces: The return game has been abysmal. Somebody has to be able to get the ball past the 20. How about trying Chad Ochocinco back there? He couldn’t do any worse.
2. Heat seekers: Pressuring Mark Sanchez is a must. The California kid doesn’t respond well to the rough stuff. He gets happy feet and will make bad decisions.
3. Pocket protectors: It doesn’t take a genius to know Tom Brady can’t beat you if he spends the day on his fanny. Maintain your blocks and pick up the blitzes or you’ll be picking up your QB all night.
Prediction: Jets 20, Patriots 14