The Patriots have nine months of pent up frustration from watching the Jets end their season at Gillette Stadium in the playoffs. Will the Patriots reset the order of power in the AFC East this afternoon? If they hit on these five keys they will, some of which I wrote about in today's Sunday notes.
- Hurry the heck up: The Patriots’ offense played way, way, way too slow in the playoff loss to the Jets last year. The tempo was terrible. You know all the no-huddle you saw in the preseason? Wouldn’t be surprised if it that was practice for today’s game. The Jets want to get lined up, and do a lot of disguising here and there before the snap. Don’t let them. If they think you’re about to snap the ball, they have to get lined up. Even if the Patriots do a Peyton Manning-type no-huddle where you fake the snap and then make an adjustment, that’s better than what the Patriots did last year. And Manning has had much better success against Rex Ryan than Tom Brady. Patriots must have a better answer against the Jets' disguises.
- Run the ball: The Jets played 28 snaps of nickel last year against the Patriots, and another 28 snaps with six, seven and eight defensive backs. They were daring the Patriots to run, and they didn’t until the second half when it was way too late. Jets aren’t that great against the run.
- Move Welker: Wouldn’t be surprised to see him line up at running back a few times to keep the coverage off him. The Patriots put on a clinic last week in how to use Wes Welker. Expect even more creativity.
- Make Sanchez beat you: Still don’t have much faith in the Patriots’ pass rush (blitz Dane Fletcher!) or pass defense (oy), but they should be able to shut down the Jets’ run game – if Gary Guyton plays well (big if) -- and make Mark Sanchez throw 42 times to beat them. Have to like the Patriots’ chances with that.
- Cover the RBs: If there’s a big mismatch on the field (besides Patriots TEs vs. Jets DBs), it’s Jets running backs getting the ball out of the backfield against Patriots LBs Brandon Spikes and Gary Guyton on early downs. They are way too slow. Would not be surprised to see Fletcher out there more as the game goes on.
I’m picking the Jets to win straight up for these reasons:
- They are desperate. While you know the Patriots and Tom Brady have chips on their shoulders from the playoff loss, the Jets need this game more. And it's a rivalry game. I don't care how bad the Jets have looked in previous weeks. Don't care how great the Patriots' offense has looked. These guys know each other too well and there's too much to play for this to be a blowout.
- Brady is mortal against Rex Ryan and teams that disguise. He just is. It’s in the stats (58 percent completion, 80.8 passer rating) even if you do include the 45-3 game, which sure looks like an anomaly because of the broken leg suffered by safety Jim Leonhard late in that practice week. Toss out 45-3 and it’s even worse (56.8 completion, 74.3 rating). And the Jets are just good against the pass in general.
- Who has faith that the Patriots’ defense, minus Jerod Mayo, is going to force the issue and a) stop the run, b) get any pressure on Sanchez, and c) hold down Santonio Holmes, Dustin Keller, LaDainian Tomlinson, Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason in the pass game? Not this guy. The only way the Jets don’t move the ball with consistency is if they shoot themselves in the foot. So, good Sanchez or bad Sanchez? At least this time around you can plan on offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer not having an idiotic game plan, like in the 45-3 game where he thought the Jets could come out throwing the ball and Sanchez could match Brady. That is NEVER going to happen, no matter how delusional the Jets get overrating their own personnel (and they’re worse than most with that group-think mentality).
- Jets special teams will have a slight edge. They return kicks better than the Patriots, and coach Mike Westhoff will have a plan to take Matthew Slater out of New England’s coverage units. But Scotty O'Brien is darn good as well. Great matchup.
There will be an x factor in this game. Each of these teams had their game plans set for this game in the offseason – don’t let Bill Belichick tell you any differently. He and his coaches were thoroughly dominated by Rex and his crew in the playoff game. They know that. We know that. And the Patriots have a plan to correct that. What that plan is, I have no idea. It likely involves some of the things I mentioned in the keys. And maybe Belichick has been holding out Albert Haynesworth, Mike Wright and Ras-I Dowling longer than normal to make sure they’re 100 percent right for this game. Doubtful, but you never know.
But also understand that no matter what you see from Ryan in press conferences, this is one very smart defensive football mind. He knows he dominated the Patriots in the playoffs. He knows they know he did, and will have a plan. Ryan has been thinking all offseason about how the Patriots will counter. Will Ryan have a better answer for the Patriots’ adjustments? Does he have the personnel to carry out those adjustments? The latter, is something I’m not sure of and will determine who wins and who loses in my mind.
For now, I think the Jets have enough and at the end of the day we'll have a three-way tie for first place in the AFC East.
Jets 30, Patriots 27