I had the opportunity to talk with one of our favorite writers behind enemy lines, Mike Dussault of Pats Propaganda, to preview the upcoming New York Jets/New England Patriots showdown. Here is our conversation -
JC – What is the issue with New England’s secondary and is it a solvable problem this season? Is it actually as bad as it is being hyped up to be?
MD - Really the only issue, and it’s a glaring one, is that they cannot stop the 20+ passing plays. They’re giving up almost 6 per game. It really just boils down to that, and it’s maddening because they’ve been the worst in the NFL at it for two seasons and just can’t seem to get it fixed. Now injuries have played into it somewhat. When Russell Wilson heaved the 46-yard game winning TD last weekend it was two rookies that were on the back end. But things weren’t especially better when it was starters Steve Gregory (out since week 4) and Patrick Chung (dinged at the end of the game).
JC - Are you surprised by some of the game management issues that are arising, particularly with two Hall of Famers like Belichick and Brady leading the way?
MD - Yes, there have definitely been some head scratching moments this year, like last week’s debacle at the end of the first half, where they took an intentional grounding with one second left inside the 10-yard line that basically cost them the game in the long run. They should’ve just kicked the field goal when they had the chance with 6 seconds left.
There are a couple factors contributing. With Josh McDaniels back and his aggressive/often unconventional style, and the Pats trying to execute at such a fast pace it has led to some of the miscues, but ultimately I think they’ll be okay in the long run. There’s no question they’re still trying to lock down their identity and I think that has played into it as well. Sometimes they’re unstoppable, other times they seem to be going backwards. They need consistency and with that the game management stuff will take care of itself.
JC - Can you talk about how New England has rebuilt this offense to be a dual threat with their newly found power running game?
MD - Honestly I don’t think they have much of a straight up power running game as some might think, and we saw that against the Seahawks last week. What they excel at is running on nickel and dime defenses, and once their passing game that’s when their run game is most dangerous.
Now there’s no question Stevan Ridley, Danny Woodhead and Brandon Boldin are still a more dynamic group than they’ve had in some time, but so far we’ve only seen them dominate the run game situationally, when teams are on their heels and overly concerned with the passing attack. Whether they can consistently move the ball on the ground to run the clock out and seal a win, when the opposition knows they’re trying to run, remains to be seen. This includes short yardage situations too. And we’ve already seen a ton of negative plays that were rare in recent history. Make no mistake, you’ve got to stop the passing game first and foremost.
MD – For the Jets offense you have to take some shots down the field. There’s no weaker link than the Patriots back end. They’ve been effective in stopping the run every week, with Brandon Spikes really being the tone setter there, and they’re a good tackling team for the most part as well. The short pass and ground attack is less effective so far this year than it has been in year’s past.
But if you look at Seattle’s game plan, they stuck with their ground game even though it wasn’t dominant and took a lot of play action shots down the field, especially on early downs. The Jets have some ammo to keep the Pats defense off balance, I’m sure Rex has been saving something Tebow-y just for New England. Those plays that confuse or put the Pats on their heels will open up the long balls down the field. But the difficult thing, and most key part, is not throwing interceptions on those deep shots. Simply put if Sanchez and the offense have one turnover or less they’ll be in the game until the end and then they just have to make the clutch plays. The Patriots defense lives or dies by turnovers, if you give them two or more New England will probably win.
For the Jets defense it’s all about patience. There will probably be a couple drives where the Patriots run no-huddle and look unstoppable. You just have to weather those storms and continue to force them to execute for 60 minutes. Because they’ve got a habit of going stone cold during crunch time. I know Rex loves to mix things up a lot, but the Pats no-huddle will make that difficult, so I’d say stay in base and simplify the calls so they can get in quickly. If the Jets go DB heavy the Patriots will not hesitate to run so they’ll have to be prepared for that as well.
Obviously they must try to confuse Brady’s reads as much as possible, and when the Pats offense goes no-huddle they must be prepared. So much of the damage New England does in the no-huddle is because teams are not lined up, don’t have the call, or simply gassed. You can’t give them anything easy. Make them work for it till the end and it’s entirely possible they won’t make the clutch plays in the clutch moments.
JC - Prediction for the game, how many wins the Patriots finish with and how many wins the Jets finish with?
MD - Well hey, I’m biased but even when I do my best to be non-biased I like the Pats in this one. They’re always tough coming off an embarrassing loss, even moreso at home. I’d expect them to bring their A-game this week.
The wild card is Sanchez and the deep ball. If the Jets can get a couple long scores, not turn the ball over, move the ball a bit on the ground, and keep it close until the 4th quarter it could be anybodies game.
Let’s go Pats 24, Jets 13.
At this point I like the Pats at 12-4. Jets 9-7.
MD - The Jets have had a season of injuries like none I’ve seen before. Who are some of the players that might be unknown to Patriots fans but have been elevating their play in the absence of so many starters?
JC - On offense, Jeremy Kerley has stepped into being the offense’s top playmaker. He is averaging over 17 yards per catch and has shown a consistent ability to create big plays down the field. The Jets receiving core gets a ton of flak for lacking talent but that isn’t a fair assessment. Outside of Kerley, Chaz Schilens has been a capable possession receiver and a healthy Stephen Hill has big play potential. He already has three touchdowns, despite missing 2 and 1/2 games.
On defense, Patriots fans know Antonio Cromartie obviously but he has taken his play to a different level in the absence of Darrelle Revis. The past three weeks have been the best I’ve seen Cromartie play since joining the team and he seems to have embraced a leadership role in the secondary.
MD - Is this a make or break year for Mark Sanchez? Has he progressed or regressed as a quarterback?
JC - Considering the structure of his contract, he will likely be back next year unless the bottom truly falls out on the season and his performance. Even the staunchest Sanchez apologist would have to admit he has regressed since the 2010 season. There have been flashes of strong play but the inconsistency has been maddening. The last two weeks have been baby steps in the right direction after a disastrous game against San Francisco. We have seen some of Sanchez’s best work against the Patriots since his career started, so hopefully he can keep building positive momentum.
MD – How have the defense and offense evolved this year, if they have? What kind of team are the Jets trying to be? Is ground and pound really accurate?
JC - Ground and Pound needs to go as an expression (which is why we changed the tag-line on our site haha). Prior to last week, the Jets had been dreadful running the football and stopping the run, along with having a non-existent pass rush. We saw strides in the right direction beginning the in second half against Houston and then carrying over to the Indianapolis game. On offense, they are still going to be run heavy but do take more shots down the field than they did under Brian Schottenheimer. On defense, Rex Ryan seems to recognize his base defense’s shortcomings and has slowly been getting more creative with his schemes and integrating younger players into more playing time.
MD - Name a player on offense and a player on defense that will be key to the Jets chances of knocking off the Patriots.
JC – Offensively, it has to be on Sanchez to hit his throws down the field. The Jets have the players on the outside who can beat the Patriots secondary deep (Hill, Kerley and yes even Cromartie) but Sanchez must be accurate. Defensively, they must knock Tom Brady off his mark and get him rattled early in the game. Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples are their best natural pass rushers and both must make an impact early and often.
MD - If you were the Patriots where would you attack the Jets offense and defense? What can be exploited?
JC – The Jets still lack speed at linebacker in a big way. I would be running to the outside heavily with RIdley and Woodhead, along with looking to hurt the Jets in the screen game. If the Jets try to match up the Patriots tight ends in man coverage with their safeties, it should be a match-up Brady can take advantage of as well. On defense, I would make Sanchez beat you. Bottle up the running game and force him to hit throws down the field into tight windows and hope he throws a few interceptions.