PP - While the Butt-fumble game is still fresh in everyone’s mind’s, the reality is that every early season game between the Pats and Rex’s Jets has been close, with the Jets winning the first two and the Pats winning the last two. As long as the Jets don’t kill themselves like the Bills did (10 penalties, 2 turnovers), this game should go down to the fourth quarter.
We saw Mike Pettine’s Bills defense give the Patriots offense problems and his experience with the Jets clearly gave him an advantage. Rex knows how to play Brady, and how to mix man and zone coverage to make him hold the ball that extra second. Who are the new and returning impact players in the front seven that will be coming after Brady?
TOJ - The Jets have assembled one of the best young defensive lines in football. Muhammad WIlkerson is an elite 3-4 defensive end and rookie Sheldon Richardson looked terrific in his debut, showing athleticism and versatility. They are missing Quinton Coples as a presence off the edge but newcomer Antwan Barnes has added some juice there. A pleasant surprise has been the emergence of second year player Damon Harrison at nose tackle, who looked like a strong compliment to Wilkerson and Richardson in week one. The Jets still lack overall speed at linebacker but they generate pressure up the middle with their defensive line.
PP - What were you most surprised and disappointed with in the regular season debut against the Bucs?
TOJ - Surprised? I’d say Geno Smith. He exceeded my expectations by improving dramatically in the second half and playing with an encouraging amount of confidence and intelligence. Smith is going to have to rookie growing pains and will make his mistakes but he is going to make his share of plays as well. Disappointed? Chris Ivory and the running game, which struggled all pre-season and was very weak in week 1. The Jets need a consistent running game to support Smith and we’ve seen no signs of it yet.
PP - Brady and the Pats have lost to a Jets rookie in Week 2 before. What are the strengths and weaknesses of Geno Smith’s game, and how do you expect the Jets to play to his strengths?
TOJ - Strengths – Very good arm strength, a good feel when to take off and run and a natural in the screen/short passing game. Weaknesses – He still locks on to his primary receiver too frequently and is prone to turnovers. He is going to struggle with more exotic coverages as of right now .Marty Mornhinweg has played to his strengths by keeping him in the shotgun and allowing him to throw plenty of screens, which he did all the time at WVU.
PP - We saw quite a few Wildcats from the Jets against the Bucs, but we all know the way to beat the Pats defense of late has been through the air. Does it look like the Wildcat will be a permanent fixture this year?
TOJ - Unfortunately, yes. The formation has been figured out by the NFL and provided really nothing throughout the pre-season and in week one. I understand the Jets trying to get creative to boost their running game but Bilal Powell isn’t the type of back who is going to rip off big plays, particularly out of that formation. Mornhinweg also had some shaky play-calls using the Wildcat last week, including a foolish third down boot pass by Jeremy Kerley. I’m sure we will see some Wildcat on Thursday, hopefully not too much though.
PP - Who are your biggest X factors for the Jets to pull off their first win in Foxboro since the 2010 AFC Divisional Game (hold on while I go dry heave for a second remembering Braylon Edwards’ backflips)…
TOJ - If the Jets are going to win, which I’d consider a major upset, it will be because Rex Ryan draws up a scheme that beats up and flusters New England’s inexperienced targets. The loss of Amendola and Vereen is a big deal because both of those guys would have been nightmare match-ups for the Jets defense, so maybe the Jets keep New England in the 17-21 point range and then get their running game going, which allows Smith to hit a few big plays down the field against a somewhat shaky Pats secondary. Smith is the true X-Factor, if he plays well on a short week, against Belichick, in a hostile environment it will be a VERY encouraging sign.
TOJ - What exactly happened in week 1 that allowed a young and inexperienced Buffalo team to nearly pull off the upset against New England? Were you concerned by the overall performance?
PP – To be honest it was kind of what I expected, as it was reminiscent of both the 2006 and 2009 openers against them. Sloppy games marred by turnovers and penalties. That said, the Patriots’ rookie receiver Kenbrell Thompkins, who shined all summer, looked very much like the undrafted rookie that he is. Really, when you consider the Pats put up 450 yards of offense, and had Stevan Ridley’s fumble not been returned for a touchdown or had the Pats gotten in the end zone on 4th and 1 instead of fumbling the snap, this one could’ve been a blowout for New England. The offense certainly looked disjointed at times, but considering the turnover it’s not all that surprising. They’ll continue to be inconsistent early in the season, but the hope is that by throwing the young weapons in the fire early, it will pay dividends in the winter. All the young weapons flashed at points during the preseason, once they put it all together they’ll be dangerous.
TOJ - Who is going to fill the void of Vereen and Amendola in the Patriots offense Thursday? Which lesser known player should Jets fans be worried about torching our defense?
PP - It starts with Julian Edelman, who likely will play every offensive snap, and Kenbrell Thompkins bouncing back. Thompkins was remarkably consistent all summer and had great chemistry with Brady before looking off against the Bills. It looks like 2nd-round pick Aaron Dobson should play this week as well, and fellow rookie Josh Boyce should see some snaps as well.
As for Vereen it could be your old friend Leon Washington. He was just re-signed late last week after spending all of camp with the Pats, but has been battling a thigh injury. Stevan Ridley, who was benched after fumbling against the Bills, figures to get a shot at redemption and LeGarrette Blount, who looked slow against the Bills, should get some carries as well. It’s notable if Washington doesn’t play that neither Ridley nor Blount are very good catching the ball. That could really take an element of the Pats offense away. They also don’t have a tight end receiving threat, especially if rookie Zach Sudfeld, who is battling a hamstring problem, can’t go.
TOJ - What is your overall feeling on the Patriots defense? Are the concerns about their secondary being overblown?
PP – For the first time since 2007 the Pats returned nearly their whole defense, including their full secondary. I like the continuity and they looked fast against the Bills, not giving up a 20+ passing play for the first game since 2009. The Pats played very vanilla defense against the Bills and were in nickel nearly the whole time. Overall I think they have the chance to be the best secondary we’ve seen since the late 00′s, as all three starting corners (Talib, Dennard, Arrington) are pretty good playing man-to-man. The Pats have lacked that ability since the Ty Law days.
TOJ - How big of an advantage do you think New England has on the short week and with homefield advantage? We saw veteran QB and HC combos thrive on TNF last season.
PP - I think familiarity erases a big chunk of any advantage they might have, though New England’s experience on defense might give them a little bit of an edge. But I also think the inexperience at receiver against the Jets defense, which does such a great job disguising blitzes, will really give the Jets an advantage with their blitzes. They’d be smart to force New England’s rookies to decipher where the blitzes are coming from and where the hot zones will be. Regardless of the short week it’s always hard to beat the Pats in New England, Geno Smith will have to do his best impression of Mark Sanchez in the 2010 AFC Divisional Game.
TOJ - Do you agree with me that Belichick has a ton of love and respect for Rex Ryan and would be one of the people who’d consider hiring him if he gets fired after this season?
PP - I do, and I also have a ton of love and respect for Rex. I’ve always said I think he’s the perfect ying to Belichick’s yang in the rivalry. Belichick respects pure football coaches and that is what Rex is. His defenses are aggressive and well-prepared, and I think more than anything, Belichick respects any coach who can consistently come up with ways to give him problems. I think there are a ton of teams who should be chomping at the bit to have Rex as their defensive coordinator, but most interesting to me is how different Belichick and Rex’s style of defense are. Both work, but Belichick is more conservative and prefers to play sound coverage and force mistakes. This can be maddening to watch and drives Pats fans up a wall until the opponent throws an untimely interception. The problem as been when teams don’t make that killer mistake as we’ve seen in each of their recent playoff losses. I enjoy Rex’s attacking style that’s loaded with deception, and it’s clear he knows how to give Brady problems every time they play.