Despite the fact that it still feels like the New York Jets played yesterday, the game tonight seems like an entirely new one with the injuries that have arisen since last Sunday.
A would-be grudge match has become even more competitive with Shane Vereen and Zach Sudfeld, Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola out. The Jets took a hit when they lost Jeremy Kerley because of his concussion, but they still have to be optimistic with how the Pats’ depth chart is thinning out.
With such key injuries to the Patriots, the possible score of the game won’t be the only different aspect. The Pats’ offense and Jets’ defense should have an entirely new approach to their gameplans. Let’s take a last minute look at some of the biggest matchups and players who could swing the game for their team.
Julian Edelman vs Isaiah Trufant
The Jets should be able to win their matchups on the outside for the most part, with Antonio Cromartie getting a nice bounce-back opportunity against the sloppy UDFA Kenbrell Thomkins, and Dee Milliner likely picking up whomever gets the most reps from the opposite side (could be Aaron Dobson returning from injury or Matthew Slater if he plays). Now we aren’t sure that Trufant will be the guy to single-handedly handle Edelman, but it’s the likely case after seeing him manage Wes Welker in years past. Trufant has the skillset to hang with smaller, shifty slot receivers like the two. He has quick feet, turns his hips well, and is extremely quick in short bursts. His long speed and ball skills are nothing spectacular, but they won’t be tested with him handling Edelman.
Edelman is really the one guy the Jets must stop tonight in the passing game. He’s not that explosive, and definitely not a game-breaker like the Jets faced in Doug Martin/Vincent Jackson/Mike Williams this past Sunday, but he’s guaranteed to get Tom Brady’s targets tonight on most third down situations when Brady looks for reliability. Trufant won’t need to be step for step with Edelman through his routes, because frankly, he’s not a very good receiver. However, we all know very well that Tom Brady can work wonders with cheap scraps. Letting Brady feel confident in third and longs could doom the Jets. Edelman being the guy Brady will need to look for to get open in the clutch, is really an awful sign for the Pats and the depth at receiver that they’re dragging into this game.
Josh Boyce vs Jets’ Fourth Corner
Another receiver? Yes, and another receiver who works primarily in the slot. Boyce, a sixth round pick of the Pats this past spring, will surely see his fair share of snaps with the depth at wide receiver the Pats have at the moment. Now normally, the Pats would be running four receiver sets, and even five, quite often when they play the Jets to get rolling with their passing offense. However, it should be interesting to see if Bill Bellichick surrenders a bit with his air attack due to the poor depth he knows he has at the receiver position. The lack of a receiver tight end for the Pats might mean that they’ll rely on their receivers heavily tonight, regardless of who.
I would imagine that Boyce will most likely be covered by Kyle Wilson after he received 33% of the Jets’ defensive snaps in Week One, but I also wouldn’t be surprised or mad at all if that man is Darrin Walls. In fact, it could be Ellis Lankster. Lankster isn’t as good of a corner as either Wilson or Walls, but he has had more success manning the slot than the pair with his versatility. We could see a rotation. The Jets would like to have two Trufants out there instead because of all the short routes that these slot receivers will be running, but they’ll have to sacrifice a bit here. To not let Boyce emerge as an open target all night, we could see this matchup get the only consistent safety or linebacker zone coverage help. It wouldn’t be a bad idea for the Jets to substitute one of these corners with Antonio Allen. Allen came down to the line to cover receivers and tight ends out of the slot last week versus the Buccaneers. Tom Brady is a smart quarterback, though, and if anybody knows how to expose Allen’s weaknesses in pass coverage, it’s going to be him.
Stevan Ridley vs Jets’ Run Defense
Huh? The Jets’ defense was awesome last week though!?!? This is true. However, that Buccaneers’ offensive line is just woeful. The Patriots had great success running to the left side of their line versus the Bills. They gained 69 yards on only six carries that way through the A-gap, and 36 yards on seven carries through the B-gap (stats there by Pro Football Focus). Still, the Jets’ defensive line should be able to contain Ridley, and even shut him down more so than they did in their incredible performance against Doug Martin. If Sheldon Richardson can be as effective as he was versus the run, Ryan Wendell (LG) and Nate Solder (LT) could see good performances go to waste.
It might sound surprising, but Ridley has the matchup to be just as key to the Patriots’ success in this game as anybody on their roster. The Jets shut down Doug Martin not only because of the penetration they were consistently getting and the gaps they were collapsing along the line, but also because Martin is a back that can’t get rolling until he hits the hole or second level. Ridely, on the other hand, is a bruiser with some speed. He’ll give a second effort that could kill the Jets with the limited players that they’ll be able to stack up in the box, which is my next point.
The Patriots’ run will be more dangerous than it would seem is because of how they’ll clear out the middle of the field. If they feature three or four receivers and/or tight ends, the Jets will have far less players crowding the box to plug the run than they would like (and used versus Tampa Bay). Bill Bellichick and Tom Brady love to run out of the shotgun so that the defenses’ linebackers have to shed and stack at the line slightly later than they would have personally liked, which throws off the leverage of the defensive line. The Jets’ inside linebacker will have to be on the top of their game.
Chandler Jones vs D’Brickshaw Ferguson
This matchup is self-explanatory. Ferguson had a bad game last week, and Jones can be a pass rushing force. The key word there is “can.” The Jets have managed to take Jones out of games before in his rookie year, but it’s hard to say if that can be done so easily with how shaky the Jets’ usually-stellar left tackle looked last week. This should be an intense battle all game long.
Three X-Factors for the Jets
- Don’t hold back Geno Smith: If there was a time to limit Smith’s downfield options, now is not the time. The Patriots’ secondary has actually held up pretty well even with some injuries and doubts, but being to cute with Geno will only lead to too many stalled drives. The Patriots will score points, and the Jets will need their share of bigger gains to keep up and at least get into Pats’ territory more often than they did versus the Buccaneers last week.
- Clyde Gates and Stephen Hill: It’s not like this Patriots secondary will shut down other receiving options this game, but speed will kill this defense. Steve Gregory is extremely susceptible to the deep ball, as shown last week when he was burned by Robert Woods for a Bills’ touchdown. Gates and Hill have both struggled to consistently get open even for deeper passes, despite their superb speed. Sloppy or not, it’s worth sending them to test these Patriot safeties. This is just another way the Jets can open up this offense against a team that a risk-taking offense is probably the most dangerous offense.
- Antwan Barnes: The general pass rush from the front seven will be an enormous facet of tonight’s game as it is, but nobody has a better chance to make an impact than Antwan Barnes. Because of the play from Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson and the attention they shall draw, the Jets can line them up from the 5-tech so they get free rush or 1-on-1 opportunities for Barnes. Barnes didn’t receive as many snaps as I would have liked to see last week (only 44% compared to Garrett McIntyre’s 56%), but he still looked incredibly explosive with his get-off and punishing pad level. If there’s a game for him to breakout and play the majority of snaps, it’s this one.
I’ve been saying that last tibit lot, but there’s no reason for Rex Ryan to hold back on any aspects of the game with the Patriots limping into this one. Fire-power will win this matchup, and the Jets can prove to have more with the injuries to New England leaving the door wide open.