It seems like it was just yesterday when the Jets let a win against the Patriots in their first match up of the season slip right through their hands…literally. The drops from Clyde Gates and Stephen Hill won’t leave our minds for quite some time. Anyway, here we are in Week Seven and round two of Jets-Patriots is shaping up to be a great one. Let’s quickly run through what match ups are important heading into this one.
The match ups have actually changed a lot from when these teams squared off in Week Two with the players that will or won’t be playing. If you thought the Jets were banged up at this point of the season, you will feel guilty looking at the Patriots’ injury report. Rob Gronkowski is likely making his return, but they’ll be without Jerod Mayo, Aqib Talib, Leon Washington, Tommy Kelly, and Danny Amendola. If that wasn’t bad enough, Brandon Bolden, Julian Edelman, Tavon Wilson, Michael Hoomanawanui, Matt Slater, Dan Connolly, Marcus Cannon, and Gronkowski. Both of these extensive lists contain a bunch of key players to this Patriots team. Unfortunately, they still have that guy Tom Brady playing.
Jets’ Run Game vs Patriots Weakened Defensive Front:
Vince Wilfork was piecing together a patch-work interior defensive line when the Jets came to Foxboro earlier this season, but it has only gotten worse from then. The Jets offensive line will be happy not to see Wilfork or Tommy Kelly out there, leaving sixth round pick Chris Jones and undrafted free agent Joe Vellano in their absences.
Both of these youngsters pressed into starting roles have been pushed around quite a lot, and the Jets should be able to establish a running game early with an attack of Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory, particularly by not getting to creative when running the ball. If the Jets hit the Pats right through the middle, we could see a pattern develop as the Jets lay down their blueprint for the game.
Jerod Mayo is the Pats’ best run-stopping linebacker, and they lost him for the year last week. It still won’t be easy for the Jets to break off big runs on this smart and stout Patriots’ defense, bruised or not, but they can certainly make bigger chunks happen if the can get to the second level easier with Mayo out. An underlying detail of this match up is that Nick Mangold has played very poorly this year when you compare him to his former self. If he can’t have a bounce-back game against this interior defensive line with his run blocking, it’s hard to see him ever notching his play back up to an elite level or anything close to it.
Jets’ Man Coverage Vs Ron Gronkowski:
When you’re anxious about a match up that might not even happen due to the player being questionable and having not played at all this year, you know a special player is on the line. Rob Gronkowski is that special player who the Jets need to prepare for regardless of his playing condition. “Gronk” will likely play in limited snaps, but he has the talent to kill the Jets like he always has in that limited opportunity.
I think the Jets will likely use their safeties in man coverage a lot with Gronkowski, and mainly Antonio Allen. Allen isn’t particularly good in man coverage, and it drops off even more when he has to turn his hips downfield, but he is solid when the game stays in front of him. My guess is that the Patriots won’t use Gronkowski extensively downfield, and they’ll likely use him as a check down options underneath with his injury. Allen or even Demario Davis should be able to handle the task in man coverage. If the Pats do start to use Gronkowski like they always do right out of the gate, we might see the Jets doubling him or even using Josh Bush exclusively to try and lock him down downfield.
Jets Challenging The Patriots Secondary Deep:
With Tavon Wilson possibly out, the Jets have an opportunity to challenge the Patriots deep; an opportunity that could win them this game. Stephen Hill could have a big day with Aqib Talib out. Geno Smith’s accuracy and timing have to be more on point with his deep balls, but Hill could really take the top off of this New England secondary today. If Hill simply dares the deep ball, more space and route possibilities will open up for Jeremy Kerley in the slot or even out wide.
Kerely could be a mismatch if the Jets establish a run game early, because the Pats will be forced to go heavy in the box. If they’re unable to bring in three corners, Kerley could get some opportunities to go one-on-one with a linebacker like Dont’a Hightower. And remember, this can all flow if the Jets just worry them enough with deeper routes run by Stephen Hill or even Jeff Cumberland. It would really help if the Jets can connect on a couple of deeper passes early so they can open up the passing game for Geno on the entire field.
Jets’ Edge Defenders vs Patriots’ Run Game:
For once this year, the Jets may struggle to develop a strong pass rush on this fearless New England offensive line. Both Sebastian Vollmer and Nate Solder have been excellent in locking down the edge versus pass rushers, and the interior defensive line, while banged up a bit, had done more than hold its own against the rush. The Jets defensive line is actually going to be under the microscope a bit today.
Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson need to get some penetration on the interior if they expect to slow down Stevan Ridley, who’s excellent in his quickness and vision to get to the second level. When it comes to the edge, Calvin Pace is going to best tested to hold a strong edge versus any outside runs, and it’s a daunting task to stack up well and shed against Vollmer or Solder. If Quinton Coples continues to play when he’s clearly not yet back up to speed, he’ll be a liability versus the run on the edge and the Patriots may start to just run straight at him.
As much as I want to take the Jets here when the Pats are pinned with injuries, I really can’t force myself to. Geno Smith must play well to keep up with Brady, who will have his fair share of successful drives even with depleted options. The name of the game to beat the Patriots is to keep up with their scoring, and I just don’t trust Geno with these options enough to keep in tight pursuit. If the Jets want to help him out on defense, they’ll need defensive line excellence like they’ve gotten all season and even more. It will also be a big day for players like Antonio Allen and Dee Milliner in coverage, and I’m not sure I can see them coming through completely, especially considering Milliner hasn’t played since Wee Two. I see a score along the lines of: Jets- 17, Patriots, 27. It would mean everything to me if they could prove me wrong.