An annual tradition around here is breaking down New York Jets vs. New England Patriots with our friends at Pats Propaganda. Check out our Q&A previewing their week 7 match-up.
TOJ - How have New England’s rookie wide receivers been coming along since their struggles in week 2 against the Jets
PP - There’s no other way to describe them than up and down. Dobson had his best game of the season against the Saints, leading the team with six catches for 63 yards. Still, he had an offensive pass interference and a couple drops, including a really bad one on fourth down late in the game that probably should’ve meant a loss for the Pats.
Thompkins has had 21 catches and four touchdowns on the season, but last week was the first time he’s played less than Dobson. Obviously the game-winning touchdown stands out from last week, but there was also one catch where he basically just fell down after making the catch.
Both have had their moments, but it hasn’t been a clear “each week they’re better” progression. Really, they’re inconsistent from snap-to-snap, much less game-to-game. Still, the Pats continue to put them out there and the good plays are starting to outnumber the bad ones, but each snap is an adventure and I think that will continue vs. the Jets.
TOJ – How do you expect the front seven to hold up without Wilfork and Mayo? Who will New England be looking to step up in their void?
PP - Let’s throw Tommy Kelly in there too because it doesn’t look like he’ll suit up this week if his absence from Wednesday’s practice is any indicator. So now you’ve got two undrafted rookies in Joe Vellano and Chris Jones playing defensive tackle. They held up okay against the Saints, but the problem is holding up against the run, especially late in the game. Both seemed to lose some steam at the end of last week’s game.
Now you take Mayo out of the equation, your defensive captain who plays every down, and it’s impossible to not think the defense will be affected negatively. Replacing Mayo will be a group effort with some combination of Dont’a Hightower, Dane Fletcher and rookie Jamie Collins filling in. None of them are as versatile as Mayo, so there’s no simple fix.
But here’s the thing…the Pats pass defense with Mayo and Wilfork has been pretty bad the last three seasons. And Vellano and Jones are actually more suited to penetrate than Wilfork necessarily was. Mayo was good, not great in pass coverage, so I don’t think we’ll see a huge pass defense drop off. Of course they could be without Aqib Talib as well and that would be probably the biggest blow of all.
TOJ – Do you think New England is going to run away with this division yet again? Who do you think is the biggest threat?
PP - I guess we’ll find out in the next two weeks as the Pats play the Jets and Dolphins back-to-back. On one hand you look at the injuries and inexperience and it’s hard to say they’ll run away with the division. But on the other hand they’ve been winning games without playing their best football and without their best offensive players. That’s usually a sign of a good team headed for the playoffs. Only time will tell how well they’re able to overcome the injuries and how soon they can get back up to full strength. But I think one thing that’s definitely true is that regardless of personnel, this is another Belichick Patriots team that will fight down to the end and play sound, tough football. At a certain point the lack of talent at key spots will likely catch up with them, but it’s hard to imagine them having a total meltdown and falling into what some might call a “rebuilding year”.
TOJ - Is Rob Gronkowski going to play this season? If so, when?
PP - I’ve just about given up speculating and everything seemed to reach a fever pitch last weekend with all the back-and-forth about Gronk and the team putting the decision in Dr. James Andrews’ hands and he determined Gronk was not ready. Now there are reports he’ll be back this week, but it’s hard to take those as fact after all we’ve heard in the last three weeks. I just don’t see how one week makes that much of a difference if Dr. Andrews thought he wasn’t ready last weekend.
Even when he does return, I think we’ll all be on pins and needles that he’ll break it again. There are plenty of people out there suggesting the Pats just IR him and let him get fully healthy for the first time since halftime of the 2011 AFC Championship. Still, reports are that he’s practicing like a beast, so that’s the only glimmer of light.
When he does return there will be much rejoicing, and much trepidation.
PP - What have the Jets done since their ugly loss in Week 2 to the Patriots?
TOJ - They’ve been a roller coaster. The following week they had a monster offensive showing in a win over Buffalo. Geno is rookie of the year! Then after that, they were blown out by Tennessee thanks to four ugly turnovers. Bench Geno, Start Simms! Then they upset Atlanta on Monday night in thrilling fashion. Geno is the future! And then finally last week, they scored 6 points at home against the 0-4 Steelers and lost. We need to draft quarterback next year!
PP - What did you take most from that game that can be used in the rematch?
TOJ - The Jets should run the football more frequently against New England’s front seven, particularly now with Wilfork and Mayo out. Chris Ivory had some success in the week 2 match-up but they went away from him too much in the second half. I’d like to see both Ivory and Bilal Powell in the 15-20 carry range this Sunday, to help keep Brady off the field and protect Geno from turnovers
PP - Which players have emerged in the last four weeks and will play a key role on Sunday?
TOJ - Darrin Walls has moved into the starting line-up at corner and has been gradually improving. Stephen Hill has also been gradually improving since his ugly week 2 game against the Patriots. With Santonio Holmes and Kellen Winslow Jr out, he could be the team’s primary target in the passing game along with Jeremy Kerley, who didn’;t play in the previous game but has played well against New England in the past.
PP - The Patriots could be without Aqib Talib, Jerod Mayo, Danny Amendola and Dan Connolly, all of whom left Sunday’s game vs. the Saints and did not return, but Gronk might be back (we’ve said that before). Is it now or never for this Jets team if they want to be a contender this season?
TOJ – I do think this is a pivotal game in their season, similar to last year when they were 3-3, choked away a game in New England they should’ve won and then basically went into a tailspin. If the Jets have any desires of competing for the AFC East or a wild-card spot, they are going to have to win a game like this. They are currently only 1-3 in the AFC and 1-1 in the division