Jets vs. Patriots: A Deeper Look At The Two Rivals, Part 1

A roundtable discussion of Jets/Patriots featuring TOJ, The Jet Report, Green Lantern, Pats Propaganda, and NBC’s Bruce Beck

When the Jets host the Patriots on NBC’s Sunday Night Football, they will be bringing along with them, a shared history that has turned into a pro football border war over the past ten years. The game not only features marquee names on both sides, it crosses the paths of two clubs who have traveled different roads in 2011, only to have landed at the same stop simultaneously: As part of a three way first place tie with Buffalo, for first place in the AFC East.

To help us break down what has become for both clubs, the most highly anticipated opponent on the schedule, we were joined by TJ Rosenthal from The Jet Report, Mike Dussault from Pats Propaganda, NBC’s Bruce Beck and WFAN’s Jeff Capellini.

Here is Part I of a three part series:

1. Talk to us about the first half of the season for the Pats. What kind of trip has it been?

Dussault: The first half of the Pats season has been a steady decline in offensive production and consistent inconsistency on defense. Tom Brady has been uncharacteristically sloppy and is already 4 interceptions away from his career high. The defense has shown improvement and looks to have a higher ceiling than they did in 2010 but they need to come through in clutch spots like they did against the Cowboys.

Capellini: I wonder if the Pats just got old in a hurry, because their offense was unreal over the first five games, but has looked rather un-Pats-like over the last three. Now, granted, their last three foes have been three very good teams, but when has that stopped New England from bludgeoning anyone in the past? I think they really need Branch and Och to stretch the field, but so far they haven’t.

Ocho has been a disaster and the passing attack has really relied almost too heavily on the tight end combo of Gronkowski and Hernandez. Sure, Welker is awesome in this system and will continue to be, but without a really solid running game and really no deep threats the Pats aren’t, at least lately, ripping off the big chunks of yardage we’re used to seeing from them. Defensively, there’s nothing to see here, which is quite stunning considering Belichick’s prowess as the master game planner and schemer, mixed with the fact that the organization has drafted countless defensive players over the last five years. How many are stars now? Not many at all.

2. Are the Jets and Patriots where you expected them to be heading into the second half record wise, and performance wise?

Caporoso: I thought both teams would be about a game better at this point. The Jets struggled more early on than I expected and New England is struggling more now than I expected. In the end, both are going to compete for this division title down to the final weeks but neither will likely establish themselves as a truly dominant team, similar to how the Packers are right now.

Beck: The Jets are the better team right now. They have momentum and confidence. The Patriots look puzzled. Brady looks mortal.

Cappellini: Yes and no. I expected them to be at the top of the division, but I figured one would be either undefeated or have one loss and the other to have no more than two losses. The Jets had their problems early, but have fought out of the abyss. The Patriots are sort of in one now, but I’m not sure we’ll see the same vaunted Pats again for the reasons I stated earlier.

3. The two head coaches, Rex Ryan and Bill Belichick are so interesting to compare and contrast. Help us do that, from their work on the sidelines to their media presence during the week as they get ready for an opponent.

Beck: The difference in the coaching styles is dramatic. Rex is a whirling dervish — a bundle of energy — a cheerleader of the highest degree. Belichick is as stoic as Landry — as unemotional as any Coach in the game. Their styles may contrast but they both burn inside with a incredible desire to succeed and in this case — kick the other guy’s butt!

Caporoso: Clearly their personalities, at least their public personalities couldn’t be any more different. Regardless, I do think there is a high level of mutual respect between the two of them and an example that there are different, effective ways to motivate a successful team. These two teams know each other inside out at this point, which is what makes watching the game plan process so interesting. How can Belichick compensate for his lack of talent on defense? How can Rex attack Tom Brady and his variety of weapons? This is a chess match between two unique, interesting head coaches.

Dussault: This might surprise some Jets fans but I am a big Rex Ryan fan. I’ve read his book and love what he brings to the rivalry. I think both coaches can make things more difficult on themselves with their respective styles at times, but clearly both are effective at preparing their teams to play. The fun part is that their styles couldn’t be more opposite so it brings a great balance to the rivalry.

4. Let’s breakdown the work of the quarterbacks so far. How they’ve played, where they might want want to improve going forward.

Dussault: For Tom Brady it’s about making better decisions. He’s been under duress a little more this season, especially in the last few games and has been the victim of a number of tipped ball interceptions. If Brady can get back to playing consistent the Patriots offense should start to roll again. It will also require his wide receivers to start beating press man coverage more consistently and for Brady to deliver the ball quickly and accurately. I’m confident that he will turn it around, I just hope it’s this weekend.

The Jet Report: Sanchez and the Jets have owned three personalities on offense this season. Initially, they tried to become a pass first offense, with Burress and Mason as additions to the WR corps. Then, the coaches decided to return to the Ground and Pound. Recognizing that this was too drastic of a measure, a balance was found against San Diego. Sanchez has done well spreading it around during this stretch, but can’t continue to throw early interceptions. THAT habit will haunt the Jets someday soon if it continues.

Capellini: Brady is a fiery guy who leads by example, but if you’ve watched his demeanor of late he seems like he realizes that if this team doesn’t get its act together in a hurry all of New England may be in for a major disappointment. Slamming water bottles? Barking at everyone? I think he realizes the urgency of the situation. On the field, sure, he’s thrown more interceptions this year, but iit s hard to kill the guy when you compare so-called “down” or “average” Brady years to the immortal seasons he’s put together in the past. He’s still the same guy. The rest of his team isn’t.

Sanchez has become more of a team leader this season, but only because his performance has improved. He’s on pace for career high in every positive statistical category. Until he’s a hardened veteran I think he’s content to be a co-leader. The most important thing about Mark is he’s avoided long tailspins. He hasn’t allowed his dumb mistakes to snowball or fester. This is a different guy than from his first two seasons.

5. What do Jets fans think of Tom Brady as a player? What do Pats fans think of Mark Sanchez as a player?

Caporoso: I respect the hell out of Brady as a football player and a leader but hate the way he whines to the officials. As Jets fans, we hate Brady because he has won and because he quarterbacks our rival team. Yet, you can’t argue that he is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

Dussault: I really respect what Mark Sanchez did vs. the Pats in the playoffs last year. He needed to play perfectly and he did. However I know that he can be dreadfully inconsistent. I believe it all starts with stopping the Jets running game. If they’re able to run it takes the pressure of Sanchez and opens up their play action and short passing game. He’s the kind of quarterback that you can’t let get going. If you allow him to build confidence he will only get better over the course of the game. But if you make him uncomfortable, or build a lead on him, he can implode.

The Jet Report: We’re more concerned about what Jets fans think about Mark Sanchez (laughs). Brady’s Brady. The smart football fan recognizes his greatness, his ability to incorporate the ballboy in a crossing route if necessary .Sanchez, is getting the old Phil Simms treatment in New York. Called out for his mistakes much more often than he is highlighted for his attributes, for which he has many. The most greatest of them, being his ability to elevate his play late in games and win. Period.

Capellini: The answer is totally based on results. Jets fans secretly admire Brady because he’s the standard by which all other quarterbacks should be measured. Simply, you hate him because he lights you up. However, Patriots fans, I believe, have little respect for Sanchez the QB. They have actually earned the right to be skeptical because until the day comes when Sanchez can at least be on the fringes of the conversation with a player like Brady, he’s just not at the level they expect for a “great.” It’s fair that they think this way. The Jets talk until the cows come home that he’s the face of the franchise. They’ve made their own bed with opposing fans. Hey, being hated means your respected, but as far as individual players go, the NFL is the “show me” state.

6. Both backfields split up the workload differently. Are you satisfied with the current distribution of touches among Jets running backs?

Caporoso: Yes, I think they are moving in the right direction. Shonn Greene needs 17-25 carries every week to be successful . LaDainian Tomlinson is all you can ask for as a third down back and Joe McKnight is becoming more involved each week. I think Brian Schottenheimer finally has a grip on how to use all three.

Capellini: It’s getting better, but at the same time I don’t want to see the Jets lessen Greene’s load now that he’s got his game in gear and the offensive line is blocking like it has in the past. Schottenheimer still needs to use Tomlinson more as a receiver, but he did a nice job going to LT inside the red zone against the Bills. McKnight is the change-of-pace guy. Keep getting him the ball at least seven times per game as a runner and the Jets will be very hard to decipher on the ground.

7. Gronkowski and Hernanadez: So special. So hard to defend. Why?

Dussault: It really starts with Gronkowski because of his ability to be dominant as a blocker and receiver. He forces teams to show their hand defensively. Hernandez is being treated more and more like a receiver and that limits his effectiveness somewhat. Opposing defenses have been pressing them both at the line and neither have the true quickness to gain separation instantly. That has been a huge factor in the slowing down the Pats offense recently. However in the red zone there is no combination in the NFL that is more dangerous. Look at the clutch touchdowns from the Dallas and Giants game: Hernandez has two of them and Gronk has one.

The Jet Report: Who does this? Nobody. Who thinks of an approach to attack downfield like this? Only Belichick. We know other teams have utilized two tight ends in the passing game, but not as hybrid receivers with size, power and their own individual toughness. We can only imagine how much more devastating these two can be if and when one more talented WR joins the huddle up in Foxboro.

Capellini: Both are really wide receivers. Both are extremely gifted physically, have great hands and each can make things happen after the catch. It’s a very unique situation when you get an Antonio Gates-like talent at tight end. It’s even more unique when you have potentially two tight ends that can do it.

8. Bruce, watching the Jets from a vantage point that few if any have, how does Mark Sanchez handle himself emotionally after mistakes? Who are the emotional leaders on the team, the ones that others follow for advice or inspiration?

Beck: Sanchez is mature beyond his years. His composure is remarkable. He does not get rattled by an early mistake — or two. Just last week in Buffalo, he was awful in the first half and very solid in the final thirty minutes. His leadership abilities are outstanding. During the lockout, he ran his quarterback camp in Calif for his teammates — and then took them all to the Lakers game. That stuff goes a long way. It is not something you can teach. You are born with it. He has the “it” factor!

Bart Scott is the vocal leader. His brashness reflects his head coach. His bravado irks opponents. LaDainian Tomlinson is a classy, quiet leader. He prefers to set an example for others to follow. Nick Mangold and Darrelle Revis are both outstanding players, whose professionalism and work ethic are beyond reproach. They exhibit fire on occassion and a quiet calm on others. They clearly are leaders of this football team

CHECK BACK FOR PART II TOMORROW

New York Jets Exam Part 2

TOJ, Jeff Capellini and TJ Rosenthal debate out 10 more crucial questions about the 2011 New York Jets

CLICK HERE FOR PART ONE

11. How serious of a contender are the Jets for the AFC East title?

JEFF: Very serious, but only if the next two games don’t end up being disasters. From a Jets standpoint, we’ll know if they have a legit shot by Nov. 14.

JOE: I agree with Jeff, very serious especially if they knock New England off at home in a couple of weeks. New England is a very good team this year, but also very beatable. I would not be surprised if Pittsburgh or the Giants knocked them off in the coming weeks.

TJ: They have to come out of the New England game one game back or better. Being two back with seven games left would mean that the Pats would have to lose to three OTHER teams while the Jets go 6-1 or 7-0. Not likely. The next two games will determine whether the Jets are chasing byes and home playoff games in December, or hunting down extended January road trips again.

12. How do you see Mark Sanchez finishing out this season?

JEFF: Back in the preseason T.J. and I said you’d be nuts not to sign on the dotted line for roughly 3,500 yards, 20 TDs and 12 INTs from Sanchez. Well, he’s on pace to better all three. If you are looking for Sanchez to turn into Philip Rivers, it’s not going to happen, this season. The Jets’ brain trust rightly did a course correction, as I wrote recently. Mark is totally capable of throwing for 300 yards every time out, but the Jets shouldn’t be asking him to, not with the talent at running back and the apparent righting of the ship by the offensive line. Sanchez is a fine quarterback and by the end of the season you’ll see through his statistics that he’s making strides. There’s no regression. Plus, we already know he can win in the playoffs. Just leave him be.

JOE: I think Sanchez will finish with his best statistical season yet, while still having his occasional inconsistencies. More importantly, I do think he will remain reliable in a big spot and I don’t think he will be the reason the Jets can’t reach the Super Bowl this year, if they don’t happen to.

TJ: If the Jets are about to make a serious run at this thing, then we see Sanchez as he was against the Chargers and sometimes even better, numbers wise. In total control. Finding the right receivers in the proper areas of the field, able to shake off mistakes emotionally.

If the Jets fail to kick things into another gear, and end up as a 9-7 or 8-8 type of team, we see certain days where he is forced out of his comfort zone of managing and directing. This will lead to some helmetless mopey photos of him seated on empty sideline benches in the NY Post on Monday mornings.

Sanchez has the ability to lead the Jets all the way but it will take more than him to do it. He’s not bringing a Vince Lombardi trophy back to Florham Park all by himself.

13. How will the Jets handle the outside linebacker position the rest of the season with no Bryan Thomas? Will it be more Josh Mauga or Jamaal Westerman? Somebody else?

JEFF: Use both Mauga and Westerman. The Jets will need both to perform as one because they do different things. Westerman has stepped up a bit of late in the pass rushing department and Mauga is fairly decent at stopping the run. More importantly, both seem to understand and embrace their roles and know their responsibilities. Again, game situations will dictate who is on the field, but I think they are getting there, sort of like the entire defense has as the weeks have raced by.

JOE: I think it will be a combination of Mauga, Westerman, and Eric Smith coming down into the box while Brodney Pool steps in at free safety. There is no perfect solution to replacing Bryan Thomas, who was a valuable piece of the defense and the Jets will struggle occasionally to set the edge but overall they have enough to overcome his injury.

TJ: Maybin. For Aaron Maybin to REALLY do monster damage he has to play more. For him to play more, he has to be able to stop the run. Maybin should be given the chance to, with Mauga and Westerman sprinkled in. The combo of all three allows the Jets to stay fresh energy wise which becomes a positive as long as these guys can wrap ball carriers up when they attack the Jets defense on the edge. An area of the field that the Jets have gotten burned in over the first seven games.

14. Can Santonio Holmes maintain a peaceful existence in New York despite not being likely to rack up big stats this year?

JEFF: Santonio scares me because I have no idea what he is. Yes, he makes huge plays. Yes, he wants to win. But I do question his leadership and I do worry because he’s one strike away off the field from sitting out for a long time and he tends to be a little wacky on social networking sites with his supposedly cryptic tweets. As much as the Jets’ young players need to continue to grow up, so does Holmes, Super Bowl ring and MVP or not.

JOE: As long as the team is winning, I doubt see any more issues flaring up. Long term, Holmes need to act like a leader on this team even when the team is struggling. He is definitely worth keeping an eye on.

TJ: We’re not so sure. He SAYS it’s about the team but his body language sometimes leads one to believe otherwise. Winning will help. If the Jets for whatever reason start to lose alot of games, AND Holmes is not getting the ball? THAT could be a lethal combo.

We have the feeling that Holmes is about to break out though. This first half felt like it was more about keeping Sanchez safe and when throwing, getting Burress comfortable. Finding the right patterns and freedom on the field for Dustin Keller as well. Sancehz will keep looking for Holmes and as the line continues to gel, the time to go downfield will become more available. Holmes is THE downfield target for Sanchez.

15. Who are your six AFC Playoff teams?

JEFF: Patriots, Steelers, Chargers, Texans (division champs); Ravens, Jets (wild card)

JOE: Patriots, Steelers, Chiefs, Texans, Ravens, Jets…had to throw at least one curveball with Kansas City.

TJ: Pats, Steelers, Chargers, Ravens, Texans and Jets (who we’re not counting out for a division title until after Nov 13).

16. If the Jets do not make the playoffs, should Schottenheimer be booted?

JEFF: Yes, and depending on how the defense does from here on out, maybe Pettine should join him. Sooner or later the Jets need to realize how the 21st century offense in the NFL works. You bring in a serious offensive coordinator and allow Rex to bring him a hand-picked defensive coordinator so Ryan can spend more time focusing on defense and less time worrying about putting points on the board. I trust Rex implicitly, but I especially trust his defensive mind.

JOE: Unless they win a Super Bowl, I have hard time seeing them not making a change at offensive coordinator. Sometimes it is just time for a new voice and new approach.

TJ: That depends on whether not making the playoffs was the result of the offense. We’ll assume, barring injuries to the defense, that should the Jets not get in, the offense will have been the main culprit. After three years and expectations high, the scapegoat WILL be Schotty. Whether it entirely his fault or not.

17. Do the Jets miss Braylon Edwards, Jerricho Cotchery and Brad Smith?

JEFF: No. Burress is shutting up everyone and will continue to do so. Kerley is adapting to the slot nicely and should get better as the season progresses. I hate the “Wildcat” anyway and the Jets have not missed it. Special teams — i.e. kick returning has been just fine with McKnight, Kerley and, if need be, Cromartie.

JOE: If you would have asked me this before the New England game, I probably would have said yes. However, it appears there is still hope for Plaxico on the Jets and Jeremy Kerley looks like a long term answer as a number three receiver. Brad Smith has been replaced effectively by Joe McKnight.

TJ: Maybe in the run game outside where Edwards was as good as any big receiver in sealing off the edge. Aside from that, no. Burress provides a red zone threat that simply wasn’t there before his arrival. Cotch was clutch and a great Jet, but Kerley, who may develop over the second half without Derrick Mason around, has great hands too. With more speed as well. Smith’s loss was a big concern but not as much, after Joe McKnight took that kickoff in Baltimore and ran it down i-95 heading towards Washington DC.

18. Should Darrelle Revis win Defensive Player of the Year?

JEFF: If he keeps this up and doesn’t, I’ll know for sure there’s a conspiracy against the Jets. Even if they are hated by nearly everyone not a diehard, there’s no denying the fact that Revis is the premier defensive player in the NFL right now.

JOE: Yes…simple as that.

TJ: We can’t tell you who is more valuable to their team in other places but we CAN tell you that Revis accounts for 7-10 points, at least, every week. He shuts down a top receiver who on other Sundays, put’s up points for HIS team. Revis has in half of the games already, scored himself, or set up scoring chances for the offense. The Jets average 24.6 a game and allow 21.6 point to opponents. Factor in the difference that Revis singlehandedly makes every week and then look around and see who else can offer that kind of edge elsewhere. We’re not saying that nobody else on any other team can, but the bar is beyond high. Revis is making All Pro receivers look like depth chart guys.

19. Name your Jets Pro Bowlers.

JEFF: Revis, Mangold, Harris, maybe Nick Folk, and, believe it or not, Sanchez if his TD-to-INT ratio is as good at the end of the season as it is now.

JOE: Revis, Mangold, Joe McKnight as a returner and maybe D’Brickashaw Ferguson.

TJ: Revis, maybe Harris, maybe Joe McKnight. Pencil in Mangold from now until the 2016 election year provided that his health allows him to perform at a level he is used to performing at. Three penalties last week must have been a result of Mangold not being 100 percent due to the high ankle sprian that he’s been playing through.

20. Name the Jets who deserve credit for doing the dirty work

JEFF: Mike DeVito, Calvin Pace, both are having really good seasons and you really can’t judge their worth unless you don’t see them out there, due to injury.

JOE: Matt Slauson is steadily improving each week and Calvin Pace has been strong against the run, despite not getting after the quarterback as much as you’d like to see.

TJ: Mike Westhoff is the first name that comes to mind. How do you lose Leon Washington and Brad Smith yet somehow continue to give the Jets an edge EVERY week in the return game?  Who calmed Nick Folk down? Who made Joe Knight a weapon?  We love your lunchpail guys especially the poor man’s Joe Klecko, Mike Devito. We are thrilled to see Wayne Hunter settle in and play like he did last January. Westhoff though is our favorite unheralded Jet. He puts his crew in position to win key battles every Sunday. Especially when big plays are needed. McKnight’s punt block against Dallas for example. Or his ordering of Cromartie as the one to take that kick back in Indy last year that helped rescue the Jets in the Wildcard round. We appreciate every second of the hard work that he does in order to help ease the burden for a team that has gone to the AFC title game without a dominant pass rusher and 300 yards per game passer, two years straight.

CLICK HERE FOR PART ONE

A New York Jets Exam Part 1

TOJ, Green Lantern, and The Jet Report debate out 20 key questions facing the New York Jets the rest of the season

Get comfortable in your seat, print out a copy and take it on the train, or get ready for an extended lunch break. Jeff Capellini from CBS New York, TJ Rosenthal from The Jet Report, along with myself have taken the time to answer 20 crucial about the New York Jets on their bye week. Enjoy, disagree, argue…let’s get after it —

CHECK BACK FOR PART TWO ON SUNDAY

1. What does THIS Jets team have (or not have) that will allow it to move beyond the AFC Championship game.

JEFF: Personnel-wise, the Jets have enough to get to the Super Bowl. They also have the great intangible called belief. What they don’t have yet is a cohesiveness. And when you get to conference title games you have to be a united front on the field and in the locker room to beat the upper echelon teams, especially in their buildings. If the Jets make the playoffs, they are not going to zip through, only to face a wild card team that went on a miraculous run, in the championship game. It just doesn’t work that way. Odds are, they could go to New England, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, you name it. They have to learn how to take that last step and it’s not something you can teach. It’s a matter of experience, execution and coaching. It’s that simple. You’d think if they are truly back and get this thing revved up they’ll be one of the most difficult outs in the entire postseason. But, again, simply making it yet again is not enough. There are no gimmes in the playoffs. Sooner or later they have to truly come together, and I mean for more than 30 minutes at a clip.

JOE: I don’t think talent is an issue here and the experience is clearly in place for the Jets to make a Super Bowl run. The difference is going to be how stingy will the defense be in January and if Mark Sanchez can put together a few big time performances at the right time. It is very likely the Jets could end up in the wild-card again, which means road victories over some combination of New England, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh need to occur for the Jets to finally make it to that elusive Super Bowl.

TJ: For many on this Jets team, there is the collective experience of having battled on the road through two straight AFC playoff runs now. That’s alot of adversity to fight through together. As for new pieces, Plaxico Burress could be a difference maker in the red zone as he was last week. The Jets were red zone failures over the past two seasons. What they also may have added, should they choose to use it, is more speed on offense thanks to Joe McKnight and Jeremy Kerley. On the defensive side, if Aaron Maybin continues to settle in, others like Calvin Pace may benefit. In that scenario you could argue that by December the Jets will have the pass rush that was not at their disposal either during the ’09 and ’10 seasons.

2. Looking back, are there any August roster changes you’d like to have back? Or attacked differently?

JEFF: I might not have let Shaun Ellis walk, but he got a king’s ransom from the Patriots, one that the Jets would have been laughed at for matching or exceeding. However, they are still, reportedly, well below the cap and the defensive line, while improving at a snail’s pace weekly, is still not a strength. I kind of think having Ellis around would have been a good thing for the Kenrick Ellises and Muhammad Wilkersons of the world. Plus, who knows? Maybe Shaun could’ve still made some impact plays at opportune moments. The bottom line is, his return would not have HURT the Jets.

JOE: Plaxico’s recent three touchdown game and the emergence of Jeremy Kerley has calmed me down about Braylon Edawrds and Jerricho Cotchery walking. I do think the Jets are moving around the receivers surrounding Mark Sanchez too much but hopefully he can continue to adjust. Obviously, it would have been nice to see Mike Tannenbaum add a veteran lineman when Robert Turner suffered his pre-season injury.

TJ: We are still uncomfortable with the notion that if Mark Sanchez has ANY sort of issues that could sideline him during a game or even for a week or two, that Mark Brunell, with all due respect to an outstanding 19 year NFL career, is next in line. We would have liked to see a better option handled over in the Summer even though the Jets would tell you that 7th rounder Greg McElroy was on pace to landing a backup role. We wanted a Sage Rosenfels type. An 8-10 year vet who could sling it if needed.

The chase for Nnamdi Asomugha was extensive and may have cost the Jets Brad Smith but the biggest move we’d take back is cutting Aaron Maybin in the first place. Could Maybin have made a difference out in Oakland, where the early season avalanche began? We’ll never know.

3. Whats the biggest fear or danger zone for this team, player or unit, as we enter the second half?

JEFF: If the Jets’ defense continues to be what it was in the second half of the Chargers game, I’m not worried at all. However, even if it is that unit, it’s still not a shutdown unit. The Jets will still allow the occasional running back to have the big game. Tight ends and second and third receivers will still post gaudy numbers. We’ve all heard of “bend-but-don’t-break” defenses. I think that’s what the Jets are, but on a more accelerated level. They are somewhere between bend but don’t break and shutdown. The hope is they will continue to make strides toward the latter, especially over the next two weeks.

JOE: The fear is the defense allowing teams to run the football on them. There is no Ground and Pound, if you allow another running back to rack up 150 yards. It is messes with the approach of the entire team and forces the offense to play too aggressively.

TJ: The biggest fear we have is cohesiveness on the field. The Jets are, barring a major change, seeing the extent of what Mark Sanchez can give the team consistently. That is leadership, hot streaks, and the ability to come from behind. If the Jets run game keeps growing, and the defense begins to cement while adding players like Maybin into the equation, then the load  that Sanchez wlll be asked to carry can remain reasonable. If parts break down too often though, the team will have to ride the arm, and decision making of Sanchez. Two traits that are best served when keeping his stranglehold on games within reason.

4. After the spreading the ball around and featuring big pieces like Burress, Greene and Keller last Sunday, is it safe to say that Schotty and the offense have a solid handle on their approach now?

JEFF: I’m confident this offensive line is very close to being what it was last season. I think it has gotten over its adjustment period, which was caused mostly by injuries and these new and somewhat absurd CBA rules on padded practices. Shonn Greene IS a No. 1 running back. He moves the sticks. Mark Sanchez is a better quarterback than he was last season. Plaxico Burress is still a premier red zone target. The Jets just have to do a better job of complimenting Greene with LaDainian Tomlinson out of the backfield and as a receiver, must not forget about Dustin Keller, which they have been prone to do, and must get the ball in Santonio Holmes’ hands. He cannot be catching 2-3 balls a game. He’s their quickest way to the red zone. Brian Schotteheimer must find new and inventive ways to get the ball in No. 10’s hands. He changes games.

JOE: I don’t think it is safe to say that after one game but they are definitely moving in the right direction. Santonio Holmes and Dustin Keller should be the top targets in the passing game, with Burress being the primary threat in the red-zone. Kerley is a third down weapon. The running game should feature Shonn Greene getting around 20 carries each week, while LaDainian Tomlinson chips in 7-10 touches as a runner and receiver. Joe McKnight needs a few packages where he can catch and run the ball in space and will gradually become more involved as the season goes on.

TJ: They better. If last week was a fluke rather than the template moving forward, then the Jets will be spotty on offense in the second half and be forced to win games solely through the work of the special teams and the defense. A strategy that has a limit to it’s effectiveness without a killer pass rusher. Last Sunday, the Jets got everyone involved which kept everyone mentally in the game. This stretched the field enough to create room for Shonn Greene to run. The only way that the Jets offense can be counted on to uphold their 24.6 points per game average is to keep doing more of the same.

5. What can we expect of Wilkerson and Ellis? How high is the ceiling of Aaron Maybin as a pass rusher this year and beyond?

JEFF: I think 3-4 years from now the Jets will have serious pieces with Kenrick and Muhammad, but for now you just have to hope they continue to show the flashes they’ve shown and live with the disappearing acts. Jets are a scheme-based defense anyway, and they generate their pressure off the blitz. Maybin has been a pleasant surprise, but he’s nowhere near a polished player. He gets to the QB for sure, but he’s mostly a straight-line or speed rusher. The guy needs to learn some moves because sooner or later wise tackles will just push him outside rather than engage him at the point of attack.

JOE: Wilkerson and Ellis look like they can be building blocks on the defensive line for years to come. In Rex’s system they won’t be flashy players but will be key components in stopping the run and pushing the pocket. Aaron Maybin really only has a couple of things going for him, his speed and motor. However, in Rex’s system he may have found a perfect home. I do believe he can be a double digit sack this year and beyond.

TJ: Wilkerson and Ellis will have their moments. The best case scenario has them making impacts in a few games, or on a few game changing plays. Their time as terrorizing beasts upfront is off in the not so distant future. Maybin’s time may be now. Maybin is fast, his pursuit can wreak havoc when plays are extended. All three have a bright future at this point, but Maybin can be a difference maker for this team. He may HAVE TO continue his pass rushing growth if the Jets hope to reach Indy.

6. If the “bad” Cromartie rears his head too often, are you comfortable throwing Kyle Wilson at the corner yet?

JEFF: I think anyone waiting for Kyle to become a shutdown corner at this level may be waiting a while. However, that doesn’t mean he can’t be a responsible and useful part of this defense. He’s improved over last season. His reads have been much better, but for the time being I think you just have to live with Antonio being Antonio because he has more upside as a “big play player” than Wilson has. And on a defense that features just one true star, the Jets need all the big- and game-changing plays they can get. Take the good with the bad with Cro and keep Kyle zoned rather than out wide, where there is less margin for error.

JOE: You know what you are getting with Antonio Cromartie, which is inconsistency. I don’t think the quick hook is the right answer as the Jets need his size and speed on the outside. Beyond that, Kyle Wilson is starting to thrive in the nickel role which is a crucial one in the Jets defense. I wouldn’t mess with that anytime soon.

TJ: No. However, we are a heck of alot more comfortable with him now that he is playing the ball and his head is turned around, than we would have been had he been forced into a starting corner role last season. Wilson’s growth in roles  such as a nickel cover guy, a blitzing weapon, and a spy, along with Maybin’s blindside speed, give the Jets added elements to last year’s defense. The second year CB’s confidence is certainly growing. That bodes well should he be forced to spell Cromartie or provide health insurance for EITHER cornerback position. As scary as that is to say, considering what a thought like that means.

7. Will Joe McKnight’s role increase?

JEFF: It almost has to, but it’s hard to say it will because even Tomlinson disappears for long stretches of games. And that’s not because LaDainian is no longer a viable talent. Schottenheimer has yet to find a balance with his RB personnel.  We know Greene should be a 20-plus carry back. We know Tomlinson should be a 5-7-carry back and more of a pass-catching threat. Where does that leave McKnight, a guy with tons of talent and more maturity? It’s hard to say. If in the average game the Jets runs 60-65 plays from scrimmage and want a 50-50 run pass balance, you are looking at 30-33 touches for RBs. Well, if Greene is getting 20-25 and Tomlinson 5-7, that’s 25-32 right there. I think McKnight could be the true change-of-pace back the Jets need, while Tomlinson at this point should be in sets where he’s split out wide or used as the primary back, but only inside the opponent’s 5-yard line.

JOE: I do think it will, but the Jets still need to figure out exactly where to fit him in this year. In the long term, he is a perfect change of pace back for Shonn Greene. For this year, with LaDainian Tomlinson still in the mix it remains hard to get him many touches. Yet, the Jets must get him going in the screen game and use his receiving skills by splitting him out.

TJ: We hope so. Making McKnight a player who is part of 5-7 plays, even as a play action decoy, gives the Jets the threat of big play speed that they haven’t had under Ryan since Leon Washington was around. Speed kills. McKnight has already proven that this year on special teams. It’s not easy to find guys who cause oppoments comcern simply by lining up. Number 25 would have to be treated by defense with respect should he be sent out into the flat for a pitch outside or for a fake that could allow Sanchez to roll out in the other direction with less defenders on his heels.

8. Assess the safeties so far. Some argue that it’s time we see more of the athletic Brodney Pool.

JEFF: It probably is time to see more of Pool. He’s sound in most aspects. But, truth be told, Eric Smith, Pool and Jim Leonhard are undersized and do not cover very well. I think finding a do-it-all safety is one of the hardest things an NFL front office has to deal with on a yearly basis. Ronnie Lott doesn’t grow on trees. So, unless the Jets go out and get lucky on the open market, I think you have to rotate Pool and Smith and play off their strengths depending on the situation. I’d trust Pool more on the opposing side of the 50 due to his speed, but I’d be fine with Smith when the field gets shorter.

JOE: On paper that does make sense, but Pool hasn’t been very good when on the field this year. The Jets will have a patch-work situation at that position for the rest of the year. A playmaking safety isn’t easy to find but the Jets need to try, especially in the early rounds of next year’s draft.

TJ: Why is there so much “miscommunication” going on back there as I believe Leonhard claimed there was last week when rookie LB Josh Mauga was frantically running for his life to cover Antonio Gates in the end zone. Plays like that are happening too often and they shouldn’t, given the experience that Jim Leonhard and Eric Smith have during their time in New York together.

Covering tight ends has been a nightmare again for the Jets who may want to leave that up to corner guys like Wilson, and Donald Strickland instead of Smith. Does Brodney Pool get what defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and Rex Ryan want? If so, get him in on more plays. He hits hard. so even if he’s late to the ball, someone is gonna get dialed up, perhaps leading to some turnovers.

9. Are the Patriots better than the Jets? If so, in what ways and how much better?

JEFF: At the end of the day I see this matchup as a wash. It all depends on when on the calendar they meet. Earlier in the season is better for the Patriots because the Jets’ D is so complex it takes quite a while for the players to get comfortable in their roles. Later in the season is better from a defensive standpoint. Offensively, the Jets should always be able to move the ball and put up points on the New England defense because it’s simply not that good. The Pats have more “stars” on offense; the Jets are much more sound defensively. I just think the Pats know how to put teams away, while the Jets, due in part to their offensive philosophy, always seem to find themselves still being forced to move the ball on offense in the fourth quarter instead of just letting the defense preserve victories. It’s not by design and that’s the main reason the Jets hover around 9-11 wins instead of 12-13 and securing home playoff games.

JOE: On a week to week basis, yes they are a better football team. They are more consistent and have one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history under center with a ridiculous collection of weapons. Fortunately, that doesn’t mean the Jets aren’t more than capable of beating them in a few weeks and again in the playoffs if it comes to that. A few weeks ago, the Jets played far from their best game and hung right with New England. They have confidence against them, which goes a long way.

TJ: The Patriots of week 6 were better than the Jets. We’re not so sure if they will be by week 9. This Jets team has the roadmap to success now, thanks to a second half against the Chargers that helped highlight key blueprints. They have found their identity of spreading the ball around and stretching the field in order to open up the run game. This while locking down the corners, covering tight ends with nickel guys, and putting some heat on the pocket with Maybin and Calvin Pace. McKnight and rookie Jeremy Kerley provide the field positon in the return game. There is still room to grow for the Jets so the jury is stlll out. Falling behind by two games by failing to identify the strengths and weaknesses of this current group earlier, makes it tougher to win the division though. Obviously.

10. How can the Jets compensate for their shortcomings on defense, particularly at safety and outside linebacker?

JEFF: By getting to the quarterback. I can’t state it any clearer.

JOE: Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine. They have the ability to coach around those shortcomings, which existed last year but still didn’t prevent the Jets from beating Indianapolis or New England on the road.

TJ: By working Brodney Pool into the safety rotation for more athleticism and aggressive hitting. By rushing guys like Wilson on passing downs and again, asking Pool and the safeties to play the outside run a bit more. This would leave Antonio Cromartie and Darrelle Revis on their own more often so Cro would HAVE TO think less and react more on his island. We all know that Revis can handle any coverage assignment by himself.

CHECK BACK FOR PART TWO ON SUNDAY