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The Jets-Patriots rivalry is quickly growing into one of the more intense rivalries in the National Football League. These are two teams that match-up well against each other, know each other, respect each other and hate each other. There are few secrets, despite constant efforts to out-maneuver, scheme and wrinkle one another, because the truth is, in the words of Bill Belichick ”It’s one of those deals where they know that we know that we know that they know that we know.”
As a result, these two teams are 3-3 in the regular season under Rex Ryan and Belichick.
If that wasn’t enough tension for you, the Jets and the Patriots now find themselves in a three-way tie for the AFC East with the Buffalo Bills, giving Sunday Night’s game critical playoff implications. If the Jets lose, their chances of winning the AFC East may be lost and whether or not they host a home playoff game will be the least of their concerns.
All that said, these are two teams headed in opposite directions. The Jets are coming off a three-game winning streak and playing their best football of the season, while the Patriots are just looking to win a game, period. After back-to-back losses to the Steelers and the Giants, the Patriots have left many wondering if perhaps their dynasty is coming to an end. While that is another topic for another day, football fans everywhere will be waiting to see if the Jets can deliver the Patriots their first three-game losing steak since 2002.
Do how does these familiar opponents match-up? Let’s take a closer look.
Without question the key for the Jets offense, above all things, is to control the ball. That means maintaining drives, avoiding turnovers and major mistakes and keeping Tom Brady off the field.
The Patriots defense is ranked 31st in the league overall and their secondary is ranked dead last. While I hesitate to only count yards against as a true measure of defensive value (which is what the NFL does), I can’t get around it in this instance. The Patriots secondary is just not very good. They are last in the league in total yards allowed with 314 yards per game, which is 54 more than the 31st ranked Colts. They have allowed the most receptions of 20-plus yards and they rank 31st in red-zone defense. All of this, from a guy (Belichick) who is supposed to be defensive genius.
I could go on, but it’s really not necessary. They stink. (Again, if you’re not into evaluating defenses based on yardage alone, I will offer two other resources which rank defenses more on total efficiency. They ranked 26th and 27th).
Many have been critical of the Jets approach to the offense heading into this game. How could you not chuck it around 40-plus times against a secondary this terrible? Why ground and pound when it’s through the air that they can be beaten? (Side note: Can we please stop with the “ground-and-pound” thing because it’s realllllly annoying).
The most obvious reason is because what they have been doing is working. After finally returning to a run-first approach, the Jets have averaged 120-plus yards on the ground in their last three games. Not only does establishing a run game give the Jets an advantage controlling the ball, which is essential against Tom Brady, it actually makes Mark Sanchez be a better quarterback.
Sanchez has improved in nearly every statistical category in his third season (just check out these stats from Newsday) but his greatest success in 2011 has come out of the play-action. He has completed 61 percent of his play-action passes, compared to 56 percent the remainder of the time. Make no mistake: Sanchez will take some shots down the field, but the main goal is a balanced offensive attack with equal distribution to their many play-makers.
In the last 4 games since the revision, including the Patriots game in Week 5, Mark Sanchez is second to Ben Roethlisberger in the AFC with a 94.7 passer rating. Also in that time, the overall offense has averaged 24.75 points per a game.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Lastly, the offensive line has really hit its stride and with the Patriots’ lack of a pass rush, Sanchez should have plenty of time to distribute the ball properly and eliminate mistakes when he does take shots down the field, which he must do in order to keep the defense honest. I have my money on a big play to Plaxico Burress, with more slants to Kerley and Keller as we saw in Buffalo.
Not-So Secret Weapon: Santonio Holmes. He may not have the crazy stats, but Holmes has been making explosive game-changing plays.
Match-up to Watch: Nick Mangold vs. Vince Wilfork
Rex Ryan applauded both the Steelers and Giants defensive schemes in their wins over the Pats and admitted, “Hey, I’ll steal from anybody.”
I would argue that is was the Jets who drew the blueprint for defeating the Patriots and at this point, we are all familiar with what it is. It means press man coverage, jamming the receivers, confusing the quarterback and creating turnovers. The Jets have forced eight turnovers in their last three games and have held opponents to 38 points in those games.
The Patriots, meanwhile, have not scored more than 20 points in their last their games.
Let’s be honest. It all comes down to Tom Brady. Brady, coincidentally, does not have the best history against the Jets, especially in New York. Brady’s total QBR (ESPN’s version of quarterback rating) is under 50 when playing the Jets in New York. On the road elsewhere, it’s 69.
The normally foolproof Brady has already thrown ten interceptions this year, five of them on passes of ten yards or less. I could come up with a number of reasons why Brady has struggled in the past few games but it really comes down to poor decision making (which Brady himself admits), forced throws into tight coverage, good defensive scheme and most importantly, a lack of a true deep threat. As you know, most of the Patriots weapons play short, underneath routes. The Jets were able to take away most of the short passes from Ryan Fitzpatrick last Sunday and they will look to do the same thing here.
In their last meeting, Darrelle Revis covered Wes Welker for the entire second half and held him to only four catches for 51 yards. Revis really doesn’t like to cover the slot and it’s hard to say for sure how much Welker duty he will have, but taking the wide receiver away is an obvious priority. That being said, Welker’s targets have tapered off in recent weeks, likely due to coverage, and might explain why Brady has had some trouble.
Should also be noted Revis has held opposing QB’s to a 12.1 quarterback rating when they throw his away, a stat that is the best in the NFL.
This Jets secondary that is top in the NFL isn’t just made up on Darrelle Revis. In fact, the Jets, who lead the league in opposing passer rating (59.4), have plenty more personnel to mess with this team. Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine are so good with mixing coverages and they will challenging the other wideouts to beat coverage. Deion Branch has had some success doing this in the past, so they cannot be too careful.
There is the little (big) problem of the Patriots tight ends, who continually pose match-up problems for the Jets safeties. The Jets will be without Brodney Pool, who really helped them in coverage last week with his size. Ryan and Pettine have to account for Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski as if they are wide receivers; Rob Gronkowski is second on the team in targets, after Wes Welker.
It is no secret that the Jets have struggled against the run and I maintain that the turnover in personnel is mostly to blame. Now that this defense has had more time together, they have improved but the Patriots would be foolish not to try and run the ball. They have had success with it (ranked 17th in the league) and it is where the Jets are weakest. I doubt Ryan will allow his team to leave the ball in the hands of BenJarvus Green-Ellis as he did in Week 5.
While the Jets still lack a “true” pass rush, they have had success against Brady sending four rushers or less. ESPN Stats and Info tells us that nine of Brady’s ten interceptions this year were against four or fewer rushers. If the Jets can cause problems for Brady with this pressure, keep his weapons contained without selling out on the run and create some turnovers, I can honestly see the Patriots scoring less than 20 points for their fourth game in a row.
Secret Weapon : Kyle Wilson. Wilson has really come up this year and will be critical in this game.
Match-Up to Watch : Darrelle Revis vs. Wes Welker. Obviously.
Prediction : The Jets are simply the better team right now. Patriots lose their third straight game since 2002 and New Yorkers everywhere rejoice. Jets 24-Patriots 17