The meltdown in Seattle has many Patriots’ fans wondering what is wrong with the New England Patriots. The offense, despite putting up over 450 total yards against the league’s top-ranked defense, suffered from bad decision-making, poor throws by Tom Brady (two picks and at least two more that could/should have been), and awful time management that cost points on the board which might well have made the difference in the outcome. The defensive front seven played exceptionally well, but were hung out to dry by an abysmal secondary; the corners routinely got beat and/or ran through receivers to draw PI calls, and the safeties got beat deep while in Cover-2. I am not sure what the secondary coaches are teaching the players, but it clearly isn’t working, and it all conspired to contribute to a dramatic Seattle 24-23 comeback win while the Patriots went 1 for 6 in the red zone and left many points on the field. The Patriots ran 86 offensive plays to the Seahawks’ 57, yet lost the game. Their secondary made Russell Wilson look like Joe Montana, and John Boyer, Patriots’ cornerbacks coach since 2009, is now under scrutiny given the team’s pattern of bringing in cornerbacks who perform well for a period of time and then regress.
So what is to stem the tide of negativity and bring relief to Patriots’ fans? Why, there’s nothing like a visit from the J-E-T-S (or Y-E-T-S for those paying attention) to cure what ails us.
If the Patriots are really as bad as they looked in the final seven minutes of the game in Seattle, then you can expect the Jets to come in, exceed expectations, and engineer an unexpected upset of the host Patriots. If however, you are one who concludes that the Patriots will make the necessary corrections that are required to beat the Jets and get back on track, then you can expect a game that features exacting offensive execution and opportunistic defense in a game that will quickly get away from the Jets.
My money is on the latter.
Pay no attention to the Jets’ dismantling of the Colts last weekend; the Colts’ don’t possess the league’s top offense and are vulnerable against the run. One only need to look at the match-ups to realize that the Jets are not currently constructed and equipped to seriously threaten the Patriots this weekend. The Jets are without Darrelle Revis and Kendrick Ellis, are likely without Eric Smith and Sione Po’uha, and possess a dreadful run defense. While the Jets aspire to be a “ground and pound” team, it is the Patriots who have the capability to pound the Jets into submission through the run while also moving the ball effectively through the air. The Patriots not only have the league’s best offense, they also maintain control of the ball for more than 32 minutes a a game. No matter what troubles the Patriots are having in the secondary and in closing out games they should win, the Jets are not prepared to go up against this offense. The formula for a Jets’ win is to create an ugly contest, run the ball effectively and keep Tom Brady off the field, and hope that their safeties can contain Gronk and Hernandez. I’m thinking it’s more likely that the Patriots take out several weeks of frustration against a very vulnerable New York Jets team.
The Jets’ defense has been coming around, but without Darrelle Revis on the field they are likely woefully outmatched against the Patriots’ offense. While Cromartie is a good coverage corner, he can only cover one receiver at a time. The Jets don’t have the corners or the safeties to compete with the Patriots’ arsenal of Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Lloyd, and Deion Branch. Despite earlier boasting from Yeremiah Bell and LaRon Landry, the Patriots will be able to choose their preference of match-ups for Gronk, Hernandez, and Welker. The biggest question mark for the Patriots in the passing game is the health of both Gronkowski and Lloyd, but their status should be known well before game time. Expect Brady to pick apart the middle of the field and hit quick outs to Branch and Lloyd to help the Patriots move down the field. Brady could stand to improve the accuracy of his throws, as he has been off the mark on a number of throws in the past few weeks, and has been fortunate not to have more balls picked off by opposing defenses. The Patriots have the third-ranked passing offense going up against the Jets’ fifth ranked passing defense, but Brady won’t need a big statistical day to effectively navigate the Patriots down the field. The Jets got four sacks of Andrew Luck on Sunday, but the Patriots only gave up one late sack to the Seahawks. The Patriots should contain Coples and Wilkerson and give Brady the time he needs to make his reads.
It is in the rushing game that the Jets’ are even more vulnerable. The Jets are giving up 150 yards per game on the ground, and the Patriots have the horses to gain at least that much, ranking fourth in the league in rushing yards per game. The game plan against the Seahawks was intentionally pass heavy, but you can expect that Stevan Ridley, Brandon Bolden, and Danny Woodhead will get plenty of carries to take advantage of the porous New York run defense. Look for the Patriots to execute long scoring drives all afternoon to shorten the game and build a substantial lead.
Shonn Greene ran for a career-high 161 yards against Indianapolis on Sunday, but the Patriots’ run defense is far more formidable. The offensive line of the Jets will struggle to contain the Patriots’ front four, and Chandler Jones in particular has been a tremendous complement to Vince Wilfork on the line. Brandon Spikes and Jerod Mayo are both fierce against the run, making the idea that Greene will have another banner day an unlikely possibility. Greene will need to rush for at least 100 yards (more likely 125) for the Jets’ to have a realistic chance to compete in this game, but it is more likely that he will be in the 50-60 range; the Patriots recognize Greene as the strength of the Jets’ offense, and will take that strength away. The Jets’ like to find ways to utilize Joe McKnight (if he is available) and he has the potential to bust off a big play or two but once again, the Patriots’ run defense is better than the Colts.
In the air, even Mark Sanchez could have connected on some of the plays that Russell Wilson made on Sunday, but truthfully Wilson already has better judgment as well as more mobility to be a more effective quarterback. The Jets’ thin receiving corps is comprised of Jeremy Kerley, Stephen Hill, Dustin Keller, and Chaz Schilens, and is not the same type of threatening group that the Patriots faced in Seattle. Given Sanchez’ propensity for bad decisions, the Patriots will likely be able to force some mistakes and give their offense a short field, particularly given the pass rush that the Patriots can bring to bear against a suspect offensive line. While you can expect the Jets to hit one or two long sideline passes over the course of the game, I rather suspect the safety play in the middle will be cleaned up before this game begins. Additionally, the Jets may play with the Wildcat offense; expect Tebow to trot onto the field for a couple of series’ worth of plays, grab a first down or two, and get stuffed for a loss or two, but the Patriots will not allow Tebow to change the course of the game.
Both the Patriots and Jets have solid kicking units, though the Patriots’ punt cover team is susceptible to giving up a big return and Jeremy Kerley is capable of delivering. Similarly, Wes Welker has a knack for turning bad field position into good field position, so big plays are a possibility on either side. Look for the Jets to treat this game like they have nothing to lose, and fake runs and passes with Tebow in on the punt team are very likely. The Patriots will have to spy every special teams play to prevent this from turning the tide of the game.
Obviously, I am expecting the Patriots to rebound for at least Week Seven. The Jets are coming in to Foxboro at exactly the right time and are going to have a hard time with the Patriots’ new diversity on offense. On defense the Patriots front seven will take away the Jets’ best chance to win the game (Greene) and force the ball into Mark Sanchez’ hands. Sanchez is no Russell Wilson, and will have a hard time executing over the middle of the field.
Even with the Patriots’ defensive woes, it is hard to imagine the Jets scoring more than 17 points, if you assume Sanchez to be good for one scoring drive, and allow for one big special teams play and a big play from Tebow. On the flip side, expect the Patriots offense to be angry for failing to execute when it counted on Sunday and to be looking to pile it on the Jets this Sunday. After an early exchange of scores, I look for the Patriots to take control of the game in the second and third quarters, and to close out the game in the fourth quarter by running the rock and pouring the points on. Patriots 41 Jets 17.