On Thursday night the New York Jets (1-0) head up to Foxborough to face the New England Patriots (1-0) at Gillette Stadium (8:25 EST). The Jets are coming off of an improbable victory over the Buccaneers while the Patriots found a way to squeak out a win against the Bills. Here are some of the keys to the game from a New York Jets perspective.
1) Offensive line play- The New England Patriots did an excellent job of shutting down the Bills ground game last Sunday (Spiller 41 yards, Jackson 67 yards) and will try to do the same thing this week against the Jets. The goal for the Patriots is to stop the run and to force rookie Geno Smith to beat them through the air. The marquee match-up is Jets center Nick Mangold vs defensive tackle Vince Wilfork but keep an eye on left guard Vlad Ducasse and right tackle Austin Howard. Both linemen have struggled at times and I would not be surprised to see the Patriots go after both of them.
2) Kellen and Cumberland- Wide receiver Jeremy Kerley is listed as out on Thursday night which means the Jets will need to find some new options to make plays over the middle of the field. Look for Geno Smith to use tight ends Jeff Cumberland and Kellen Winslow as safety valves to help open up the passing game.
3) "Protective" playcalling- Last week Marty Mornhinweg did a solid job protecting his young quarterback with intelligent, "protective" playcalling. Mornhinweg must do the same this week as the young signal caller gets his first taste of prime time football on the road. Obviously the Jets will look to run the ball, but Marty can also utilize the short, quick passing game to get the rookie in rhythm. Also the Jets offensive coordinator must reconsider the use of the wildcat formation as it was not effective last week and put the Jets in long down to go situations.
4) Eliminate the big mistakes- Geno Smith must play within the offense and not try to make something out of nothing. Bill Belichick and the Patriots are going to pull out all of the stops to confuse Geno and the rookie must remain composed and take what the defense gives him. I would not be surprised to see Smith moved around the pocket and for the Jets to give more option looks where Geno can effectively use his legs.
1) Stop the run- The number one priority for the Jets will be to stop Stevan Ridley, LeGarrette Blount, and the Patriots ground game. Gang Green's front seven must be able to win the battles at the line of scrimmage in order to make plays in the backfield. This could be a big game for guys like Kenrick Ellis, Sheldon Richardson, Damon Harrison, David Harris, and Demario Davis.
2) Hit Brady- The Jets defense must find ways to get pressure on quarterback Tom Brady. The goal is to consistently collapse the pocket in order to get the Patriots passing game out of rhythm. Antwan Barnes, Calvin Pace, and Mo Wilkerson must find ways to generate a pass rush without the support of exotic blitz packages.
3) Consistent pass coverage- Even though the Patriots passing attack has been decimated by injuries (Amendola, Gronkowski likely ruled out) the Jets secondary must remain consistent in coverage. Last week the entire unit was torched by Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams and Gang Green must correct communication issues and tackling woes. I expect the Jets defensive backs to be very physical at the line of scrimmage especially against young receivers like Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce. Also keep an eye on how the Jets cover Julian Edelman.
4) Hurry up- The Patriots offense will feature the hurry up/quick tempo style that tries to capitalize on conditioning and mental mistakes. The Jets must be prepared for the hurry up and avoid substitution issues.
I honestly do not have a true feel for this game as the Patriots are decimated by personnel/injury issues while the Jets are starting a rookie quarterback. I think Gang Green's athletic and physical defense should keep the team in the game, it just comes down to Geno and his ability to make some big plays. At the end of the day I would rather take the known at home rather than the unknown on the road. Patriots 23-17