Jets vs. Patriots: Preview, Predictions and Analysis for Thursday Night Football

Sean ODonnellContributor IIISeptember 12, 2013

The New York Jets travel to Foxborough, Mass., to take on the New England Patriots on Thursday night, as both teams look to maintain a hold on the top spot in the AFC East.

Both team find themselves atop the division after the Patriots fended off the upstart Buffalo Bills, 23-21, while the Jets came away with a rather surprising 18-17 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1.

This contest not only looks to break the teams' 1-0 deadlock in 2013, but to also break the rivals' all-time regular-season series record of 51-51-1.

While their series record is a standoff, these two teams could not be built more differently. So what will ultimately decide the outcome of this Week 2 matchup?

Let's take a look.


Jets' Major Storyline No. 1: Geno Smith Must Continue to Step Up

After the Jets' Week 1 victory, there was far too much emphasis on the late hit delivered by Lavonte David that allowed Geno Smith and Co. to get into Nick Folk's field-goal range.

However, not enough emphasis was placed on how Smith got them there.

Showing far more poise than most rookie quarterbacks in their first career start, Smith orchestrated a 25-yard strike to tight end Kellen Winslow in a high-pressure scenario to set up Folk's kick. If Smith had been unwilling to run in that situation, the penalty on David would have never occurred.

These are the attributes of a quarterback who can put a team on his back and win a football game in the clutch, something that Mark Sanchez consistently failed to show.

Smith finished the game by completing 24-of-38 passes (a 63.2 completion percentage) for 256 yards, one touchdown and one interception for a passer rating of 80.6. He also rushed six times for 47 yards.

Not bad for his first career NFL start.

To put his Week 1 performance into perspective, Sanchez surpassed Smith's passer rating of 80.6 just five times in 2012 and has never rushed for even close to 47 yards during his five-year career.

If the rookie quarterback can maintain this high level of play in Week 2, the Jets could have a viable chance of unseating the reigning AFC East champions.


Jets' Major Storyline No. 2: The Dawn of a Pass-First Offense

Obviously, this piggybacks off the idea that Smith must continue to show poise and avoid mental mistakes typically made by rookies. If he is able to continue to remain calm under duress, the Jets are looking at an entirely new offensive philosophy going forward—a pass-first offense.

For years, the Jets have subscribed to the "ground-and-pound" style of offense with limited success. The strong showing by Smith in Week 1 instilled confidence that the rookie gunslinger can get the job done through the air.

This was relevant when looking back over the Jets' play-calling last week.

Smith threw the ball 38 times against the Buccaneers to eclipse the Jets' 23 rushing attempts, not including Smith's scampers.

Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg must be elated that Smith was able to spread the ball around as well with 24 completions to eight different receivers. Smith's ability to go through his progressions and evenly distribute the ball to each of his weapons has been, and will be, a major key to the success of the Jets' new pass-oriented offense.


Jets' Most Important Matchup: Secondary vs. Tom Brady

Yes, this is one of those things that is easier said than done, but it is a task that is familiar to the Jets.

Keeping Tom Brady under 300 yards passing has been a make-or-break milestone to the Jets' success against the Patriots in past years. Over the last three seasons, the Patriots have not been able to beat the Jets in regulation when Brady does not reach the 300-yard mark.

The Jets rank right in the middle of the pack in pass coverage after one game in 2013. They were given a -2.4 rating by Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Brady threw for 288 yards in Week 1 against a Bills' secondary that was given a -7.3 grade.

The numbers are one thing, but far better showings from cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie and Dee Milliner are necessary in Week 2 if the Jets are to keep the Patriots' future Hall of Fame quarterback under that milestone.


Patriots' Major Storyline No. 1: Moving Forward Without Shane Vereen

Throughout the majority of Brady's tenure in New England, the Patriots have been known to be a pass-first team. This year, however, the versatile skill set of running back Shane Vereen took most of the burden off the quarterback.

Vereen was phenomenal in Week 1 against Buffalo, carrying 14 times for 101 yards and an average of 7.2 yards while adding seven receptions for 58 more yards. He also showed his explosiveness in recording a carry and a reception of at least 19 yards.

A solid ground game seems more important than ever for New England after the losses of both starting tight ends over the offseason and a wide receiver corps that lacks depth and experience—especially without the services of injured Danny Amendola, who will miss Thursday night's game with a groin strain, according to Ian Rapoport of

Unfortunately for the Patriots, Vereen will not be a part of that for at least the next four weeks. According to a tweet by Jay Glazer of Fox Sports, Vereen will miss time after needing surgery on a broken bone in his wrist that he suffered against Buffalo:

Steven Ridley will need to put his ball-security issues behind him and pick up the slack left by the absence of Vereen in the weeks to come.


Patriots' Major Storyline No. 2: Force Geno Smith's Hand

New England was absolutely stellar against the run during their Week 1 contest against the Bills. They allowed a mere 41 rushing yards and just 2.4 yards per carry to the dynamic C.J. Spiller. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranked the Patriots eighth in the league with a +7.3 run defense rating.

Being that the Jets already have one lackluster rushing performance under their belts, this should not be too daunting of a task for New England.

However, one player must be contained on the ground above all else: Geno Smith.

The Patriots are aware just how dangerous Smith can be on the run. Recent history favors a rushing quarterback against the Patriots' defense, as highlighted by Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers in their 41-34 win over New England in Week 15 last season.

In that game, Kaepernick only rushed for 28 yards, but the threat of his abilities to run opened other avenues for the 49ers' offense. Smith has a similar ability and must be contained.

The goal here is to make Smith a one-dimensional quarterback in order to allow the Patriots' defense to concentrate on him as a passer rather than as a dual threat out of the backfield. If Smith's hand is forced by stifling his rushing attack, the Patriots' defense can focus on the Jets' passing game and limit the dynamics of the rookie quarterback.


Patriots' Most Important Matchup: Pass Rush vs. Jets' Offensive Line

After Week 1, it just so happens that the weakest part of the Patriots will be matched against the strongest part of the Jets.

The Patriots' pass rush struggled mightily in Week 1 and failed to sack rookie quarterback EJ Manuel. They were able to get four hits on Smith, but the pressure, as a whole, was lacking. Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) -2.7 rating of the Patriots' pass rush was very telling. The lack of pressure applied by the Patriots ranks them 22nd in the league.

Conversely, the Jets' offensive line flourished in pass protection this past week. Yes, Smith did take five sacks at the hands of the Buccaneers, but this was mainly due to scrambling. The offensive line held up very well, as noted by Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) +3.2 grade in pass protection—good enough for sixth in the league.

The likes of Tommy Kelly and Chandler Jones must apply more pressure in attempt to rattle the rookie signal-caller and force him into making bad decisions.


Bottom Line

While the positional matchups give the Patriots a slight advantage, the playing field seems to have leveled out after the injuries suffered by the Patriots in Week 1.

With New England struggling to surround Brady with weapons, it remains uncertain if the quarterback will remain as effective as he has been in the past. That leaves the door wide open for the Jets to come in and upset the Patriots at home.

That being said, the Patriots' chances of success will hinge on the game plan of head coach Bill Belichick. His creativity with his roster should be enough to hold off a Jets team that is better than many want to believe.

Prediction: Patriots 27, Jets 23



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