Patriots vs. Jets: Biggest Questions That Must Be Answered in Divisional Matchup

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistOctober 20, 2013

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 12:  Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots calls out from under center in the first half while taking on the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium on September 12, 2013 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

A highly anticipated battle between two divisional rivals could set the tone for the rest of the season. However, each side has some unanswered questions that must be resolved before going forward.

Coming into the season, many would have thought this game would be an easy victory for the New England Patriots. The problem is the New York Jets have been better than expected, scratching their way to 3-3 on the year.

A win in this home game could keep the Jets in contention for an AFC East title while sending a message to the rest of the league that they are for real. Meanwhile, the Patriots have survived a few tough tests early in the year and enter the week at 5-1. 

Still, these questions will help decide this Week 7 matchup as well as give a better indication as to what to expect from these teams for the remainder of the year.

 

How Big of an Impact Will Rob Gronkowski Have?

One of the major storylines throughout the early part of the season was how Tom Brady struggled to connect to his new receiving targets. None of the Patriots' top-five receivers from last season have played this year for New England. 

While Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson have shown signs of potential, Brady needs some familiarity as well as experience on the field.

Rob Gronkowski brings that, and it can make a huge difference in this offense. The tight end has not played a snap yet this year, but he was cleared to play in the upcoming game against the Jets, according to ESPN.

If the tight end is 100 percent, he will especially play a huge role in the red zone, where the Patriots have struggled this season. Brady will be able to throw it up to his 6'6" tight end and watch him score like he did 38 times in the past three years.

However, Gronkowski must still prove that he is completely healthy. He might be limited in the early going, which will continue to hold back this offense.

 

Can Geno Smith Find Any Consistency?

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 07: Quarterback Geno Smith #7 of the New York Jets throws against the Atlanta Falcons during their game at the Georgia Dome on October 7, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The win over the Atlanta Falcons on Monday Night Football appeared to be a turning point for Geno Smith. The rookie quarterback completed 80 percent of his passes, threw three touchdowns and led his team on a game-winning drive ending in a field goal.

However, he reverted back to his struggling self in Week 6 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. That Falcons game remains the only one where Smith did not throw an interception, and the quarterback now has 10 picks in six career starts.

These turnovers continue to be an issue, and it raises significant doubts whether he can be a legitimate starter in the NFL.

Fortunately, Smith has shown the potential to be a quality passer and leader. He simply has to play like that every time he takes the field. Until he can do that, the Jets will continue to struggle.

 

Will Injuries Devastate the Patriots Defense?

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 02:  Jerod Mayo #51 of the New England Patriots congratulates Vince Wilfork #75 in the second half against the Miami Dolphins on January 2, 2011 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

Every team deals with injuries, but the Patriots now have to deal with two majors ones on the defensive side of the ball. After Vince Wilfork went down for the season, Jerod Mayo joined him on injured reserve after tearing his pectoral, according to Mike Reiss of ESPN

Mayo was the team's leading tackler, while Wilfork was an All-Pro defensive tackle who excelled at stopping the run. Without these players in the middle of the field, opposing running backs should expect a lot of success.

Things are even worse this week, with defensive tackle Tommy Kelly out and cornerback Aqib Talib doubtful, according to Shalise Manza Young of the Boston Globe.

While these two players will eventually return to action, they will certainly be missed this week. Talib was by far the team's best shutdown cornerback, and his absence will make things easier on the Jets offense.

Of course, if running back Bilal Powell runs free in this game, it could be a sign that the Patriots defense is truly in trouble for the remainder of the year.

 

Is the Jets Run Defense For Real?

Sep 8, 2013; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson (91) tackles Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin (22) during the first half at MetLife Stadium. The Jets won 18-17. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TOD
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Through six games of the season, the most impressive part of the Jets has been the defensive line. Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, Damon Harrison and others have formed a dominant front which has shut down running attacks this year.

Of course, the competition has not been great in this regard. While the Jets have the No. 2 rushing defense in the league, the squad only faced one team ranked in the top 10 in rushing offense. That was the Buffalo Bills, which totaled 120 yards on the ground against New York.

New England has had an inconsistent rushing attack this season and only managed 2.3 yards per carry against the Jets in Week 2. However, Stevan Ridley is coming off by far his best game of the year with 96 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

If he can keep this momentum going and the offensive line can clear space, he has the chance to beat this tough defensive unit. 

This could create even more question marks for the Jets as the season progresses.

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

Follow TheRobGoldberg on Twitter