Everything You Need To Know About the Jets and Patriots Monday Night Matchup
The New York Jets will travel to Foxborough, Mass., on Monday night to take on the New England Patriots in a game that has major implications not only in the battle for AFC East supremacy, but for the seeding in the AFC Playoffs.
The winner of the game has the inside track for an AFC East crown and the No. 1 seed in the AFC Playoffs, so you know both of these teams are going to give it their best shot.
What should you keep an eye on? How do these two teams match up? And most importantly, who is going to win?
Tom Brady Got His Swagger Back
Apparently not satisfied with being second to Mark Sanchez (the young quarterback has an obsession with Broadway show tunes) when it comes to doing awkwardly fruity things in the eyes of the common NFL fan, Tom Brady has recently announced his endorsement of UGG apparel, a brand that is famous for supplying furry boots to high school girls and women all around the world.
"I have worn and loved the UGG brand for a long time," Brady said.
Only a quarterback supremely confident in his abilities would brazenly set himself up for ridicule and mockery from insecure and jealous NFL fans with a vendetta against a supermodel's husband.
And Brady is shoving it their faces on the field, completing 66.3 percent of his passes for 2,703 yards, 23 touchdowns and just four interceptions.
Those who were questioning whether or not Brady would recover from his injury in 2008 and the embarrassing home loss against the Ravens in 2009 have their answer.
With Tom Brady, the Patriots are never out of a game and will always be one of the better teams in the NFL.
So He's Like Invincible, Right?
No, not at all.
Rex Ryan's Jets have proven that they can disrupt Tom Brady, and they don't even have to sack him to do it. In three games against Belichick and Brady, Rex Ryan is 2-1.
In the two wins, his defense has only sacked Brady once, but they constantly harassed him, even hitting him 23 times in their Week 2 matchup last season.
In the second half of the Jets and Pats first matchup this season, the Jets shut out Brady and the Pats by amping up the pressure and flustering the quarterback.
On Monday night, it will be absolutely essential that the Jets attack Brady at all the right moments. They can't pin their ears back and come after him the entire game or Belichick and his quarterback will adjust and burn the Jets' defense.
However, they can't be too passive. Ryan has to send a dozen different looks at Brady throughout the game, sometimes showing blitz but dropping back in zone while other times rolling the dice and going for the throat.
Calvin Pace, who has been slowed this season by a foot injury suffered in the preseason, seems to be rounding into form. He was not playing in Week 2 when the Jets beat the Patriots 28-14.
His play will be crucial to the Jets' success on Monday, as he is their best pass rusher and needs to be able to pressure Brady on downs where the rest of the defense gets conservative.
Then again, the Patriots offensive line has only allowed 15 sacks all year, so getting pressure on Brady is easier said than done.
Why Are the Blitzes Important?
Because Brady will eat any defense alive with short, timing routes to targets like Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski and Danny Woodhead.
If the Jets can force Brady to throw half a second too soon it will effect the play. How? Maybe it will make a receiver have to reach over the wrong shoulder, or maybe it will give the play slightly less time to develop, allowing a defender be in position to stop the play before it develops properly, but if the Jets don't get pressure on Brady they will be vulnerable over the middle of the field.
There are two reasons for this.
The first is that the Jets inside linebackers, Bart Scott and David Harris, are not stellar in coverage. Adequate might even be an overstatement. They are lights-out in run defense and both are great pass rushers for the position, but they are liabilities against good pass-catching tight ends and running backs.
Hernandez and Gronkowski, the Patriots' two rookie tight ends, are matchup nightmares for most teams and the Jets are no different.
Then there is Danny Woodhead, the erstwhile Jet and now Patriot Swiss army knife. When the Jets released Woodhead, it was because he would not have seen the field in their offense; but as a Patriot, Woodhead is an integral part of the offense, such is the variability of schemes in the NFL.
Putting Scott or Harris on either of the tight ends or Woodhead would result in a touchdown or two on short passes that develop into big yards.
Welcome Back, Dwight Lowery!
Jets fans know Dwight Lowery as the best closer in New York not named Mariano Rivera. In back-to-back weeks Lowery provided the game-ending play on defense, returning a Favre interception for a touchdown to seal a win against the Vikings and recovering a botched snap against the Broncos to seal the deal in Denver.
Lowery has been out the past two weeks with a concussion, but he expects to play Monday night. This isn't to say Dwight Lowery is some sort of knight in shining armor come to save the Jets from the dreaded Patriots offense.
It's just that the Jets will probably deploy five or more defensive backs in their defensive formation throughout the game, and any extra depth is welcomed with open arms, especially with Hernandez, Gronkowski and Woodhead staring the defense down.
Chances are Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie will play man-to-man against Wes Welker and Deion Branch unless Hernandez or Gronkowski flex out wide. If that's the case, one of those two corners may change assignments.
That means guys like Eric Smith, Drew Coleman, James Ihedigbo and Dwight Lowery will be responsible for stopping the two tight ends and Woodhead.
Rex Ryan's best shot might be to bring his extra defensive backs up to the of scrimmage, sometimes blitzing and other times feigning the blitz only to bump Hernandez, Gronkowski and Woodhead at the line and drop back into coverage.
No ifs, ands or buts about it, the Jets need Mark Sanchez to have a good game if they want to win.
In Week 2 against the Patriots, Sanchez had his best game as an NFL quarterback, completing an astounding (for him) 70 percent of his passes and throwing three touchdowns and zero interceptions.
However, that was in New Jersey.
In his only game in Foxborough last season, Sanchez was 8-of-21 on pass attempts, threw four interceptions and lost a fumble.
If he plays like that again the Jets lose, plain and simple.
Fortunately for the Jets, there are no five and three interception games like Sanchez suffered in 2009 leading up to the game in Foxborough that portend a complete collapse like the one he saw last season.
The return of Jerricho Cotchery should also help Sanchez, providing him with a sure-handed, intermediate route-running receiver who has a history of making big catches against the Patriots.
And that's a good thing given the opposition.
Mark Sanchez Needs Some Help
Unlike Tom Brady, Mark Sanchez is not capable of lifting his team on his shoulders for an entire game. He has never shown the ability to take a game over from the first minute and dominate all the way through.
So it will be of the utmost importance that LaDainian Tomlinson, Shonn Greene and the Jets offensive line produce some yards on the ground. In their Week 2 matchup with the Patriots, Tomlinson and Greene ran for 128 yards combined on 26 carries.
A repeat performance will take some pressure off of Mark Sanchez and open up the field for the Jets' weapons.
The second thing success on the ground would do is keep Tom Brady off the field. Surprisingly, the Patriots have allowed opponents to control the clock for an average of 32:50 per game, which plays right into the hands of the Jets ground game.
If the Jets get rolling on the ground it will also limit the Patriots' secondary's opportunities to pick off Mark Sanchez.
Just How Bad Is the Patriots Defense?
Not as bad as most would like to make it out to be.
Yes the Patriots allow 24.2 points per game, which ranks them 22nd in the NFL.
Yes the Patriots allow 288.5 yards passing per game, which ranks them 32nd in the NFL.
And yes the Patriots allow 399.1 total yards of offense per game, which ranks them 31st in the NFL.
But those statistics belie the game scenarios that produced them.
The Patriots have often jumped out to leads in most of their games, in part thanks to their defense, which has forced turnovers and either scored as a result (three touchdowns on fifteen interceptions) or set Brady and the offense up for an easy scoring drive.
In turn, opposing offenses have been throwing the ball a lot against the Patriots. They have faced a league-high 40.1 pass attempts per game. With a lead in hand, the Patriots have no reason to put too much pressure on opposing offenses.
So don't think the Patriots defense is a pushover that the Jets will be able to walk all over because they can actually be a very dangerous defense, especially against a quarterback that is completing just 55 percent of his passes.
But It Does Have Some Real Weaknesses
For all the talk about how "inept" the Jets pass rush has been, the Patriots pass rush has been worse.
The Patriots only have 20 sacks this season. And, really, does it surprise anybody that Tully Banta-Cain is not going to duplicate his 10-sack season from a year ago?
This lack of a pass rush has resulted in a horrendous third-down defense that has allowed its opponents to convert on 51 percent of their opportunities.
While the Jets aren't a great third down offense (they rank 16th in the NFL with a 40 percent conversion rate), they will be able to take advantage of the Patriots' biggest defensive weakness.
Against a Jets offensive line that has allowed just 19 sacks in 11 games and a quarterback in Sanchez that has proved he can keep a play alive with his legs, the Jets' quarterback should have plenty of time to throw the ball when he does drop back.
For this reason, it is crucial that Bill Belichick utilize coverage schemes that will confuse the young quarterback and trick him into making throws that will result in picks or drive-killing incompletions.
Jets Game Plan
Usually when the Jets win the coin toss, they opt to defer until the second half, but things might be different come Monday.
Facing a hostile pro-New England crowd, Rex Ryan may opt to receive the opening kickoff if the Jets win the coin toss.
Once the Jets get that ball they will attack the Patriots from the get go, letting Mark Sanchez air it out. The implication would be pretty clear: we're not afraid of you or your fans.
Eventually that pass-heavy attack will give way to the Jets running game, especially if the Jets complete a couple of longer passes to start the game, thus opening up the running game.
It's imperative that the Jets successfully run the ball and control the clock, keeping Tom Brady on the sidelines and taking pressure off of Mark Sanchez later in the game.
On defense, the Jets will probably spend the first quarter or so feeling out the Patriots offense, not really sending too many crazy blitzes at Brady; again, something that is not common for Ryan.
The Jets have been running Brad Smith out of the TigerCat a heck of a lot without the threat of passing the ball.
Perhaps this is just a renegade opinion, but the Jets should try and orchestrate a pass out of the formation, though not necessarily through Brad Smith. LaDainian Tomlinson has thrown seven touchdown passes in his career, you know.
Patriots Game Plan
What else will the Pats do other than what the Pats do best?
They'll play to their opponent's weaknesses, which against the Jets means attacking the middle of the field with their tight ends and Danny Woodhead.
However, Bill Belichick might take the Jets concerns with that aspect and turn it on them by running the ball. BenJarvis Green-Ellis is an underrated running back, and with the Jets focusing on stopping the Patriots short-passing game and deploying smaller defensive sets, the big back might be able to find some running room and a poor defensive back to hit on his way to an extra yard or three per run.
For that matter, don't be surprised to see Belichick dust off Fred Taylor and give him some carries in the second half when the Jets defense will be a bit tired from tackling Green-Ellis and chasing Hernandez, Gronkowski and Woodhead all overt he field.
On defense, Belichick probably won't overextend himself by blitzing too much because the Patriots already don't have enough personnel to cover all of the Jets' weapons. However, if he does dial up the blitz, look for it to be from the right side against a banged up, and seemingly deteriorating Damien Woody.
Even if this flushes Sanchez out of the pocket, where he seems to have a knack for throwing the ball, it would do so to his left, which is, by far, his weaker side.
Conclusion and Predictions
There seems to be a lot of hyperbolic statements about the weaker of each of the team's units coming from both fan bases. From Jets fans, you hear a constant stream of insults levied at the Patriots defense, while from Patriots fans, you hear a constant stream of insults levied at Mark Sanchez and the Jets offense.