Excitement continues to build at astronomical rates, as fans of the New York Jets prepare to welcome the New England Patriots to the Meadowlands on Sept. 14. With Tom Brady out for the season, expectations for this game are varying across the board.
Will New England still be a powerhouse without the face of their franchise? Can the Jets take advantage and finally overcome the team that has dominated their division for the better part of a decade?
Mike Dussault and Angel Navedo met at the AFC East Roundtable to discuss the new climate of the division, and what fans should expect in the first Jets-Patriots showdown of 2008.
Without Tom Brady, does this game become a must win for the New York Jets?
MD: I tend to think that it is. If they lose at home to the Pats, with Matt Cassel playing quarterback, it could be a pretty demoralizing loss. It's their home opener, and they have a legit quarterback for the first time in a long time. They need a win that will send the message that they are contenders.
AN: Every game is a must-win! Starting off 2-0, especially in this division, is of the essence. Tom Brady or none, the Patriots are a tough team. Getting the first win was impressive, but being able to secure back-to-back wins from division rivals, and teams whose 2007 records were on complete opposite ends of the spectrum will be a testament to the Jets' offseason efforts.
What were the biggest surprises from your team in Week One? Which players caught you off-guard?
MD: For the Pats, I was most impressed with the defense. Jerod Mayo looked legit and rarely left the field. And Lewis Sanders/Deltha O'Neal did just fine in replacing Asante Samuel.
The defense already looks better than last years', and stopping Kansas City on the five-yard line to end the game should be a huge confidence builder going forward.
Obviously, I was most disappointed in the passing game with Cassel at the helm. He made a couple plays, but only a couple. With Brady gone, the Patriots are in trouble. I know that they will try to game plan around Cassel's strengths (incompletions) and weaknesses (not being good at quarterback) to put him a position to succeed. Hopefully.
AN: Brett Favre's career is well documented, but I was still surprised with the quality of play. He did things that Jets fans aren't used to. His touchdown lob to Chansi Stuckey was marvelous. Maneuvering out from under pressure and still finding enough time to read the field and make something happen on 4th-and-13 is incredible.
Thomas Jones also showed that he can run with a good offensive line. The Jets need him to build on that.
As for disappointments, the special teams keep breaking my heart. I understand Mike Nugent was injured—but for it to happen when he planted his leg after a kick is insanity! Special-teams coverage needs to improve overall. They can't lose field-position battles, especially when the Jets have been so good at it for the majority of the last decade!
Are the Kansas City Chiefs and Miami Dolphins that good, or did the teams perform that poorly?
AN: It's tough to call. Tom Brady may have been hurt, but he doesn't play defense. Allowing the Chiefs to threaten overtime with a backup QB in the final seconds places the Patriots' defense under the microscope.
The Jets aren't impervious to similar criticism though. Miami was a 1-15 team. Maybe they were driven by Pennington's passion and emotion. But one has to wonder if both teams are the real deal, or if the Jets and Patriots had an off afternoon.
Or, maybe two bottom-feeders of 2007 are on the verge of being competitive.
MD: I chalk all performances up to that being the first game of the season. Aside from the one long play at the end of the game that almost set up a game-tying field goal, the Pats held the Chiefs in check for the most part. Larry Johnson was ineffective all day, and the Pats' corners did a solid job against big receiver Dwayne Bowe and TE Tony Gonzalez.
As always, it starts with the big front three, and they controlled the line of scrimmage. They were able to get consistent pressure from Mike Vrabel, and I think it's clear Adalius Thomas belongs on the outside, where he made some big plays.
As for the Jets in Miami, I think a few factors played a part in keeping the game close. With it being Favre's first game, Pennington playing against his old team, and the Florida heat taking a toll on the players, there were extra circumstances at play.
Clearly, both teams are improved from a year ago, and despite what Boomer Esiason says, Favre is going to be just fine in his new offense.
Where do you think the Jets and Patriots will look to attack one another?
MD: I'm sure the Jets are going to try and confuse Cassel. They're going to put a lot of pressure on him. I'd guess they can gamble a bit more than they would if it was Brady back there.
The one thing Cassel can do better than Brady is scramble, so the Jets will have to be aware of that. I'll be most interested in seeing how they attack the Pats' defense.
AN: No argument from me there. With Cassel in, the Jets don't have to worry about an ice-cold, experienced QB that can make things happen. Cassel has an excellent offense around him, but the Jets will exploit his inexperience. As for his mobility, I'm confident in the Jets' speed on the ends to keep him contained.
The Patriots' offensive line is accustomed to handling a pocket passer. If Cassel looks to escape that pocket, he'll only be helping the Jets.
On the offensive side, I'm really not that concerned with the Patriots' defense. I'm sure running the ball won't be as easy this week with that front three, but the secondary is ripe to be picked apart.
Damon Huard may have had a hard time reading the coverage, but if the line continues their excellent pass blocking, Favre is going to find open receivers.
The Pats are going to have to step up. Mayo's going to need to show some progress. I'm sure New England will be looking to evaluate whatever went wrong to allow Damon Huard to push the team to the brink. Whatever they find, they need to make sure they correct!
MD: Hard to find too much to correct on D for the Pats. They did give up some third-down plays that they probably want back, but aside from one long run by Larry Johnson and the 68-yard reception at the end of the game, the Chiefs really didn't do much.
Granted, the Unretired One is already more potent in the Jets' offense than Huard or Croyle, I still think we have yet to see where (and if) the Pats D can be exposed.
I think the Pats will try to use their running game a lot more against the Jets than they did against the Chiefs. They will have to. I expect a lot of short passes as well. I think we're back to the dink-and-dunk attack with Cassel.
I look for Wes Welker, David Thomas, and Kevin Faulk to all be utilized in the passing game. I just can't see Cassel having the vision, or the arm, to get it to Moss consistently down field. In the red zone he'll be a threat. If they can get there.
AN: If the running game is your key to victory next week, then I feel really good! The Jets were supposed to be in trouble against the rejuvenated Ricky Williams and the healthy Ronnie Brown. Both backs couldn't combine for more than 50 yards.
Maroney is good, and the Pats' offensive line is better than Miami's, but I can't see Maroney picking up the slack from Cassel's inconsistencies.
MD: The Patriots' running game is far more diverse than the Dolphins'. Though Ricky and Kevin Faulk both seem to share a love for Mary Jane, Sammie Morris, LaMont Jordan, and Faulk all bring something different to the table. I think they will have a lot of different looks and options to attack the Jets that Miami did not have.
AN: A committee backfield is always tough, but the run defense proved to be very stout last week. I'm not saying all three of those backs won't combine for some good yardage. I'm just not convinced that they have what it takes to be the absolute difference makers.
It seems as if the teams match up well against one another. How big of a role can special teams play in this contest?
AN: They have the potential to be huge! The Jets brought in Jay Feely this week to step in for Mike Nugent while he's injured. Honestly, I expect Feely to push for the long-time starter position if he can shut his mouth long enough for the team not to hate him.
Aside from that, the Jets have built a reputation on special-teams play, and throughout the preseason and the Miami game, we saw collapsing walls in kickoff returns, broken lanes on punt coverage, and punts that may have been worse, if not for good Jets bounces. If they can win the field-position battle, it'll make Sunday a lot easier at home.
MD: I thought the Pats' special teams were solid against the Chiefs. Aside from a fumbled kickoff by rookie Matthew Slater, of course. Ellis Hobbs showed yet again how dangerous he could be by returning one deep into KC territory.
Overall coverage was solid, and Gostkowski hit an important field goal from 37 yards. As always, one big play on special teams can make or break a game. If it stays close, it will put the pressure on Jay Feely—he might not be ready for that.
What are the keys for the opposition to win?
MD: For the Jets to beat the Pats, they will have to shut down the run and put the game in Matt Cassel's hands. They should have a good shot at forcing some interceptions. If they do that, they will have a good shot at winning.
Laurence Maroney and Sammy Morris received the bulk of the carries, and both ripped off some big runs against Kansas City. The Jets will have to stop those like they did in Miami. But remember, the Pats' offensive line is slightly better than the Dolphins'.
If Maroney, Morris, Faulk, and Jordan are running wild, the Pats can control the clock, keeping Favre off the field, so they won't have to rely on Cassel's arm is essential.
And when Favre is on the field, the Pats have to force him into mistakes. This is the only way to level the playing field with such an inexperienced QB under center for them. The Pats' run defense looked great in Week One.
If that continues, and they keep Favre in check, then it will be close. If Favre is back there, winging it for big gains, the Pats will be in major trouble.
If the Jets can score upwards of 21 points, I'm not sure a Matt Cassel-led Patriots offense will be able to keep up!
AN: The Patriots' running game is going to have to be phenomenal. The weaknesses in the Jets' defense are things that Matt Cassel can't exploit! Rotating running backs, wearing down the big men up front, and hoping that Matt Cassel can throw the ball into Randy Moss' hands a few times for big gains is going to be the only way they can move the chains.
The Jets have a rookie cornerback in Dwight Lowery starting that Matt Cassel won't be good enough to expose.
Defensively, the Patriots need to realize that the chemistry isn't completely there in the passing game. If they feel timing patterns coming on, they need to try and disrupt them immediately. But are the corners good enough to do it?
The chemistry isn't there for Favre and all of his targets yet. He has a great rapport with Jerricho Cotchery already, so the defense will need to be weary of that connection.
Would beating the Matt Cassel-led Patriots instead of the Tom Brady-led Patriots take some of the sweetness out of a Jets' victory?
AN: Not at all! Injuries are a part of the game. New England's known that for years, and they've established a reputation off the flexibility of their personnel. They've made seamless transitions through the depth chart over the years. One player goes down, another steps up.
Cassel's entering his fourth year behind Brady. I'm sure he's learned a thing or two.
MD: One thing I do know is that the Patriots will not feel sorry for themselves with Brady out for the year. They will come out and play hard until the final gun. They may not have their usual star QB, but there is Pro Bowl talent throughout the rest of the roster. If the Jets win, they will have beaten a good team, Brady or no Brady.
Angel Navedo is the Head Writer at NYJetsFan.com, boasting Jet Fuel Radio, frequently updated news and opinions, and a premier fan community.
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