Jets-Pats Trilogy: The Divisional Round: This Time It's Personal
I am terrified of the Patriots. There, I said it. Any sensible person would be. They have a Hall of Fame coach, a Hall of Fame quarterback, and a bunch of scrappy castoffs and who-thats that must look at each other in the locker room and think, "Holy cow, after all the adversity and being told you can't do it, you're too small, you'll never play on anything other than a practice squad" now find themselves receiving handoffs and passes from Tom Brady and being coached by Bill Belichick in the freaking playoffs. You underestimate that at your peril.
So what hope do the Jets have? Well.....here goes.....
That 45-3 shellacking on national TV was an embarrassment. The Jets players won't hit that theme hard publicly, but they thirst for revenge. As I rewatched the game tape of Jets-Colts, (Yes, I am a football nerd. Why do you ask?) I realized that two defensive players had tremendous games and basically went unheralded. Brodney Pool and Eric Smith were beasts. Every time I turned around, they were in the middle of some big defensive play. Then I remembered...the Friday before the Dec 6 Monday Night Football Jets-Pats game is when they lost Jim Leonhard to a broken leg. In all my Rex Ryan Jets watching, I have never seen him as shaken as he was at that press conference when he had to make that announcement. The entire organization understood the gravity of the blow. Eric Smith took over as the QB of the defense, but it is one thing to watch somebody else do it and an entirely different matter to step in--against the Pats no less--and try to replace one of your most important defensive players. Everyone gave their best, but the Jets defense was just off that night. Then the offense was awful and one thing led to the next. Ugh.
However, they seem to have righted the ship and I like what I saw from Eric Smith in Indianapolis, which brings me to my next point. I can't believe that Ryan put his pride in his pocket and laid off the every down blitzing at Indy. It must have killed him, but it worked. Ryan really showed me something there. If it's time to change, it's time to change. I know he's old school, but winning is always current, and man, did the defense step up. No longer was it just Ryan's crazy schemes, but now it was every man has ownership of this defense and you better play like it was. Yeah, Manning strafed them with the Garcon TD, but when was the last time you watched a Colts team settle for field goals like that? Tremendous confidence boost for everyone involved.
What else can the Jets take from their last game into Foxboro? The running game has hit a new gear, and so far no serious injuries. LaDainian Tomlinson was so focused it scares me. Everything I predicted for him last week happened and then he capped it all off by talking about it at the post game press conference. Veteran determination like that walking the sideline and holding everyone accountable is very powerful.
Running game Part 2? It takes the pressure off Sanchez. Holy smokes did he sail those throws? Luckily the one that needed to sail did and Braylon Edwards caught it. That has to get fixed this week though. Did they numb his shoulder which affected his throwing? The Jets will never say and I don't know, but that was not good. This one is still a mystery. Most importantly though, the heavy lean on the run game accomplished something else; it ate the clock. The number one way to beat Tom Brady is to keep him and his flowing locks off the field.
What else? This is going to sound crazy, but hear me out. Belichick does not have an Offensive Coordinator or Defensive Coordinator this year. He's doing everything and he's spread pretty thin. Brady will take care of himself, but that young defense, especially if the Jets can get rolling, could be an X factor. I will never doubt Mr Belichick's talent and ability, but anything can happen in the playoffs. If the Jets have any new wrinkles that force Belichick to have to crash coach/teach on the sideline, that could be an advantage for the Jets. Ryan has the luxury of Pettine,Westhoff, and Schotty as his lieutenants, so he can stay big picture and only dive in when he needs to. Maybe this is nothing, but it's worth keeping any eye on.
Looking forward, what is the game plan?
Defense - knock the stuffing out of all those shifty receivers and backs. That was Belichick's exact game plan when they won Super Bowl XXXVI against the heavily favored Rams.
Put a spy on Woodhead. How about you Jason Taylor? If you think that kid isn't itching for payback against they Jets, you haven't been paying attention. He's the kind of sacrifice-your-body player that will leave it all on the field. You can't let him get by you. I'm not saying play prevent. I hate prevent; to me it tells your players you don't trust them enough to win. Instead, the call must be each man must play to championship caliber and take ownership.
Offense - don't get stale. Play action, bootlegs, misdirection, throw the kitchen sink at the young Pats defense. Tempo up, keep hustling, line up and go fast. Maybe the Pats get gassed and you catch a 12 men on the field penalty. (Coaches in the booth need to be extra alert.)
Special Teams - Keep up the good work. Play heads up football. No dumb mistakes or penalties.
One more thing. If this is another 6 TD shellacking it will be on one group only: the Jets coaching staff. It means that they will have lost control of the tempo of the game. You cannot trade haymakers with Brady. This Jets team is just not there yet, but I like the chances of the Jets determined offense against a young and mostly inexperienced in the playoffs Pats defense. Jets coaching cannot panic. They held steady at Indy and they can do it in Foxboro.
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