Patriots vs. Jets: Mark Sanchez and Jets Who Need to Have a Big Game
These AFC titans met previously in Week 5, when the Patriots defeated Gang Green, 30-21.
There are key individuals on both sides of the ball for New York, who will either lead the Jets to their sixth win of 2011 or doom them in this upcoming game against New England.
Safety Eric Smith
Eric Smith isn't the most decorated player in the Jets' defensive secondary, but he'll play a pivotal role in this AFC East showdown.
Against New England's potent passing attack, Smith needs to prevent big plays.
Tom Brady is guaranteed to accumulate considerable yardage; that isn't what will kill New York's chances.
However, completions like Brady's 73-yard pass to Wes Welker last month are preventable.
Smith must keep the Patriots' receivers in front of him and make Brady and Co. earn their points.
Nose Tackle Sione Pouha
Expecting starting nose tackle Sione Pouha to break through New England's offensive line might be wishful thinking. He hasn't registered a sack all season.
Still, he can greatly affect this game by limiting opposing rusher BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
Green-Ellis wrecked the Jets' defense in Week 5. He ran for 136 yards, while averaging better than five yards per attempt.
Pouha's duty is to at least get a hand on him on slams up the middle.
Otherwise, if he gets through the first level of the defense untouched, Green-Ellis will be difficult to tackle.
Inside Linebacker David Harris
Keep an eye on how David Harris plays when the Pats are in the red zone. His coverage of their tight ends will be the difference between touchdowns and field goals.
If Eric Smith and Sione Pouha have big games in the ways I described, then New England's trips inside the 20-yard line will be few and far between. But realistically, I'd bet the Patriots have multiple such possessions.
Quarterback Tom Brady has two large targets in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. They have combined for 11 touchdown receptions so far this season.
Harris won't be able to do much if Brady makes perfect throws to them.
Ideally, though, he should be able to stay in front and jump at least one predictable route for a pass deflection or interception.
Running Back LaDainian Tomlinson
LaDainian Tomlinson no longer has much value as a rusher.
He has been effective in limited red-zone carries in 2011, but the key for Tomlinson in this matchup is to contribute as a receiver.
Tomlinson is averaging an outstanding 12.6 yards per reception this season, mainly due to yards after the catch. He'll need a lot of those on Sunday.
Whether he has sufficient space or not, it is imperative that LT moves the offense forward. Setting up manageable third-down conversion attempts would be great; regularly picking up first downs may mean victory.
Quarterback Mark Sanchez
The heaviest burden falls on Mark Sanchez's shoulders.
The Jets cannot win unless he makes quick, logical choices and executes his intentions every time.
He will need to be cautious, yet decisive about throwing over the middle of the field.
If uneasy about a deep pass, Sanchez ought to dump the ball off to Ladainian Tomlinson.
Sanchez simply isn't an elite quarterback. Hopefully the coaching staff recognizes that, keeps his attempts low and incorporates plenty of rushing plays.
Sanchez can hold up against New England so long as the Jets don't expect him to carry them by himself.