New York Jets vs. New England Patriots: Breaking Down the Matchups
It's only fitting that the epic 2010 rivalry between the New England Patriots and the New York Jets should come down to a two-out-of-three deciding game in the Divisional Round.
Although we can't write off the 45-3 drubbing of the Jets at Gillette Stadium in Week 13 on Monday Night Football, we shouldn't put too much importance on it. It's not as though that game will serve as a bank for the Patriots from which they can withdraw points should they be running on insufficient funds.
There are, however, strategic notes to be had from both that game and the prior contest at New Meadowlands Stadium, in which the Jets handed the Patriots their first loss of the season.
But a lot has changed since then. Heck, a lot has changed even since the Patriots handed the Jets a 42-point loss. So let's take a look at the matchups.
Patriots Passing Game Vs. Jets Pass Defense
The game plan the Jets utilized to stop Peyton Manning and the Colts was effective, but virtually none of it applies to stopping the Patriots.
No, the Jets won't be better off dropping men into coverage against Brady, as they did against Manning. They'll need to tee off on Brady early and get the pressure on him necessary to force hurried throws on the Patriots' finesse timing routes.
The limited success the Jets enjoyed in Week 13 is indicative of that much, as theorized in an article from Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News.
"The future Hall of Fame quarterback was 3-for-3 for 37 yards and a touchdown against three-man pressure...Brady was 4-for-5 for 35 yards and induced a pass-interference call in the end zone that set up a touchdown against four-man pressure in the first half."
But it goes beyond the pressure. Brady surgically dissected the Jets' man coverage schemes all night in that 45-3 win. It's safe to say that the Jets won't switch up their style, regardless of how easy Bart Scott may or may not think it is to "funnel everything to the middle." That's certainly easier said than done.
Patriots Running Game Vs. Jets Run Defense
The Jets defense ranked third in the league against the run, holding opponents to a paltry 3.6 yards per carry. But that didn't seem to deter the Patriots from running at them.
On 18 carries, BenJarvus Green-Ellis totaled 72 yards and two touchdowns. Those aren't eye-popping numbers, but four yards per carry complemented the Patriots pass attack quite nicely.
Needless to say, so did Green-Ellis' two touchdown runs.
The Patriots rush attack, in terms of Football Outsiders' DVOA ranking—a statistic that measures effectiveness over "production"—was second in the league. "Effective" is the perfect way to describe the Patriots' rush attack, and that's all they need to be.
That's not going to be easy, though, against a Jets defense that ranks third overall against the run with a DVOA of—what a coincidence—second.
This matchup will be of crucial importance, because if the Jets can stop the run, they'll be able to tee off on Brady that much more frequently.
Jets Passing Game Vs. Patriots Pass Defense
The Patriots are weaker against the pass than the run, but don't expect Mark Sanchez to come out in a hurry-up offense out of the shotgun with a spread formation. That formula didn't work very well for the Jets last time, and in the playoffs, it's about sticking with what you know.
If the Patriots can shut down the run and force the ball into Mark Sanchez's hands, this matchup gets a lot easier for them. The Jets are at their best on offense when Sanchez only has to complement the running game and not compensate for it (see my previous article for more on this).
The Patriots finished ranked 17th against the pass in DVOA, while the Jets' pass attack finished ranked 19th. So both are middling groups at best.
Sanchez improved in his second season, if only in his touchdown-interception ratio, but one thing that didn't improve was his play at Gillette Stadium. He has now thrown one touchdown, seven interceptions and under 50 percent completions in two career games. He also has two fumbles.
But the thing I like most about this matchup is that the Patriots defensive backs simply match up well with the Jets receivers. Devin McCourty can cover Braylon Edwards all day, but he matches up well with Santonio Holmes, and he may be asked to. Patrick Chung is a versatile safety and has played corner at times this year. He's physical enough to cover Dustin Keller and could be asked to do so on third downs, where Keller is most effective.
In the end, the Jets offense has a chance to not be their downfall, but the Patriots have a better chance of frustrating Mark Sanchez once again.
Jets Running Game Vs. Patriots Run Defense
Of course, the main question throughout the last slide was, "if the Patriots can shut down the run..." but the next question is, can they?
It will be tough. Facing a duo like LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene isn't usually a way to make a living; it's a way to get exposed. The Jets feature one of the most physical offensive lines in football.
They will be without one of their key players, right tackle Damien Woody.
The Patriots, however, will be without many of their defensive linemen. Since the end of the regular season, both Ron Brace and Mike Wright have been put on injured reserve. Brace was one of the run-stuffing defensive linemen that Bill Belichick used frequently against the Jets in the second go-round.
It will be up to rookie Kyle Love to step in and make a big impact.
Ultimately, though, it comes down to whether the Patriots can win the battle of the trenches. Effectively stuffing the gaps in the line and proper containment on the edges will lead to the Patriots dominating as they did in Week 13.
Much like the Jets defense stopping the Patriots pass attack: Easier said than done.
Steve Weatherford has been almost lethal at times for the Jets, forcing opponents to start drives inside the 20 on half of his punts (42 out of 84). Zoltan Mesko, on the other hand, has been effective but has only forced opponents to start inside the 20 on 32.7 percent of his punts (19 out of 58).
I guess the good news for Patriots fans is that Mesko hasn't been used nearly as much as Weatherford.
Without a touchdown return in over two months, Brandon Tate is quickly fading from the "threat" tier of kickoff return men. Julian Edelman, however, returned a punt for a touchdown in the Patriots' last game of the season.
But the real threat in the return game is on the Jets' sideline.
After injuring his groin in a big win over the Colts, Brad Smith returned to the practice field on Wednesday, and it looks like he'll be good to go for Sunday. That doesn't bode well for the Patriots. Although they were able to contain Smith's kick returns in their last meeting, he always has the ability to break a big one, even from the Wildcat formation.
Shayne Graham hasn't done particularly well getting the ball to the opposite end zone on his kickoffs, usually fielded around the 5- to 15-yard line. He hasn't missed a field goal, though, so Patriots fans have reason to believe he can come through if needed.
Nick Folk, though? He came through for the Jets against the Colts in the final seconds of that game but has missed some bad kicks, including one at Gillette Stadium that went so far wide to the left that I'm not even sure it made it through the back of the end zone.
Still, with the consistency of Weatherford and the x-factor of Brad Smith, I like the Jets in this matchup.
This is where the matchup really gets interesting.
Of course, it's not a matter of "Rex Ryan vs. Bill Belichick," because the players ultimately have to execute accordingly. Still, the coaching will really come into play in this game, if only because Ryan will have to prove that he can make the right adjustments when an offense exposes the inherent weaknesses of his defense.
Put all the pregame talk and hype aside for this one. Belichick already has, and Ryan will be wiser the sooner he follows suit.
In the end, I don't know what the New England Patriots' record is with extra time to rest and prepare, but it probably has fewer losses than I can count on one hand in the 10-year tenure of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
I do know that there's no duo I'd rather have on my side than those two with extra time.
Patriots Must Stop...
Tomlinson looked like a newborn man in the beginning of the regular season before his production tailed off pretty heavily (5.7 yards per carry through first five games against 3.3 yards per carry in his last 11).
Albeit against a soft Colts run defense, he breathed new life into his 30-year-old legs once again, as he carried the ball 16 times for 82 yards and two touchdowns.
The Patriots may have a much better run defense than the Colts, but we all know that defending Tomlinson and taking him out of the game means so much more than just shutting down the running lanes. He must also be accounted for as a receiver out of the backfield.
If the Patriots can appropriately defend LT by spying him on every down, shutting down the Jets offense will become a lot easier.
Jets Must Stop...
Thank you, Captain Obvious.
Make no mistake—we won't see anything like 45-3 again this Sunday. I'd be shocked if this game was decided by more than two scores.
Many argue that Tom Brady is simply playing on another level right now and that facing him at Gillette Stadium is like stepping into the lion's den.
But we must remember that football is the ultimate team sport for a reason. Even still, the Patriots have proven that they are the consummate team, from top to bottom, time and time again in 2010. That's a team whose chances I like in the postseason.
Patriots 24, Jets 14