This has been a strange Jets week. Earlier this week, our column cited Jet’s Head Coach Rex Ryan’s boisterous and conceited proclamation that they were “Going to beat them [the Patriots].”
Only a few days later, Ryan switched gears and showered the Patriot’s much bewildered secondary with support. “New England, every year they get criticized for their pass defense, what they rank and all that,” Ryan noted, “But it’s not about that. The Patriots play complimentary football—scoring offense, total offense, everything-else offense—so what you do is you try to win the turnover battle…”
Just as atypical the Patriot’s overall record and the Jet’s defense is this season, Ryan’s unusual statement probably should not come as a surprise. He likes to play mind games.
Let us look closer at this key game for both the Jets, who hold a 2-0 record against AFC East opponents and the Patriots who are tied with the Jets for the division lead at 3-3.
Patriot's Defense vs. Jet's Offense
There might not be a better week for the Patriot’s defense to get back on track. Although Jet's quarterback Mark Sanchez’s deep ball has slightly improved lately, tossing 9 completions 20 yards or more this season (ESPN Stats and Information), he also owns a paltry 49 % passer rating. Many believe the beleaguered quarterback, who has been embroiled in a heated quarterback controversy with fellow colleague Tim Tebow, will eventually succumb to the pressure.
The Patriots face a Jet’s offense that has scored only 22 points a game and ranks 30th in total passing yards and 15th in total rushing yards. Yet, where have we seen these statistics before? Oh, maybe when we profiled Seattle’s offense last week, which also owned similar numbers prior to their coming-out-party against New England.
The Patriots will likely try to stop New York’s two strengths, their running game led by running back Shonn Greene and the always unpredictable Tim Tebow who can play all across the offensive formation. Due to the Jet’s thin backfield, Ryan even hinted Tebow could take some snaps behind Sanchez.
Due to the Jet's desire to run the ball, expect New England to line up primarily in their base defense, much like they did last week against Seattle.
Patriot's Offense vs. Jet’s Defense
It was only a couple of years ago, 2010-2011, that the Jets yielded a formidable pass rush and registered 40 and 35 sacks respectively. In 2012, their pass rush has dropped significantly and they lack a pass rusher who has registered more than 2 sacks through 6 games.
With what used to be an innate ability to pressure Brady using only 3-4 defensive linemen, they could drop a number of defenders into the secondary and force Brady to throw “into a forest.” This defense created turnovers and provide the Jets with a few more offensive possessions to score points.
However, almost half-way through the 2012 season, New York not only lacks an effective pass rush, but star corner back Darrelle Revis is out for the season. Without Revis, the Jet’s defense is now surrendering roughly 7 yards per pass play, which is up from nearly 5 yards per pass play when he was on the field.
For a Ryan-coached team that uses a pressure-based defense to blitz and play man-to-man, single coverage, Revis’ injury is significant. This season, when protected, Brady has thrived off the pass rush. He is completing roughly 6 yards per pass when 5 or more defenders blitz.
In all, let us look at the Jet’s defense for who they are. Under Ryan, they are and always will be a proud squad. But currently New York lacks the same talent that helped propel them to 2 straight AFC Championships in 2010 and 2011. Their rush defense ranks 28th in the league and they are surrendering 24 points per game—a weakness New England’s running back's Steven Ridley, Brandon Bolden (if healthy) and Danny Woodhead can take advantage of.
An almost certain difference maker could be special teams play. The unit hurt the Patriots late last week when punter Zoltan Mesko’s short kick was returned 25 yards to help Seattle set up their game winning throw from quarterback Russell Wilson. If Jet's reserve running back Joe McKnight plays, he will add a dangerous layer to their special teams. On 15 attempts this season, McKnight is averaging 29.7 yards per return and has 1 returned kick for a touchdown.
The Patriots host the Jets at 4:25 pm EST this Sunday.
What are your keys to this game? Can the Patriots accomplish what they could not last week and make enough positive plays to win? Look for my game recap this Sunday night.