For a short period of time, the rivalry between the New York Jets and New England Patriots was considered one of the more exciting feuds in the NFL. The two teams went back-and-forth, exchanging big wins from 2009 through 2010. Since then, the tide has shifted dramatically for the Patriots, with a win streak over the Jets that now stands at five games.
There have been some close calls -- one game each season has been decided by nine points or less. There have also been some blowouts -- the Patriots have won the second meeting in each of the past four years, and by a combined score of 162-51.
The Jets had a chance to beat the Patriots in Week 2, but were undone in a 13-10 loss by interceptions from quarterback Geno Smith -- a theme that has become a trend in the Jets losses this season.
A lot has happened since then, so let's get an early look at what lies ahead for the Patriots.
How they got here: Three close wins, two tough losses and one bad blowout have left the Jets with a .500 record. Smith has already built a reputation for late-game heroics, leading two fourth-quarter comebacks and three game-winning drives already in his young six-game career. Over the four weeks since the two teams last played, Smith has given Jets fans both reason for hope (no turnovers and a 147.7 passer rating against the Atlanta Falcons) and despair (four turnovers in a 38-13 thrashing by the Titans). Coming off a tough loss against the Steelers, the Jets are staring ahead at a tough three-game stretch, with the Patriots, Saints and Bengals up ahead on the schedule. He has now turned the ball over 13 times this season (10 interceptions, three fumbles lost). Their defense ranks fifth in yards, but has not yet had a signature Jets defensive performance, as evidenced by their lack of takeaways (three).
Key cog, offense -- Jeremy Kerley, WR: Kerley may be one of the most underrated undersized slot receiver in the NFL. He has caught 16 passes this season, 13 of which have resulted in a first down. His combination of quickness and speed makes him a difficult assignment in the slot, where the open spaces are much wider for a defender to cover. He also consistently shows the ability to find soft spots in zone coverage, settle down and stay open long enough for his quarterback to find him.
Key cog, defense -- Muhammad Wilkerson, DL: Put the names of the Jets defensive linemen in a hat and pull one out. Whether you end up with Damon "Snacks" Harrison, Sheldon Richardson or Muhammad Wilkerson, you have a good start for who to account for in the Jets defense. Wilkerson is the mainstay of the group for his versatility, strength and toughness. He plays both the 5-technique and the 3-technique, and manages to create pressure from either spot, whether singled or doubled (11 hurries, four hits, five sacks in 2013). Explosiveness isn't his fortĂ©, but he uses his hands well to keep blockers at bay, and he plays with sound leverage technique to quickly win battles and get into the backfield.
X-factor -- Jeff Cumberland, TE: Okay, Cumberland may not be the most athletically gifted player on the Jets offense, he may not bet he kind of player that puts stress on a defense and forces them to double-team him, but he is remarkably consistent and has become ultra-reliable for Smith. He has been targeted 12 times and caught 11 passes. He has not yet dropped a pass, and has two touchdowns in the past three games. With Kellen Winslow out due to a suspension, Cumberland's role has expanded, and he is the more versatile of the two tight ends for his ability to contribute as a blocker in the running game.
Smith has looked to Cumberland in some big spots, including on this touchdown pass against the Falcons. It was a great throw by Smith to put it on the back shoulder in the one spot where only Cumberland could get it, but the tight end gets props for going up over the linebacker to make the catch above his head. We all know about the Patriots struggles defending tight ends, so Cumberland's name could pop up once or twice in a key moment.
Stats and notes:
- Notable injuries: wide receiver Santonio Holmes (foot, hamstring) and cornerback Dee Milliner (hamstring) both missed Week 6; cornerback Antonio Cromartie (hip, knee) was active, despite an injury that took place in practice last Thursday.
- Tight end Kellen Winslow was suspended four games for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs; he served the first game of that suspension last week.
- Who will line up on who between the Jets receivers and the Patriots defensive backs? That remains very much a mystery, with so much uncertainty around the health of both groups. If the Patriots have cornerback Aqib Talib in the lineup, he will probably be on Stephen Hill, as he has the most comparable skill set. If the Jets have Holmes back, that could force the Patriots to put cornerback Logan Ryan on the field for extensive snaps; the rookie played a career-high 33 snaps against the Saints in Week 6.
- The Jets defense ranks first against the run in Football Outsiders' opponent-adjusted metrics.
- The Jets are usually known for their stingy pass defense, but through six games, they have just one interception -- and it came off Josh Freeman in Week 1. From 2009-2011, the Jets forced 92 turnovers on defense; in 22 games from 2012-2013, they have forced just 21 total turnovers.
- The Jets defense gives up a league-low 3.39 average yards per play on first down in 2013; the Patriots offense picks up 4.88 yards per play on first down in 2013, the sixth-lowest average in the NFL.
- Geno Smith's 74.7 passer rating through the first six games of his career is the 23rd-best (out of 108 qualifying quarterbacks) for any rookie with at least 60 pass attempts in their first six games. His 10 interceptions are tied for eighth-most, and are exactly as many as former starting quarterback Mark Sanchez had in his first six games.
- According to stats website Pro Football Focus, Smith completes 70.2 percent of his passes and has a 90.9 passer rating when there's no pressure in his face (131 dropbacks), against completing 39.4 percent of his passes with a 44.3 passer rating while under pressure (93 dropbacks).
- The Jets rely on Smith's big arm, and thus far this season, he has delivered. Smith the third-highest deep accuracy rate in the NFL, with 53.3 percent of his aimed deep throws hitting their target; his deep attempt rate of 15.8 percent is the fourth-highest in the NFL.
- Running back Bilal Powell has 497 yards from scrimmage, the second-most in the AFC East behind Bills running back Fred Jackson (13 more yards on six fewer touches).
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