No secret he has to protect
Patriots' Light must keep Abraham at bay
FOXBOROUGH -- There's the dreaded Jason Taylor in Miami and the up-and-coming Aaron Schobel in Buffalo. And up next is the monstrous John Abraham, who predicted a couple of weeks back that his New York Jets defense could produce a 64-sack season.
At this rate, Patriots left tackle Matt Light will never catch a break.
Abraham, a two-time Pro Bowler who had 13 sacks in 2001 and 10 sacks last season, gives everyone in the league fits, and Light lies awake at night memorizing every little move and every little trick he's seen from Abraham the last two years. After all, Abraham had a pretty good day in that 30-17 win over the Patriots in Game 15 last season, when he recorded 1 1/2 sacks and six tackles.
Speed rushers gave Light problems the first two years, though he's held Abraham in check in some games. Abraham has drawn some criticism from his coaching staff for perhaps being too sack-happy and not playing within the defensive scheme, but his effectiveness is key for the Jets. Nobody knows that more than Light.
It's all part of a maturation process for Light, now in his third season in the league. His battles against Taylor, Abraham, and Schobel are resembling the many years when Bruce Armstrong and Bruce Smith battled twice a season in those Patriots-Bills games.
If the Jets have anything going for them at 0-2 and heading into a crucial game at Gillette Stadium, it's their solid defensive line, featuring fast and strong ends in Shaun Ellis and Abraham, and rookie Dewayne Robertson, Jason Ferguson, and Chester McGlockton, who rotate in the middle. It will be a major test for the Patriots' offensive line, which will get center Damien Woody back Sunday after he missed his first career NFL game with a sore sternum. Veteran guard Mike Compton was listed as questionable on the Patriots' injury report with a sore toe.
Light, who has added a beard and lost some weight, feels he's slowly but surely gaining confidence and getting into a comfort zone with the Patriots' scheme. He's been able to protect Brady pretty well over the past two-plus seasons, but he also knows what he's up against -- perhaps the best pass rushers in the game.
"Obviously there's a lot less mystery being in a system for a while, knowing the coaches and being comfortable where you're at," Light said. "You can be the greatest athlete, have the best hands as a receiver, the most powerful get-off on the defensive line, but unless you know what the system is and what the coaches expect of you, you're not going to be in tune with things."
What he's learned is that the big pass rushers can be neutralized with a balanced attack. If you can run, it takes away from Abraham's pass rushing, putting him in fewer pass-rushing situations and disrupting his timing.
Light knows Abraham has studied him as well. He studies Light's every move over and over, and he'll show him something that perhaps Light has never seen.
"You're never gonna see the same thing you saw the time before," explained Light. "There are definite things you can tag John with. He's fast, a lot of quickness, if you don't get off the ball he'll beat you. He has good hands and good presence on the field. He can create plays everywhere on the field. He's also very strong."
In comparing Abraham with Taylor, Light said, "Taylor is in a league of his own. His physical size -- big, tall, lanky, big arms, legs with all the leverage he has, he can present a lot of problems. He's got a little more speed than Abraham. With both those guys you can help yourself out by not having to throw on every down. Every situation is a little different, whether you're down or have success early. If we put points on the board and get up then we can play our style instead of playing their style. Running the ball isn't always going to completely shut him down, but running it will put you in a better situation."
As for the division's other big pass rusher, Schobel, "He has an unbelievable motor. I saw him before the game against Buffalo and it looked like he'd lost some weight. He's trying to get in to more beating you with speed and outside moves. He's worked on his game and done as much as anybody out there."
Light said Abraham isn't always lining up against him, and he's likely to see Ellis quite a bit as well. "They have big playmakers," said Light. "They put a lot of money into Dewayne Robertson, a very good player. Ellis is having his best year, from what I understand. Abraham likes to be on the weak side of the formation. A lot of time on first or second down, he's gonna be on the other side of the ball."
Light said Ellis brings more of a physical game than Abraham, especially when, "He sees he's not gonna beat you with speed, he'll put two hands on your chest and try to bowl you back into the quarterback."
Light understands if he can be effective run-blocking for Kevin Faulk and Antowain Smith, he can avoid the dreaded pass rush. Light has to drive Abraham outside and give Brady enough time to make his reads.
All week, last year's dreaded loss to the Jets has been pounded in to the players' heads by coach Bill Belichick. Nobody understands the message more than Light.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.