Patriots at Jets
Today, 4:15 p.m., Channel 4 (Line: Patriots by 3)
When the Patriots runIt’s going to be tough sledding today for New England’s quartet of ball carriers, as the Jets boast one of the toughest run defenses in the league. Fred Taylor is the lead back. The wily veteran has quick feet and still accelerates well through holes. Problem is, there won’t be many creases today. Taylor has great patience and vision, but his patented freeze-step moves will be blunted by the quickness of the Jets defenders. Sammy Morris, who has played fullback and tailback in his career, has decent bulk and quickness. He has patience and reads blocks well. He has the strength to break tackles and will surprise defenders with his open-field shiftiness. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a tough runner and could be effective late to take advantage of a defense that could be a little weary after chasing Taylor and Morris around. Green-Ellis won’t dazzle foes with moves but will break through arm tackles and will lower his shoulder and finish off runs aggressively. Kevin Faulk continues to churn out yards using instincts and elusiveness. Defenses tend to overlook him in the running game because they think he’s only in to boost the passing attack. The Jets lost nasty nose tackle Kris Jenkins to injury last week. Jenkins was a disruptive player, and his sub, Sione Pouha, lacks the quickness and strength to be dominant. Inside linebacker Bart Scott is the emotional leader of this club. He’s powerful, physical, and passionate. He makes plays all over the field, and when he hits you, your mother winces. He can get distracted, however, particularly when he starts jawing with opponents. His running mate, David Harris, is among the most underrated players in the league. He’s intelligent, fast, and hits like a ton of bricks.
When the Patriots passTo have a chance to win today, New England has to excel in the passing game, and that’s just fine with Tom Brady. One of the elite players in the game, Brady has off-the-charts football intelligence, tremendous vision, and picture-perfect mechanics. Brady diagnoses defenses quickly and makes tremendous split-second decisions. He’s fiery, confident, and his teammates love him. The Jets have a pair of solid (albeit past their prime) pass rushers in Shaun Ellis and Jason Taylor. Ellis has good moves and is an explosive tackler. Taylor still has good speed but lacks the strength to consistently get in the backfield. Patriot tackles Matt Light (good speed) and Sebastian Vollmer (great size) will get help from tight end Alge Crumpler to keep these guys out of the backfield. Brady will use all his weapons to keep the chains moving. Wes Welker is a nightmare matchup because of his quickness (did he really have knee surgery this year?), strong hands, and toughness. Few defenders have the skill set to cover Welker. Brady gets the ball into Welker’s hands quickly, allowing the speedy slotman to use his lateral quickness to weave through defenses. Randy Moss, he of the impressive combination of size, acceleration, and body control, will see cornerback Darrelle Revis in his face all day. The league’s top cover corner, Revis has the strength to jam receivers at the line and the speed and athleticism to turn and run with them down the field. He has very long arms (think Cedric Maxwell), allowing him to tip balls away, even when he’s a step behind. Antonio Cromartie has excellent mirror skills to hang with receivers all over the field. Rookie tight ends Rob Gronkowski (tremendous size) and Aaron Hernandez (tremendous quickness) will get their chances today, particularly if the outside receivers struggle.
When the Jets runMake no mistake, pounding the football is what the Jets love to do. The big question is whether they still have the personnel to do it. Thomas Jones rushed for more than 1,400 yards to lead Gang Green last year but was released in March when the club determined that Shonn Greene was ready to be the workhorse. The 5-foot-11-inch, 226-pound Greene is a nice package of size, strength, and open-field speed. He lacks first-step quickness, however, and doesn’t always attack holes. Greene has excellent balance and agility and will break tackles. He is prone to injuries and has ball-security issues. As backups go, LaDainian Tomlinson is a pretty good one. The 5-9, 215-pounder has the toughness to run inside and the speed to turn the corner. He has tremendous vision and patience but also has a lot of miles on his legs. He has been plagued by injuries in recent years and no longer has that initial burst. Fullback Tony Richardson opens holes and pushes piles with strength and leverage. Center Nick Mangold leads a tough and versatile offensive line. Mangold packs a solid punch and has the athleticism and stamina to wear down opponents. He’ll be swapping paint with the massive Vince Wilfork in what will be one of today’s key matchups. Wilfork is light on his feet (yes, he’s 325 pounds and looks like he’s 425) and relentless in pursuit. Right guard Brandon Moore (6-3, 305) has the toughness and strength to neutralize bull rushers. Left guard Matt Slauson (6-5, 315) is the weak link. He lacks athleticism and quickness and plays stiff. Patriots inside linebackers Jerod Mayo (smart and quick), Gary Guyton (ditto), and Brandon Spikes (great instincts) will shoot gaps and punish Green and Tomlinson.
When the Jets passIs it too early to say “sophomore slump?’’ Of course it is, but quarterback Mark Sanchez looked horrible throughout the preseason (thanks, HBO) and was equally unimpressive in Week 1. Sanchez has good physical skills. He’s big (6 feet 2 inches, 225 pounds), and has quick feet and an above-average arm. What he lacks is a commanding presence in the huddle; you get the feeling he’d rather be everyone’s buddy than their leader. He’s at his best (last season’s playoff run) when he’s a complementary piece. When the running game is clicking, it takes pressure off Sanchez and buys him time to make good decisions. When he’s hurried, he panics and tries to fit the ball into tight spaces, often leading to picks. Defensive end/linebacker hybrids Tully Banta-Cain and Jermaine Cunningham will bring the heat from the outside, while Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes will try to rattle Sanchez up the middle. Jerricho Cotchery is the Jets’ top receiver. A fearless and fluid player, Cotchery is a demon over the middle. He has great hesitation moves and strong hands. He doesn’t have great speed and will round off his routes on occasion. Braylon Edwards is one of the NFL’s all-time great frauds. Blessed with size, speed, and athleticism, Edwards will occasionally tease fans with a great acrobatic catch. But he lacks concentration, will drop catchable balls, and often looks uninterested and unmotivated. Brad Smith is tough and underrated. Tight end Dustin Keller uses his speed and strength to gain separation. He has reliable hands and has become Sanchez’s safety blanket. Young Patriots corners Devin McCourty (excellent quickness) and Darius Butler (good recovery speed) are gaining confidence. Safeties Patrick Chung, James Sanders, and Brandon Meriweather are smart, athletic, and rangy.
JETS’ KEY PLAYER: Kyle Wilson
The rookie cornerback struggled in Week 1, and today he goes from the frying pan into the fire as he’ll be matched up against Wes Welker. He never saw anyone like Welker during his days at Boise State.
How he beats you: With strength and quick feet. The 5-foot-10-inch, 194-pound Wilson has excellent shadow skills and good closing burst. He is aggressive and plays with a chip on his shoulder. That’s a good thing.
How to shut him down: By making him the hunted. Go his way early and keep beating him down — even if he has early success. His psyche is already a little fragile, and if he is beaten early today, he will lose confidence in his ability to make plays.
JETS’ KEYS TO VICTORY:
1. Hot start: Mark Sanchez has to get into a groove early by hitting short passes to move the ball and boost his confidence.
2. Baggage carousel: Defensive ends Shaun Ellis and Jason Taylor have to whirl their way around the tackles and get into Tom Brady’s face.
3. Special effort: Returners Brad Smith and Jim Leonhard have to make something happen to give the woeful offense short fields to work with.
PATRIOTS’ KEYS TO VICTORY:
1. Everybody’s invited: Mix up the coverages and blitz from all angles. Mark Sanchez lacks maturity and hasn’t shown he can overcome adversity.
2. Slot machines: Sure, Wes Welker needs his touches, but let young guys Julian Edelman and Brandon Tate get some time to keep the Jets’ tongues wagging.
3. Stay on task: Yes, the crowd will be loud, and Rex Ryan and his troops will come out hootin’ and hollerin’. Keep the game tight, and the Jets and their crowd will quiet down.
Patriots 24, Jets 23