Saturday, January 15, 2011

Time to Back Up All That Talk: JETS at Patriots AFC Divisional Matchup

It has all come full circle. After taking one from the Pats in Week 2, the Jets were pummeled in Foxboro in Week 13, 45-3. Sunday afternoon’s matchup is the rubber game, and the most important of this season’s Jets-Patriots matchups, and possibly the most important matchup between the two teams in their history.

Clearly, the Patriots are heavy favorites in this one. There aren’t many “experts” giving the Jets a chance in Sunday’s matchup. I truly believe that they are underestimating Rex Ryan’s crew. Rex is now 3-1 in the playoffs as the Jets’ head coach. All of those games came on the road. He has shown the ability to plan better and have his team play better in the playoffs. The Jets’ players also have more playoff experience than the Patriots players. Rex Ryan and Jets writers have pointed out that the Jets have a total of 196 playoff games under their belts since 2005, while the Patriots only have 101. The Patriots are a very young team now. Much of their defense is made up of rookies and inexperienced players with little to no playoff experience whatsoever. Who knows how these guys will show up on the biggest stage?

Then again, the Patriots do have Tom Brady. Brady has been playing on this stage since his first year as a starter in 2001 when he won the Super Bowl. Brady is 8-1 at home in the postseason, that 1 being their most recent playoff game. Last season, the Ravens beat up on the Patriots 33-14 in Gillette Stadium in the AFC Wild Card round. Brady threw 3 picks and lost a fumble and finished the game with a 49.1 quarterback rating. The Ravens pulled this off with quarterback Joe Flacco only going 4/10 for 34 yards. The Jets need to do EXACTLY what the Ravens did in last year’s game.

The Ravens got constant pressure on Brady last season. They sacked him three times, and pressured him many more times. Pressure is the way to force Brady to make mistakes. The Jets were able to get to him in the Week 2 matchup, which is why he threw two interceptions. They also did what we have been saying the Jets need to do every week this season, start fast. On the Ravens’ first play from scrimmage, Ray Rice rushed for an 83-yard touchdown. They then forced a fumble on a sack of Brady and got the ball back, leading to a second touchdown in the first five minutes. On the Pats’ second drive, Brady was sacked once again. The first quarter ended with a 24-0 Ravens lead. The Ravens rushed for 234 yards and kept Brady off the field as much as possible. The Patriots finished the game with only 196 yards of offense.

These are the kinds of things we need to see out of the Jets on Sunday. Start fast. Get to Brady. Run the ball well. Is there anyone out there that the thinks the Jets don’t have the ability to do the same thing? The Jets can run the ball better than most teams in the NFL. LaDainian Tomlinson is playing with a chip on his shoulder and is ready for his payback on the New England Patriots. Shonn Greene has also been running well of late and is the power back the Jets need to beat up against the Patriots’ front line. Like I said in my last post, possession offense will be the best defense for the Jets on Sunday. Keep the chains moving, keep the clock running, and keep Tom Brady off the field. Third and short situations are crucial for Mark Sanchez to convert first downs and sustaining long drives. This means running the ball on first and second downs often.

Getting pressure on Brady is a different story. The Jets have had their days, but they have mostly had a very tough time getting to quarterbacks this season. The Patriots have one of the best and most experienced offensive lines in the game, so getting past them is never an easy task. The way to beat them will be disguises. The Jets MUST disguise every play they run defensively. They need to make Brady think they are blitzing when they are not, and think they are not blitzing when they are. They need to make the offensive line unable to read the defense. Disguising the coverage is also a way to make Brady make mistakes even when he isn’t under too much pressure. If the Jets let Brady have a good read on the defense, then he will tear them apart. Gang Green was successful in pulling this off against Peyton Manning last week and will need to be magicians once again when creating defensive illusions. I am sure the Jets have been practicing this the entire week.

The Jets have been doing a ton of talking this week, and the Patriots have done a little back. They may not be showing it much, but it seems like the Jets are actually getting under Brady’s skin and into the heads of the rest of the Patriots. I think Antonio Cromartie’s comments about Brady really got to him and definitely ticked him off. This could very well be a trap for Brady. Not only will he want to pound the Jets, but also he will definitely want to be in control and throw the ball, especially toward Cromartie. This could get him in some trouble. If the Jets can disguise their coverage well, they can fake blitzes and drop seven or eight back into coverage and force Brady to try and squeeze one in there. I actually fully expect Brady to finally throw an interception this week, and would not doubt it is Antonio Cromartie who takes it away from him.

A crucial part of this game will be stopping the tight ends and Danny Woodhead out of the backfield. The Patriots have relied on the check down for years to get them those precious first downs. Offenses succeed by getting many first downs (stating the obvious, I know), so this game may be defined by how well the Jets can cover the check down. Eric Smith did a great job doing this last week and we will need to see it done again, but even better this time.

Speaking of check downs, the Jets’ offense will need to take advantage of doing it themselves. Not only will safer passes like these be very helpful to Mark Sanchez, but they will also get Tomlinson and Dustin Keller more involved in the offense, something that has proven to be a winning formation for the Jets. Dustin Keller can be very dangerous for the Jets offense, something they have not taken enough advantage of this season. Keller tore the Patriots apart in Week 2, making 7 catches for 115 yards and a touchdown. With CB Devin McCourty playing very well lately, the Jets may be better off trying to pick on the Patriots young linebackers. Getting the ball to Jerricho Cotchery will also be very important because he should see some weaker defensive backs and possibly some linebacker coverage as well.

The last point I want to make is that the Jets must keep their cool; every single one of them. Rex Ryan, Brian Schottenheimer, Mark Sanchez, and whoever else may be in the spotlight, they must all keep their composure and stay calm in big situations. They must try and keep things simple. Sure, a trick play or two may be useful (that’s exactly how the Browns were able to beat the Pats), but for the most part the Jets need to create easy plays for Sanchez to complete passes and must find running lanes for LT and Greene. Trying to do too much is what always puts them in bad situations. Keep it simple, get it done.

The Jets have one of their most important games of all time ahead of them. The pressure should not be on them. They are expected to lose. The Patriots have much more to lose from this one than the Jets. Let’s hope that this pressure can get to the Pats and throw them off of their winning ways. 

For more Jets-Patriots history, check out my history of the rivalry posts from December:

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