Why Patriots can win tough road test
Every week during the season, Mike Reiss and Tedy Bruschi break down the New England Patriots' upcoming game. This week's breakdown is on Sunday's game against the Jets at New Meadowlands Stadium (4:15 p.m.):
Mike: All right, Tedy, here we go again. Patriots-Jets, it's one of the better rivalries in the NFL. One statistic that stands out to me right off the top is that only four road teams won during the opening week of the season, and when you couple that with New England's road struggles in 2009, it highlights the challenge ahead for the team.
Tedy: Last week, the Patriots checked off one of the first things they had to accomplish this season, and that's re-establishing their home-field dominance. Now they can focus on No. 2, which is winning on the road. The Patriots were 1-6 on the road last season, with the lone win in Buffalo. I don't count the win in London over the Buccaneers as a real road win. So really, the Patriots won in only three places last season -- Buffalo, New England and Old England.
Mike: On this week's podcast on ESPNBoston.com, you told a great story from behind the scenes when it comes to this rivalry.
Tedy: It's an emotional week. The players in that locker room feel the rivalry. Ever since Al Groh was here with Bill Parcells, we always felt the New York-New England-type rivalry. We always wanted to beat that team, and it went back to when Curtis Martin played for us, then he played for the Jets. Toward the end of my career with the Patriots, as the team was getting younger, in captains' meetings we met with Coach Belichick on Friday. I said "Coach, a lot of these players are young and they don't really know about this rivalry. They need to know why we hate the New York Jets." Bill digested that a little bit and before we played the Jets that week, the Saturday before the game, he went on a 20-minute dissertation on the history of the rivalry. Him going there and being the "HC of the NYJ" for one day, and Eric Mangini leaving here for the Jets and why there was animosity there, and why it still existed. He was educating the players why we have despised the Jets. It opened a lot of players' eyes to why the rivalry was so intense -- the players going back and forth, all the talk back and forth, the coaches going back and forth, knowing that we felt the New England way was the right way to do things. Of course, the way they do things in New York is all over the place, so Coach Belichick has plenty of stuff to use now. Before, he had to explain why the Patriots hated the Jets. But if anybody watched "Hard Knocks" and listened to Rex Ryan all offseason, every team has ammunition when playing them. As the main rival, the Patriots have no shortage of material to help them get motivated.
Patriots offense vs. Jets defense
Mike: When you're going up against the Jets, one of the things that immediately stands out is the blitz. The Jets blitzed more than any team in the NFL last season and one of the things they like to do is overload sides of the field. You saw it Monday night at times, they force quarterbacks to speed up the decision-making process, alter their footwork, and it can lead to mistakes.
Tedy: They are a pressure defense, but one thing we see from Rex Ryan is that he's stubborn. When you're in critical situations in the game, you know what's coming from him. He's going to blitz. We saw how Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco took advantage of that Monday night, finding his backs and receivers. Cornerback Antonio Cromartie struggled in 1-on-1 situations. He's a good athlete, tall with long arms, who has good speed and is a long strider. With that comes the inability to be able to keep up with speedy receivers when they are coming out of breaks. You saw him using his hands, grabbing, so technique-wise he isn't very sound. That's why Flacco picked on him. Then you have rookie Kyle Wilson, who might possibly have to match up on Wes Welker. He will need some help. Wilson was exploited last week, specifically when it came to ball skills. He was having trouble turning around and finding it in the air. You saw Anquan Boldin catching balls over him in coverage.
Mike: One potential changeup that I don't think we should sleep on is the Jets possibly putting Darrelle Revis on Wes Welker. When the Patriots crunched the Jets last November, Welker had 15 catches and Rex Ryan calls him a "matchup nightmare." You look at the history of Antonio Cromartie against Randy Moss and it's pretty good. In Moss's past two games against the Chargers, going up against Cromartie, he had a total of four catches for 44 yards. Regardless of how it turns out, it sounds like we're in agreement that the Patriots are going to have to do damage throwing it because they could quickly become one-dimensional in this game. The Jets held the Ravens to an average of 1.4 yards per carry on Monday -- 35 rushes for 49 yards.
Tedy: Running the ball against that front seven is like bashing your head into a brick wall. Even without Kris Jenkins, they are stout. So if you're the Patriots, you use the pass to open things up. You should still try to hit a run here or there but the idea would be to find the weaknesses in the secondary. Once in a while you can test Revis when he's on Moss. Randy deserves a chance to prove how good he is and knowing Randy, he wants to do that. He's not going to back away from a challenge.
Mike: Tedy, at practice this week, we've heard music playing as the Patriots prepare to go into a hostile environment. They'll probably be using a lot of the silent snap count with Tom Brady in the shotgun. I look at that as a challenge for the offensive line up front, but also the receivers, backs and tight ends being on the same page as Brady because a lot of what they do will be based on adjustments after the snap.
Tedy: Crowd noise will be big in this game. The biggest thing with that is making adjustments non-verbally. Tom won't be able to look over and tell Wes Welker, Randy Moss or Julian Edelman, "Do this." They'll have to use hand signals. Brady will most likely have the wristband with the plays. It's going to be difficult hearing plays coming in from the sideline.
Mike: You might remember last year that they had a whiteboard that they used on the sideline in that Week 2 loss to the Jets. Isiah Stanback, who was on the practice squad at the time, held up the board for the players to see a visual signal from the sideline. The Patriots didn't have Welker in that game and went the entire game with a Randy Moss, Joey Galloway, Julian Edelman trio at receiver and didn't vary the plan much. The blitz came fast and furious from the Jets.
Tedy: It's no secret. They are coming. The Patriots offensive line made great strides last week, working together as a unit. Dante Scarnecchia should be credited with bringing along Dan Connolly. On the overload blitz, the first thing to understand is that you can't block everybody. Rex Ryan will send more than they have to protect, and that's when the timing between Brady and his receivers comes into play -- Tom will have to step into a throw with a rusher in his face and the receiver must make the adjustment as he runs his route, recognizing when to break it off.
Patriots defense vs. Jets offense
Mike: When going up against the Jets' offense, it's the ground-and-pound approach. So for the Patriots, I think you start by stopping the run and seeing if Mark Sanchez and that passing game can beat you.
Tedy: It's going to be difficult for the Patriots' front seven to physically manhandle the Jets' offensive line on a down-to-down basis. They are going to have to incorporate line stunts and quick little penetration moves once in a while, from the defensive linemen or linebackers. That will keep the offensive linemen guessing, and when you do that, it makes their charge less aggressive. Matt Slauson, the Jets' left guard, is a bit of a liability in passing situations. I wouldn't be surprised if the Patriots put whomever they feel is their best pass rusher over him to get the best matchup for them. Coach Belichick loves exploiting weaknesses and left guard is the weak point along that offensive line. Overall, the Patriots don't want to be statues. So don't try to two-gap all day long. The offensive linemen such as Damien Woody, D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Nick Mangold -- they're too good for that. You don't want to let them know where you will be all day. You want to change it up on them.
Mike: The Patriots were in their base 3-4 alignment for only 17 snaps against the Bengals in the season opener. In addition to three plays in which they had their short-yardage package on the field, that is only 20 plays. I expect to see much more of it this week. Tedy, you've had some powerful comments on Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez based on what you've seen so far.
Tedy: Right now, when I look at Mark Sanchez, I see a quarterback who is a front-runner. If things are going well, and the Jets are winning, his positive attitude is infectious. He's a leader, he smiles, he plays with a freedom and confidence when things are going well. But when things aren't going well, I think he's shown that he tanks it a little bit. So if I'm a defensive player getting ready to play Mark Sanchez, I'm going over to the offense and saying "Hey fellas, just get us an early touchdown. We're going to stop the run. Let's get a lead and he will fold." That's what I saw Monday night. His self-confidence went way down when they were behind. Just like Rex Ryan's confidence exudes to the team, the starting quarterback's does also. That's not the sign of a good leader.
Mike: Rex Ryan has said that he wants to go down the field more this week in the passing game, so that is something that will have to be accounted for, as the Jets re-signed receiver David Clowney, who is a vertical threat. Tight end Dustin Keller is a tough matchup and I expect the Patriots to treat him like a receiver. The other offensive skill position player that caught my eye Monday was LaDainian Tomlinson.
Tedy: It's still early, but I was very surprised with the way LT has been running. It looks like he still has quickness. Running behind a good offensive line, it sort of looks like he's had a rebirth in New York. I know it's only one week, but there were some runs last week that I was very impressed with. On the flip side, that was a disappointing start for Shonn Greene. That was his time to shine, Monday night, as the featured back for the Jets. He fumbled twice, was benched and then came back in and had a short pass bounce off his hands. He looked terrible. We'll see how he bounces back.
Mike: One other aspect that I don't think we should overlook is special teams. I see the Jets' special teams units as an extension of their defense. They attack and put stress on you in different ways. So they'll pin a punt inside the 5 and then unleash that defense.
Tedy: I know there were some aspects in the preseason that they thought they struggled with, but I think it starts with their coach, Mike Westhoff. Going up against his units, you're going to have complexity. On the kickoff, they're going to show a twist. Or show some type of "starburst" formation, which is when all the players are in a circle behind the kicker before he kicks the ball and they burst out and make it tough for you to get your count. When you're on a kickoff return unit, you count from the left to the right -- 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 -- and then from the right to the left -- 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. If your guy is 3, you have to find him. So if you get the count wrong, you're going to have a free guy running down the field. That's what Coach Westhoff was always good at, confusing the count on special teams. Things like that, and wrinkles with the punt rush, are areas to watch. You know they're looking at their offense and seeing that it's struggling, so they have to find ways to get it going-- and special teams could be that area.
Mike: Let's wrap it up with predictions, Tedy. I expect the Jets to play a better all-around game than they did Monday night. They don't want to go to 0-2 with a trip to Miami scheduled for next week. It's going to take a complementary game to beat them. As dominant as I think the Patriots' offense can be, I think the Jets' defense can be that dominant. I think the magic number is 20. If the Patriots score 20, I think they win it. I think they can, so I'll go 20-17 Patriots.
Tedy: Last week I saw a Jets team that looked like they were reading too many of their own press clippings. What was really telling for me was that when the going got tough, it looked like their offense quit. The Patriots are all about mental toughness and they know this is a tough road test, going to the New Meadowlands Stadium with those Jets fans all fired up. Their confidence should be sky high after the season-opening win. I think they get that tough road win they've been longing for, 17-10.
Tedy Bruschi played 13 seasons for the New England Patriots and is a member of the franchise's 50th anniversary team. Mike Reiss is the Patriots blogger for ESPNBoston.com. You can reach Mike by leaving a message in his mailbag.
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