Pats-Jets rematch all about adjustments
New England keys will be protecting Brady, converting in red zone and stopping run
Join the conversation every week as former New England Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi and ESPNBoston.com reporter Mike Reiss break down the Patriots' upcoming game. This week, they're hosting the New York Jets on Sunday:
Mike: There are a lot of places we could start this week, Tedy, as there were plenty of things to dissect from last Sunday's loss to the Indianapolis Colts. At the same time, what more can really be said about that game at this point?
Tedy: Last week was just a crazy week. So many individual matchups were broken down and the main topic of conversation was fourth-and-2. But by the time Wednesday and Thursday comes around, the Patriots are moving on. So let's do the same, on to their AFC East rival New York Jets.
Mike: The Patriots lost to the Jets, 16-9, on Sept. 20. This is the first game that the team is preparing to face a club it played before this season. How was that different for you as a player?
Tedy: Now you're watching film and seeing how they're different as a team. You are asking yourself the questions: Have their concepts changed? Have their formations changed? You're comparing the first game and trying to determine if there are similarities or vast differences.
Mike: I have heard the theory that it's not a bad thing the Jets are the next team on the schedule. The thinking is it should help the team bounce back from that devastating loss to Indianapolis.
Tedy: I think it gets them refocused very quickly. It's the Jets, the biggest rivalry in the AFC East. More importantly, they lost to the Jets last time and don't want to lose to a division opponent twice in the same season. That will get you refocused right there. And in terms of moving on from last week, the Patriots have always been the best in the NFL at putting huge victories and disappointing losses behind.
Mike: What have you noticed from your time with the team that contributes to the ability to do that?
Tedy: The example comes from the head coach. Once a game is put to bed, it's put to bed. It's not talked about anymore, it's not mentioned anymore. The blinders are put on and you are just focused on what's next -- what meeting, what practice, what little aspect of the game you need to be focused on. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, it's a constant focus. Bill Belichick believes in that focus.
Mike: Any thoughts on how Belichick might have addressed the team when they met for the first time Wednesday morning? Does he even bring up the Colts at that point, and the fourth-and-2 call?
Tedy: Whenever the team meets after a game, whether it's on a Monday or if the players got Monday and Tuesday off and it's on a Wednesday, the last game is touched upon. If it's Wednesday, it's done briefly. Monday, more time will be focused on the positives and the negatives. Bill always takes full responsibility for the decisions he makes. There were times when I was on the team that Bill would tell us, "Guys, it's my fault. You played hard. Let's come back and focus on the next opponent." As accountable as he holds players, he holds himself even more accountable.
Patriots offense vs. Jets defense
Mike: One of the first things that comes to mind this week is handling the Jets' pressure. They didn't sack Tom Brady in the first meeting, but they hit him seven times and disrupted the timing of the passing game. The Patriots were without Wes Welker that day and stayed in their three-receiver set with Randy Moss, Joey Galloway and Julian Edelman all game.
Tedy: That was the overwhelming factor in the first game; they were able to make Tom Brady look uncomfortable. They might not have sacked him but the pressure got him moving in the pocket, got him out of the center of the pocket and throwing on the run. Rex Ryan is a creative defensive coach. It is highly possible that he'll come out with different defensive looks. A factor that leans to the Patriots' advantage is that they've already played against them once so they have an idea of what to expect. Now they have a lot of film to watch. I'm sure every blitz they've run this season is being looked over and every adjustment off that blitz is being ingrained in each player's mind.
Mike: ESPN's Stats & Information group notes that the Jets have blitzed more than any team in the NFL this season, on 58.7 percent of opponents' pass plays. One of the reasons they can do that is because cornerback Darrelle Revis is so tough. His matchup on Randy Moss should be something to watch. Moss had just four catches in the Sept. 20 matchup.
Tedy: It would be easy to get caught up just watching Moss versus Revis and not the entire offense. That's how intriguing this matchup has become. It's not only skill versus skill, it's confidence versus confidence. They both believe they are the best at what they do.
Mike: Elsewhere on the Jets' defense, one big change is at nose tackle, where Kris Jenkins was placed on season-ending injured reserve. Sione Pouha, a five-year veteran who has spent his entire career with the Jets, has started in his place.
Tedy: Losing him was huge. Imagine the Patriots' 3-4 defense without Vince Wilfork, and that's how much of a hole that Jenkins' loss creates. Jenkins and Wilfork are a linebacker's best friend. They keep blockers from getting to the second level and allow linebackers to run free.
Mike: One other thought I had on this aspect of the matchup is the Patriots' left tackle spot. Rookie Sebastian Vollmer has started the past four games and has been solid. It looks like regular starter Matt Light is getting close to coming back. So what do you think happens at that spot?
Tedy: In the past, when a player has had a long layoff, they are worked back into the rotation. Sebastian Vollmer has been playing so well lately, there isn't really a reason to immediately take him out of the starting lineup. If Vollmer wasn't playing as well, I'd say put Light in there now, but with Light coming back from a serious knee injury, to work him back gradually would be the right thing to do. When Light gets those game reps under his belt again, and starts to feel 100 percent, that's when the Patriots' coaches will have a tough decision to make. As of now, my sense is that Light will work back into the lineup in a situational role.
Mike: One area of concern for the Patriots is in the red zone. They've been there 40 times, more than every team this season but the New Orleans Saints, yet they are scoring touchdowns just 45 percent of the time.
Tedy: As I think about the red-zone problems, it isn't one thing. They've tried to run it, and have fumbled. They have tried to throw it in, and can't make the completion. It is turning into an epidemic. It's the 10th week of the season, and teams start to develop an identity by now. When you are still having problems in an area, you might just have to look at it and say, "Hey, that's just who we are." Right now, struggles in the red area, that's who the Patriots are. Until they start scoring touchdowns more consistently, that is the way they must be viewed.
Mike: I think we both agree that the return of Sammy Morris, possibly this week, could help. Same for Fred Taylor a bit further down the line. Anything else on this aspect of the matchup between the Patriots' offense and Jets' defense that catches your eye?
Tedy: One thing I've noticed is that the Jets, defensively, don't look like they're on the same page at times. As good as they looked earlier this season, now it looks like they're trying to figure things out at times. That is strange. Last week, safety Jim Leonard was trying to get fellow safety Kerry Rhodes to the middle of the field on a key play late in the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. When you play for a coach like Rex Ryan who has complex defensive schemes, communication is very important.
Patriots' defense vs. Jets' offense
Mike: This part of the matchup looks pretty straightforward. The Jets aren't going to surprise many teams with their approach.
Tedy: They have developed their identity, and who they are is a power running team. Even with the loss of running back Leon Washington, Thomas Jones is having a Pro Bowl season. He's a power runner between the tackles. That offensive line is one of the best in the league. The Jets have scaled things down for quarterback Mark Sanchez, trying to win games by pounding the run and playing solid defense. Sanchez has made fewer mistakes of late because he's had fewer opportunities. That's the way they want it. This game is going to come down to smashmouth football. They are going to try to run the ball on the Patriots' defense and see if they can stop it. The Jets are still first in the league in rushing, averaging 170 yards per game. That's their strength and I don't think they will change now.
Mike: Usually these are the type of matchups that I think the Patriots do well with, and part of that has been their strong defensive line and fundamental play. But with Ty Warren missing last Sunday's game in Indianapolis with an ankle injury and Jarvis Green remaining out, you wonder if the Patriots will be strong enough up front.
Tedy: Early in the season, I said that, come November or December, this team might be feeling the effects of the Richard Seymour trade. How many people out there would love to see him in a Patriots uniform now, especially with the injury problems? And in comes one of the most physical offensive lines in the NFL. The Patriots' defensive line has held up well, but when you start to have injuries pile up on you, that's when you need depth, and that depth was hurt tremendously when Seymour was traded.
Mike: One new face the Patriots will see is receiver Braylon Edwards, who was acquired in a trade from the Cleveland Browns in October. On the flip side, they won't see running back Leon Washington, who as you mention is out for the season with a fractured fibula. Washington gave them some problems as a pass catcher and on special teams. Rookie Shonn Greene, a third-round draft choice out of Iowa, is now the second running back. Tight end Dustin Keller is another player who has given the Patriots some trouble.
Tedy: In the end, I think it all comes back to the run. In the past three games, Sanchez has had 30, 35 and 16 pass attempts. That's not chucking the ball around the yard a lot of times when you consider Brady and Manning throwing it 40-plus times a game. They are asking Sanchez to be a game manager. So, from the Patriots' perspective, what this game is about is, No. 1, to stop the run, which should help you have success against an unproven rookie quarterback.
Mike: A key matchup will be Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork against Jets center Nick Mangold. Wilfork is having a solid season. We saw two weeks ago he was moved to end to go against Miami Dolphins left tackle Jake Long. I think it's probably fair to say Mangold is to the Jets what Long is to the Dolphins.
Tedy: Two of the brightest stars on the line are Mangold and D'Brikashaw Ferguson. Initially, Ferguson was viewed as a basketball player in football pads. He was long and lean and he didn't really have much weight behind him. You can see how he's been in the weight room and his confidence has risen. Now I think he can be in the conversation as one of the better young tackles in the league. From Day 1, Mangold has shown he can be considered one of the best centers in the league. Another part of this matchup to watch is the production of linebacker Jerod Mayo. Last season, he had 20 tackles versus the Jets, also a game they came at the Patriots with the run. I think Jerod will have another one of those performances this week, because that's what they do -- challenge you up front.
Mike: Let's wrap this up, Tedy. Some are probably wondering if the Colts loss will linger. Do you see any danger in that?
Tedy: One thing I know is that Coach Belichick won't have a hangover, and he won't let his assistant coaches have a hangover, which should trickle down to every single player on the team. We have to see if those younger players are receptive to what they are being taught in terms of focusing on what's next. We'll get that answer Sunday afternoon.
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.