The Patriots finally get to play a much needed home game after a disappointing loss in Seattle and three road games in the previous four weeks. For the first time in forever the Pats and Jets head into a game in where neither one has a winning record. The last time a game between these two had such a small amount of buzz and hype Dick MacPherson and Bruce Coslet were the coaches facing each other.
If you don’t believe stats are for losers and you want all the facts, figures, trends and trivia for this game you can check that information out here. On to the keys to the game, why the Patriots should win, and how the Jets could pull off an upset.
Last week the Pats faced one of the NFL’s best rushing defenses, yet were still able to move the ball decently on the ground. There are some that are calling for the Patriots to run the ball, run the ball, and run the ball some more – but I won’t go that far. What they need to do is have a balanced attack, take whatever it is that the Jets defense is giving them, and avoid being predictable.
Last point first: late in the game the Patriots had the lead and not much time remaining. Rather than approach with a ‘keep them guessing’ attitude they stubbornly decided to run the ball – even though they had given up on the run earlier in the day. The Pats brought out a formation with Dan Connolly at fullback, Daniel Fells, Nick McDonald and Gronk lining up at tight end, Stevan Ridley at running back – and no wide receivers. Seattle stacked the line, stuffed three runs, and the Pats had to punt after chewing up just 14 seconds off the game clock.
I agree that the Pats need to run the ball much more in this game. Just don’t run the ball for the sake of running the ball, telegraphing your play calls. The most effective weapon for the Pats offense is still the short pass; if it’s there then use it. At the bare minimum it will keep the Jets honest and that extra split second may make all the difference in the world between a successful play and a run stuffed at the line of scrimmage.
Several years ago the saying was that Tom Brady‘s favorite receiver was the one that was open. This offense has enough effective choices that this should still be the mantra. Moving the ball around, mixing it up between runs and passes, spreading the plays around both vertically and horizontally keeps a defense guessing; that inability to anticipate what is coming next increases the chances of the next offensive play being successful. When you throw the ball 58 times the mystery is gone, but running the ball 58 times will have the same result that you want to avoid.
The Jets do rank very highly against the pass but that has as much to do with their porous rushing defense as anything. Opponents have not passed on them because the Jets haven’t been able to stop the run. If you want to make the running game even more effective make the Jets honor your passing attack. Pass the ball some and perhaps the Jets bring in Aaron Maybin to help out on the pass rush; when they do go into the hurry up and run the ball as he is a liability in the rushing game. Same holds true when the Jets go in to a nickel or dime formation to help out in pass coverage to slow down the Pats passing game. The Jets aren’t going to do those things unless the Pats complete some passes first though.
When the Pats get an opportunity to score they need to seal the deal. This encompasses all phases: better play calling, better decision making, and better execution than they have had in previous games (most notably last week). For the Jets to have an opportunity they are going to have to generate some turnovers. They have scored two defensive touchdowns and two special teams touchdowns; the Pats can’t let them keep it close with another. Zoltan Mesko had been good about not letting opponents having a chance to return punts, but he can’t have another kick like the one in the 4th quarter that was not only short but also low, setting up a crucial easy long return for the Seahawks’ Joe Washington.
When the Jets have the ball the Pats can’t be lulled into crowding the line of scrimmage to stop the run. The Jets will want to keep the Pats offense on the sidelines as long as possible while wearing down the New England front seven. I think it would be wise for the Patriots to rotate players into the lineup throughout the game to keep them fresher; the defense seems worn out in the 4th quarter from having played every snap. Though the Jets passing game ranks as one of the worst in the NFL, for them to win they are going to need to take their shots downfield. Stephen Hill is playing again after being sidelined with a hamstring injury, and he is exactly the type of receiver that poses a matchup problem for the Pats – he’s tall and fast, making it very difficult for shorter corners to defend him. This may be where Ras-I Dowling can be effective, who has been conspicuous in his absence on the field for the Pats this year.
Another player returning from a hamstring injury that could cause problems is tight end Dustin Keller. Keller had seven receptions for 115 yards in a Jets win over the Pats in 2009; for that matter the Pats have had trouble against a lot of tight ends since Brandon McGowan‘s first few games with New England in 2009.
Now the Jets have begun to publicly lobby of help, complaining that first that the Pats weren’t getting set on the line when running the hurry up offense; now that they’re making substitutions but snapping the ball before the defense gets a chance to make a corresponding substitution. We’ll see if the Jets publicly complaining about the Patriots no-huddle offense has anything to do with how the game is officiated; I would expect that it does not (nor should it). This comes across more as an act of desperation by the Jets than one of actual gamesmanship. It’s not as if the Pats have to have one set of personnel to pass the ball and a different set of personnel to run the ball.
In a nutshell for the Jets to win they need to be patient on offense and exploit a mediocre Pats secondary, while getting some big plays (turnovers) on defense and special teams. For the Pats to emerge victorious on offense they need to stay balanced and take what the Jets give them; use the run to set up play action passes and use the passing game to keep the Jets from selling out to stop the run. Obviously anything can happen, but I think the likelihood of a Jets victory is somewhere between slim and none.
Prediction: Patriots 31, Jets 20
Today in Patriots History
October 20, 1968:
Nick Buonoconti intercepts three passes, the Patriots defense forces five turnovers overall and Mike Taliaferro connects on two touchdown passes to Jim Whalen as the Pats crush the Buffalo Bills 23-6 at Fenway Park. Gino Cappelletti added 11 points (three field goals and two extra points), Whalen finished with 78 yards receiving and Jim Nance ran for 82 yards on the day.
October 20, 1974:
After winning their first five games the Patriots were edged by the Bills 30-28 at Rich Stadium, putting the two teams in a tie for first place in the AFC East with 5-1 records. This game featured two of the league’s top running backs: Sam Cunningham and O.J. Simpson. Cunningham started the game off with a 75-yard touchdown run and both players finished with over 120 yards rushing and two touchdowns. The difference in the game was two turnovers by the Pats and none for the Bills; as a result Buffalo controlled the clock and ended up limiting the Pats to 49 offensive plays.
October 20, 1985:
The Patriots defense sacked Ken O’Brien five times, intercepted him once and recovered two fumbles as the Pats shut down the Jets 20-13 at Sullivan Stadium. The Patriots rallied for two touchdowns in the 4th quarter including a 36-yard pass from Steve Grogan to Irving Fryar; Grogan later scored the game winning points on a 3-yard run.
October 20, 1991:
Jason Staurovsky kicks a 42-yard game winning field goal in overtime and the Patriots beat the Vikings 26-23 at Foxboro Stadium. The Pats defense shut down the Minnesota running game (Herschel Walker had 7 yards) so Vikings quarterback Rich Gannon went to the air, throwing 63 passes for 317 yards while Hugh Millen countered with 326 passing yards for the Pats on half as many attempts. Cris Carter led Minnesota with 10 receptions and 114 yards while Irving Fryar had 9 catches that went for 161 yards for the Pats.
October 20, 1996:
The Pats defense forced five fumbles (recovering four) and added four sacks (two by Willie McGinest) while Curtis Martin ran for 75 yards and two touchdowns as the Patriots upended the first place Indianapolis Colts 27-9 at the RCA Dome.
October 20, 2008:
In front of a national audience on Monday Night Football the Patriots annihilate the Denver Broncos 41-7 at Gillette Stadium. Matt Cassel thre three touchdown passes, two to Randy Moss and one to Wes Welker as the Pats scored twice in each of the first three quarters before Denver finally got points on the board on a touchdown catch by Daniel Graham. Richard Seymour had two sacks and the Pats defense forced five turnovers, turning the game in to a rout.
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October 20, 1962:
The pride of Somerville, Bobby ‘Boris’ Pickett and the Crypt Kickers started a two week run with the number one single with ‘Monster Mash‘; eleven years later it was re-released and went number one again.
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