After Sunday’s game against Buffalo, I knew that the reaction would be negative overall, even with it being a win. That was certainly my reaction. But in my haste to ignore any icky feeling, I was convinced that all of this mad juju would blow over, and that the New England Patriots were going to improve inevitably. I was convinced that by the time I wrote this preview, confidence would be back on the up and up, and Patriot fans would be excited for a tasty matchup against the perpetual mess, the New York Jets.
Well, I’m writing this preview. And things have gotten decidedly worse.
Because let’s be clear. Losing Shane Vereen and Danny Amendola hurts. Bad. If you lose 60% of your offensive output, and your offense wasn’t all that sparkly to begin with, you’re kind of in trouble.
And so, what we have instead is one of the greatest challenges that Tom Brady has probably faced in his career. After losing Wes Welker to a trade, Brandon Lloyd to the free agency heap, Danny Woodhead to the Chargers, Rob Gronkowski to injury, and Aaron Hernandez to what I’m going to tepidly call legal issues, things were looking shaky as is. And now on top of that, Brady is losing his most reliable passing option in the Kevin Faulk role (Vereen) and the player we immediately saw as his security blanket and the one receiver with a mental connection with Tom Terrific (Amendola).
Not only that, but somehow, the Pats are going up against a (gulp) confident Jets team. Not that the Jets deserve to be confident. They were one boneheaded penalty away from losing against a really bad performance by Tampa Bay. But, Rex Ryan will have his team pumped up from the get-go, will have his usual sneaky defensive packages to confuse Brady, and will probably show Geno Smith the Butt Fumble Clip over and over again, all the while whispering “Whatever you do, it can’t get worse than that.”
Yes, it pains me to say it, but we may actually have a real game on our hands.
Key Matchup: Julian Edelman vs. Antonio Cromartie
Well, Pats fans, get excited. Because Julian Edelman is Tom Brady’s most reliable target coming into this game. Julian Edelman turned in a really nice performance, to be sure, with 7 receptions for 79 yards and both of the team’s passing touchdowns. But Edelman’s never been a no. 1 receiver before, always used more as a slot receiver, using his quickness to nice effect, but always seen as a poor man’s Wes Welker. And I don’t think anyone thought Edelman would be the impact player coming into the week.
Now, Rex Ryan knows that Edelman will see some major targets, and will more than likely put Antonio Cromartie, the leader of the Jets’ secondary, on the 5th year receiver. Cromartie is a dangerous corner, though never exactly dependable. It’ll be interesting to see how McDaniels uses Edelman, and where he lines up on the field: in the slot or as the Pats’ deep threat.
3 Questions before this week’s game
Who will step up?
As I said above, losing two players like Amendola and Vereen will hurt the Patriots, especially as the two were instantly Brady’s go-to options in the late stages of the game. The continuing theme of all the Pats’ post-game reactions has been that both Kenbrell Thompkins and Zach Sudfeld were both major disappointments after such a promising start to the preseason. Thompkins definitely showed some jitters, and made some uncharacteristic mental errors. Sudfeld barely saw any snaps, the only target resulting in an interception.
But now with Amendola out, one or both of them will have to shake off their inexperience, and become dependable options for Brady. Same goes for Josh Boyce, and perhaps Aaron Dobson, who sat out the first game. Thursday’s game will probably not be pretty, and we’re almost certainly going to see the same miscues as Sunday, if not more often. But we’ll also possibly get a glimpse at the fantastic potential that the four rookies all possess.
2. How will Stevan Ridley bounce back?
Ridley’s fumble was a few things: a costly mental error, a troubling reoccurrence for the running back, and a momentum-shifting moment in the game. But was it worth benching Ridley for the entire second half? I say no. Will Ridley ride the pine into Thursday’s game? Of course not. Without Vereen, the Patriots can’t take that chance. As good a story as he is, and as much value as he has situationally, LeGarrette Blount is no lead back for this offense. Ridley has tremendous upside, and in a perfect world, he and Vereen complement each other very well.
But when he does start this game, the Jets defense will know that Ridley will be the focus of the offense. Luckily, the Pats have a solid running offensive line, and without a doubt Josh McDaniels will find a way to incorporate Michael Hoomanawanui and James Develin into the offense more to help things out. Here’s hoping that Ridley will be able to put his mistake behind him, and put on a performance that Pats’ fans have gotten used to.
3.Will the Pats get to Geno Smith?
One major disappointment in the Pats-Bills game was the D-line’s lack of pressure on rookie quarterback EJ Manuel. The focus was obviously more on taking out CJ Spiller, and they succeeded marvelously at that, but with a promising and finally healthy line, fans definitely hope for a better showing.
Once again the Patriots will face a rookie QB, but this time don’t have a star running back to worry about as much. In their games last year, the Patriots were able to put pressure on Sanchez, especially linebackers Jerod Mayo and Dont’a Hightower, and forced some key fumbles. This year, the Jets offensive line looks a little more vulnerable, especially without Brandon Moore. I think it’s fair to say that Chandler Jones will be effectively handled by D’Brickashaw Ferguson, who really is one of the elite tackles in the game, while also possessing one of the elite names in human history. But look for players like Rob Ninkovich, Hightower, and possibly even Tommy Kelly to come out hungry to put a hit on the young Smith.
Prediction: Patriots 17, Jets 10
I see this one getting ugly. Despite a lack of star talent (outside of Muhammad Wilkerson and Cromartie), Rex Ryan’s tricky defensive schemes and the Pats’ thinned offensive depth should prevent New England from putting up a ton of points. So in the end, I think it comes down to New England’s defense vs. the Jets’ offense, a matchup that (believe it or not) favors New England. You can bet Belichick showed his team the Lavonte David/Geno Smith penalty, and that this experienced Pats D wont let something like that happen, and will take advantage of Smith’s inexperience and the Jets’ dearth of quality receivers. It’ll be close. But look for New England to prevail.
And even if they lose, here’s a picture of the Butt Fumble. Just because.