This Sunday the New England Patriots (5-1) travel to New Jersey to take on the New York Jets (3-3). The game will be shown at 1 PM (EST) on CBS.
This has been a weird week. Last Sunday’s game against the Saints was simultaneously an instant classic, one of the greatest clutch moments in Tom Brady’s career, a return to form for Stevan Ridley, and a huge win over a great team, but also so close to being disastrous, and a game in which we saw key Patriots go down like flies.
Dan Connolly, Danny Amendola, Aqib Talib, and, most painfully, Jerod Mayo all left the field early. Mayo is reportedly out for the season after having pectoral surgery. Danny Amendola has been ruled out for this week’s game. Aqib Talib, after a dominating performance over Jimmy Graham, hasn’t been confirmed to return.
Which makes this week’s matchup also a little hazy. Normally I’d say that a visit to the Jets is a welcome reprieve after a brutal three week stretch, and as good a time as any for the banged-up Pats to rest up.
But these Jets aren’t a pushover. It’s frankly astounding that they’re 3-3, Geno Smith has looked above respectable thus far, and Rex Ryan is pissed after seeing his brother’s defense fail to contain Brady and the New England offense. This game could get ugly.
Here are some things to watch.
Key Matchup: TE Rob Gronkowski vs. LB David Harris
Let me start off by saying, I have no idea what to expect from Rob Gronkowski. Even after being cleared by all his doctors to play this Sunday, it’s hard to nail down exactly how McDaniels will use him, and how many snaps he’ll see.
But his presence is undeniably for the best. He reportedly has been tearing it up in practice, and the defense playing against him helped in forming their game plan in shutting down Jimmy Graham. He helps with the running game (more on that later), and most importantly, his connection with Brady is crucial to the Pats’ success. The Patriots have been brutally bad in the red zone, and having a 6-6, 265lb tight end with tremendous hands definitely helps in that regard.
Last week, the Jets linebacking corps gave up 6 catches for over 80 yards to Steelers’ tight end Heath Miller. To be sure, the Jets LBs barely contribute to the pass defense, and are there to mainly hit running backs in the backfield, and add to Rex Ryan’s pass rush schemes. If any linebacker does go up against Gronk it will be veteran linebacker David Harris, a matchup Brady can and should exploit throughout the game.
3 Questions Pre-Game
1. Will the Pats be able to muster up any rush offense?
Stevan Ridley had an awesome game last week, rushing for 96 yards with two touchdowns, and showing off the talent that makes him the without-a-doubt top back in New England. That being said, the Saints rush defense ain’t got nothin’ on the Jets murderous front seven. That defensive line, comprised of Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, and Snacks Harrison is especially filthy, and the team has held opposing offenses to only 75.7 yards on the ground. Having Gronkowski back, even as a blocker, will help, though his opening up the field as a receiving threat will help more. Look for the Patriots to open up the game throwing just to spread out the Jets’ defense, and then run the ball more. But for fantasy owners, stay away from Ridley this week.
2. Is this Aaron Dobson’s breakout week?
Consider this part 2 of the above question. If the Patriots do come out throwing, Dobson will be the biggest beneficiary. Ryan will undoubtedly keep star cornerback Antonio Cromartie on Kenbrell Thompkins who is perhaps the surest receiving threat while Amendola sits this week out. Edelman is a good slot option (and dangerous on the reverse), but Dobson is the one to watch. He broke open constantly in the Pats’ Week 2 game against the Jets, hauling in a long TD, but only caught three balls on 10 targets. He’s been much better since, and last week pulled in 6 receptions for 63 yards. Dobson’s a burner, and that’s the one place this Jets’ defense is vulnerable. If Brady can hit him, the Pats will get some big plays out of the rookie receiver.
3.How do the Pats’ patch the giant holes in their defense?
Losing Jerod Mayo is just as big a blow as losing Vince Wilfork. The most consistent tackler, a constantly disruptive force and the captain of the defense, the Patriots have to find a way to replace him. Linebackers Dane Fletcher and Jamie Collins need to get up to speed, and Dont’a Hightower needs to step up as the leader of the front seven. I’m actually optimistic on this front. Hightower has vets Ninkovich and Spikes around him to help out. Dane Fletcher has been a great special teams player and deserves a shot on defense, and Jamie Collins has the physical skills to succeed.
A little more disconcerting? If Aqib Talib is out this week, the Patriots lose their Defensive MVP this season. The Jets don’t exactly have a star wideout a la Julio Jones/Vincent Jackson/AJ Green, but if Stephen Hill gets his act together, this could be worrisome. The big question would be if the Patriots put in Logan Ryan alongside Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington, or if they slide Devin McCourty to corner and put in Duron Harmon at safety. I’m more inclined to see what Logan Ryan can do this week rather than any other week, but we’ll have to see.
Prediction: Patriots 20, Jets 13
If you had asked me last week around the time Brady threw that pick in the fourth quarter, I would have said that this would be a close game, and the Jets would probably win. I’d also be on my way to belligerently drunk.
But if last week reminded us of anything it’s that there are few combos better than Brady/Belichick at pulling wins out of their asses. I see Brady coming out throwing, with the return of Gronkowski a boost of confidence if nothing else, and Aaron Dobson getting some good looks. I think Geno Smith will continue to impress, but his tendency to turn the ball over will doom the Jets’ offense. A good game, but the Patriots come out on top.