BOSTON (CBS) –The New England Patriots and New York Jets add another chapter to their rivalry on Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
The Patriots offense is clicking on all cylinders, while their defense is stuggling to find an identity. It’s the exact opposite in New York, with the Jets D its usual stellar-self with the offense faltering the last few weeks.
Here are two key matchups that will play a big role in determining who comes out on top Sunday afternoon.
Darrelle Revis vs. Wes Welker
Revis is one of the best corners in the league, and Welker is off to one of the best starts in NFL history. It only makes sense the two would be paired up against each other on Sunday.
Jets coach Rex Ryan wouldn’t say what his plans were for Revis, but he knows who his All-Pro corner will cover.
“Whoever we put him on, he’ll cover. If that’s [Deion] Branch, if it’s [Wes] Welker, if it’s Chad [Ochocinco], or Randy Vataha – it doesn’t matter, he’ll cover them,” Ryan said confidently.
And why wouldn’t he have confidence in Revis. Along with corner Antonio Cromartie and safeties Jim Leonhard and Eric Smith, the Jets are holding passing offenses to just 180 yards per game, second in the league being the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Lucky for the Patriots, Welker is averaging 154 receiving yards per game to start 2011.
The last time the Patriots and Jets met up, Welker made a few foot jokes (or a dozen) aimed at Ryan. This earned him a benching to start their playoff matchup by Bill Belichick. Welker had just 57 yards that game, roughly his average against the Jets last season. He did have a few things going against him in 2010, coming back from major surgery and the loss of Randy Moss, but has torched the Jets in the past (he hit them for a 15 catch, 192 yard day in the Patriots 31-14 win in 2009).
And the Jets are well aware of his, and the Pats offense’s, hot start.
“It looks like to me that Welker is struggling this year – 40 catches,” Ryan joked. “This offense in general is struggling – you talk about our offense, but New England is second in scoring offense, so if you want to talk about struggling I think they need to look at themselves first.”
“I think the big thing would be that he plays in the slot and a lot of times it’s hard to get,” said Ryan. “He’s not just an outside receiver, but he is a slot receiver a lot of times, and routes and all those things are hard to defend.”
Welker knows spending his time going over the middle won’t deter Revis from attaching himself to his hip.
“We’ve cut out about 600 snaps between last year and this year where he’s actually been in the slot. I don’t think it’s anything different from what they do,” Welker said of Revis. “He’s very patient, physical, a smart player. He’s definitely going to present some problems for us.”
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Even with Revis on him though, Tom Brady will still go Welker’s way. Just as long as the receiver can get open.
“We just call our plays and whoever he lines up on, he lines up on. If the guy gets open, he gets the ball, as we have shown, and if he doesn’t then somebody else gets the ball,” said Brady.
It will help if tight end Aaron Hernandez can return to the field, giving Brady another catch-and-run threat. Hernandez could be the x-factor for the Patriots, drawing more attention from the corners and safeties, giving Welker some room to run as well.
Pats D-Line vs Jets O-Line
Sunday’s game will be won in the trenches. The Jets offensive line failed them in a big way last Sunday against the Ravens, with Mark Sanchez fumbling three times and their rush attack mustering only 38 yards.
While the Jets O-Line was in shambles, the Patriots defensive line is still trying to figure things out. The pass-rush that was on display in the preseason, for a few quarters at least, has disappeared. It seems now all the D-Line is good for is interceptions.
If Mark Sanchez feels like he spent all of last week being thrown into the ground, he must be salivating at the thought of standing comfortably in the pocket against a team that has only six sacks this season.
That and the fact he’ll be getting All-Pro center Nick Mangold back.
“He’s probably one of the best offensive linemen in the game,” said Vince Wilfork. “One thing that we can’t do is look at that game and say, ‘You know what, the Jets, they’re not the Jets, they’re going to do this, they’re going to do that. They can’t do this.’ Each week it changes.”
“This team is definitely a good football team, let’s not get that wrong. We’re going to have to do a real good job this week. We’re not going to fall into that trap. We’re definitely going to have to put all our marbles in one basket and see what happens because we’re going to need it,” Wilfork added.
For the Patriots to win, they have to make Sanchez feel uncomfortable and make quick decisions. The Ravens had 10 QB hits on him last week. After 11 in their season opener in Miami, the Pats have just nine the last three games.
The return of Albert Haynesworth could help. Having former Jet Shaun Ellis do something, anything, would help.
Having Wilfork does help, although Ryan feels he is due for a position change.
“Obviously, Vince is – I think Vince should probably move to safety. That might be the next move for Vince,” said Ryan in light of Wilfork’s two interceptions this season.
Gresh & Zo Whiteboard: Defending The Jets
The Patriots may be giving up yards at a video game-like clip, but the Jets defensive guru has seen the New England defense do that in the past.
“They’re doing a great job; they do what they do. They force takeaways and they’re playing better in the red zone. Their defense is statistically – they’re never ranked way up there – it’s not like they’re one or two in the league in defense, but they’re effective and they make you make mistakes, they don’t give up the run,” he said.
He also expects the pass-rush that seems like a preseason tease to return.
“I expect them to come after us more, obviously,” Ryan said. “We didn’t do a great job protecting our quarterback and I expect more pressure from New England this week.”
Tune in to the Patriots-Jets game Sunday at 4:15 pm on 98.5 The Sports Hub and WBZ-TV. Tune in to Patriots Gameday at 11:30am on WBZ-TV and The Sports Hub’s pregame coverage, beginning at 1:00 pm. After the game tune in to the Postgame show on 98.5, and to Patriots Fifth Quarter on MY TV38.