BOSTON (CBS) – The New England Patriots and New York Jets have another divisional showdown on Sunday, with both teams fighting for first place in the AFC East.
The two teams are very familiar with each other, with this being fifth meeting in two years, but familiarity may not help come Sunday.
“They kind of do what they do. There is some game plan-type elements to each game. I’m sure they’ll have some for us this week,” Pats quarterback Tom Brady said this week. “They’re a tough team to prepare for. They’ve got a lot of stuff, they’ve got a lot of really good players, good scheme. They play well at home. It’s a great challenge.”
“Both teams are going to be humming for this one,” Jets head coach Rex Ryan said on Thursday. “They have to win this game, and we have to win this game. You can sugar-coat it all you want but they know they need it, and we know we need it. So both teams are going to be hungry.”
After dropping two straight, the Patriots will have the tough task of righting the ship against the Jets. Here are a couple of keys for the Patriots to avoid their first three-game losing streak since 2002.
Patriots Running, and Blocking, Game
Tom Brady has thrown 125 passes in the last three games, completing 79 of them. But four of the passes have gone to the other team, and the Patriots haven’t scored more than 20 points in any of the games.
The point being, Tom Brady is having a rough stretch. Hard to believe 829 yards and six touchdowns against three of the better defenses in the NFL is a rough stretch, but things are not going to be any easier for Brady on Sunday.
Establishing a run game would help. The Pats have had to ditch the run after falling behind in recent weeks, but it will be a requirement against the Jets. They are going to be gunning for Brady all afternoon, and a few handoffs will assure he isn’t hitting the deck every other play.
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BenJarvis Green-Ellis has just 17 carries during the current two-game skid. He is the bruising type of back that can fight a hard-hitting Jets defense for a few yards every carry. New England can also change the pace with rookie Stevan Ridley, and Brady can always swing a pass to Kevin Faulk or Danny Woodhead out of the backfield.
Getting Green-Ellis going will be key. New England is 18-1 when he finds the end zone, which he’s done 18 times since 2010. The only backs to run for more scores than Green-Ellis in that span are named Arian Foster (21), Adrian Peterson (21) and Michael Turner (19). Not a bad group of running backs to be mentioned in. Green-Ellis carried the ball 27 times the first time out against the Jets, leading the way on a 13-play, six minute drive in the fourth quarter to seal the victory.
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But if anyone, not named Pittsburgh, can fluster a rush attack it’s the New York Jets. Despite being ranked 21st in the NFL against the run, New York was able to keep Buffalo’s Fred Jackson at bay last Sunday, keeping him to 82 yards and out of the end zone. Attacking the New York D early with Green-Ellis, and then sending in some fresh legs in Ridley or Woodhead, will allow the Patriots to control the ball, and maybe set up some play action.
The Patriots will no doubt throw the ball more than they run on Sunday, but keeping somewhat of a balance will be key to getting the offense on track. A healthy rush attack can lead to a lethal air assault.
“The defense is very fast, they’re going to throw a lot of looks at you. For us to go out there and win we have to go execute our game plan. That’s on the ground and through the air,” Ridley said on Thursday. “We have to do both, it has to be balanced. That’s what we’ve been focused on all year. I don’t think we have to do one more than another, we just have to be a balanced offense to let our playmakers go out and make the plays.”
Of course when the backs aren’t running the ball, they’ll have to make sure they pick up their blitz assignments and protect Brady. That is something they’ve prepared for all week.
“There’s not going to be any surprises for me out there for me,” said Ridley, noting Belichick was throwing everything at them in practice. “We’ll have every look, and probably a few more than we need, we’ll have every blitz assignment covered.”
Brady will find out on Sunday.
Cutting The Turnovers
Maybe Patriots fans were spoiled last year, watching a team that turned the ball over just 10 times.
It seems as though they are making up for their stinginess last season, with Brady already up to 10 interceptions (after just four in 2010) along with the team coughing up four fumbles. After finishing last season with a +28 in turnover differential, the Patriots are even in 2011.
Brady has been forcing the ball much more than he did last year, but said the antidote to the turnovers is simple.
“Just decision making. I’ve just got to make better decisions,” he said when asked about his interceptions.
Not all of them have been Brady’s fault, with some tipped balls that would have hit the ground last year instead falling into the arms of defenders. Coach Belichick said something obviously went wrong on each play, and that is not always on Brady.
“I’d say for the most part, I think he’s throwing to the right guy,” said Belichick. “There’s something about the pass, the route, the catch, the whatever it is – the ball isn’t ending up in our hands. I’d say for the most part, he’s making good reads and he’s going to the right guy.”
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Even the Jets know the Patriots recent trouble holding on to the ball is likely just a bump in the road. But they’re hoping the struggles continue through this weekend.
“They know how to protect the football,” Ryan said this week. “They study it like crazy, but so do we. If we think there’s vulnerability in a player, we’ll go at it. You look at Wes Welker’s caught 100 balls already. He’s the hardest guy to get a fumble from. The running back does a nice job protecting the football. I think he might lead the league in most attempts without a fumble. They do a tremendous job protecting the ball. Sometimes interceptions happen. It could be a tipped ball. It could be anything. Hopefully we’re fortunate enough to get a couple.”
With guys like Darelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie and Kyle Wilson roaming around, Brady will have to make sure he gets the ball in the right spots. The Jets have had success in making Brady miserable for a day, and that trio already has eight picks this season.
Whichever team Brady throws the ball to on Sunday will likely come out on top Sunday.
The New England defense has shown signs of improving, but Sunday against the Jets will come down to how the offense performs. For two straight weeks they have looked lackluster, and have actually been outplayed by the defense (minus the final eight minutes against the Giants).
Establishing a run game and cutting back on the turnovers are key to beating the Jets. New York had lost three straight before becoming a more run-oriented offense. Obviously, the Patriots will never abandon the pass, but it would be nice to see the running backs get a chance to complement it.
Tune in to the Patriots-Jets game Sunday night on 98.5 The Sports Hub. Pregame coverage begins with Patriots Gameday on WBZ-TV at 11:30am, with the Hub’s pregame beginning at 5:00pm. Tune in after the game for the Patriots Postgame Show, and Patriots Fifth Quarter on WBZ-TV.