When the Patriots run
Stevan Ridley will get first crack at denting a Jets front seven that is starting to look a little long in the tooth. Ridley, who was missed in the second half last week, can be a high-energy, high-impact player. The 5-foot-11-inch, 220-pound tailback runs with great instincts, vision, and balance. He is tougher than he looks and quicker than he appears. His ability to deliver body blows sets up Tom Brady to deliver the knockout punch. With rookie Brandon Bolden (knee) out, Shane Vereen could get some totes. Vereen (5-9, 205) runs with good balance and instincts but is injury-prone. Danny Woodhead has excellent foot speed, vision, and toughness. He is shifty on the second level, will fight for everything, and despite his lack of size (5-8, 200) will block anything in sight. New England’s interior, led by guards Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly (the new Nasty Boys?), will fight, scratch, and claw until the whistle blows. OK, sometimes Mankins goes a little beyond the whistle. Jets defensive end Mike DeVito (6-3, 305) is underrated. He is strong and surprisingly quick. Muhammad Wilkerson is swift and strong. The formidable linebacking crew consists of mouthy leader Bart Scott (he has lost a step) and the hard-hitting trio of Bryan Thomas (he’s wily), David Harris (he’s energetic), and Calvin Pace (he’s versatile).
When the Patriots pass
With Revis Island closed for the season, Tom Brady theoretically should have a field day. But New York still has playmakers in this secondary (specifically, Antonio Cromartie) and some decent pass rushers (hello, Aaron Maybin and Bart Scott) so Brady & Co. will still face challenges. Wes Welker has been playing at a torrid pace the last few weeks; the way he performed in Seattle after getting blasted early on was truly impressive. Welker (quick feet, great hands) could have the long-armed Cromartie draped all over him. Even if Welker is shut out (fat chance), taking Cromartie out of the mix opens things up for twin tight end terrors Rob Gronkowski (he’s a big boy) and Aaron Hernandez (so is he). Both are less than 100 percent physically, but even at half-speed they overmatch safeties Yeremiah Bell (he’s a big hitter but lacks range) and LaRon Landry (he’s instinctive and big but lacks durability). Brandon Lloyd continues to build a rapport with Brady. Lloyd has deceptive speed and tremendous body control; he makes at least one spectacular catch per game. Deion Branch knows this offense, and he must run about 3 miles in patterns every game, but he is becoming less of a factor each week. Julian Edelman’s touches will be limited with Welker playing at an All-Pro level. And while Matthew Slater may have the speed to stretch defenses, he has hands of stone.
When the Jets run
Shonn Greene is the lead horse in Rex Ryan’s ground-and-pound attack. Currently, Greene is the only healthy horse in this stable — which is why the Tim Tebow-to-halfback rumors have been running at a fever pitch. Greene is a fine physical specimen. A thick, muscular 5 feet 11 inches, 226 pounds, Greene is most comfortable banging between the tackles. He reads blocks well and has the power to turn tiny creases into gaping holes. He has deceptive speed and quickness but not the kind that will allow him to consistently turn the corner and get into the secondary. Tebow’s athleticism, intelligence, and toughness are unquestioned. He’s a great improvisational runner, but that doesn’t mean he will excel running set plays out of the backfield. Unproven Jonathan Grimes (the 5-10, 207-pounder was a beast at William & Mary) could get a shot Sunday. Center Nick Mangold (6-4, 307) is by far the best player on New York’s line. He is quick off the ball, plays with great leverage, and has strong hands. There are few matchups more entertaining than Mangold and mammoth Vince Wilfork crashing into each other all game. Guards Brandon Moore (strong and athletic) and Matt Slauson (a tad inconsistent) run hot and cold. Patriots linebackers Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes are athletic and instinctive. They don’t make a lot of mistakes, but when they do, they’re usually glaring.
When the Jets pass
Mark Sanchez is among the most wildly inconsistent players in the NFL. And that’s among all players — not just quarterbacks. The 6-foot-2-inch, 225-pounder has solid physical skills. He has size, strength, and speed. Sanchez has quick feet and a better-than-average arm. When given a clean pocket (and that’s rare), he will make good decisions and good throws. However, at the slightest bit of pressure, Sanchez gets rattled. He will abandon the pocket quickly (not always a bad idea, because he has the athleticism to make plays with his legs) or he will get rid of the ball quickly (not always a good idea, because it usually leads to incompletions or interceptions). Sanchez’s biggest bugaboo is his body language. When things don’t go well, he mopes. This behavior affects not only his play but that of his teammates. You’ll never see Tim Tebow sulk. The fiery Tebow can seemingly do everything on the football field — except throw a consistent 10-yard out. Receivers Stephen Hill (he can be explosive), Jeremy Kerley (excels underneath), and Chaz Schilens (big and strong but will disappear for stretches) haven’t helped Sanchez much. Tight end Dustin Keller is a reliable target who has been slowed by injuries. New England corners Kyle Arrington (he’s inconsistent) and Devin McCourty (please turn around) are routinely getting torched, while the rotating crew of safeties has been a day late and a dollar short all season.
Jets’ key player: Tim Tebow
A true lightning rod on and off the field — love him or hate him, everyone has an opinion — Tebow is one of the most competitive players in the game. His throwing mechanics are horrible, but wouldn’t you want the ball in his hands on fourth and 1?
How he beats you: With a fiery spirit, a strong will, and a willingness to play anywhere. The 6-foot-3-inch, 236-pounder is muscular and athletic. He is a football player, pure and simple — so put the ball in his hands.
How to beat him: By matching his intensity. No matter where he lines up — QB, HB, TE — the defense has to know where he is at all times. Whether he has the ball in his hands or not, he must be punished. If not, he will punish you.
JETS’ KEYS TO VICTORY:
1. No lounging: Mark Sanchez too often looks like he’d rather be sunning himself on West Palm Beach. He is already on borrowed time. He needs to step up and be this team’s leader.
2.On the clock: It’s imperative to keep the ball out of Tom Brady’s hands. The Jets need to run the ball effectively early and keep both QBs from becoming factors.
3.Flip this field: Jeremy Kerley may not be a great receiver — yet — but he is dangerous on returns. He needs to find the seams and keep the field short for his club.
PATRIOTS’ KEYS TO VICTORY:
1.Even Stevan: It’s quite clear the road to success is a balanced offense, so let Stevan Ridley (and his running mates) get their touches to help move the chains.
2.Rattle some cages: Mark Sanchez can’t get comfortable. A pass rush is imperative because when the California kid is given time, he will complete passes. But he can’t from his keister.
3.Time management: Last week’s coaching decisions are still hard to comprehend. Who was that in that new-look gray hoodie? This week take the points, not the chances.