Less than a year ago, the Patriots were busy preparing for the first of two regular-season meetings with the Jets. In 2013, they’ll be done with their rivals by Week 7.
The occasionally quirky NFL schedule will see the Patriots complete their AFC East series with the Jets before they even play the Dolphins once. New England beat New York Sept. 12 in the home opener, 13-10; Sunday’s 1 p.m. game will be at MetLife Stadium, where the Patriots knocked off the Jets each of the last two seasons, including a 49-19 blowout last year on Thanksgiving night.
There have been five straight wins overall by the Patriots over the Jets, and 13 straight victories against AFC East opponents. Talent obviously plays a big part in that success, but familiarity helps, too. Rosters are constantly changing, and coaching staffs can change from year to year, too. That can impact game preparation, so when there’s an established baseline knowledge of an opponent’s personnel and schemes, it can definitely pay off on the field.
Of course, that works for both teams.
“It will be a big challenge for us this week to go back and really be as thorough as we need to be and should be and not make any assumptions about what things were like a month ago because I think they definitely have changed,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Tuesday during a conference call. “They’re very much a game-plan team so what you see one week, you may or may not see the following week. We’re going to have to prepare for a lot of different things.”
The Jets had a good plan in Week 2, holding the Patriots to a season-low 232 yards and controlling the clock for 34 minutes. Rookie quarterback Geno Smith threw for more yards than Tom Brady (214 to 185), but that was about the only advantage in their quarterback duel. Smith was sacked four times, threw three interceptions, and completed just 15 of 35 passes.
Now that the Patriots know what it’s like facing Smith, they can adjust and plan accordingly. Their approach the first time worked well; they’ll modify that this week, playing to their strengths.
When playing a division opponent, modifications are mandatory.
“When you compete against somebody and you know the competition and you continue to know them better as you study them and compete against them, you can sometimes be more creative because of their tendencies or the matchup that you think you can create than maybe you would with a team you didn’t know as well,” Belichick said. “You feel like you have a little bit more time with your preparations because you don’t need as much time on the scouting report, you don’t need as much time on the personnel, the players have some experience against that team. You can spend a little bit more time game planning or creating something that’s a little bit different.”
Belichick and his coaching staff will be plotting strategy against Rex Ryan and the Jets’ coaches. One key aspect of facing an opponent — especially someone you’re familiar with — is figuring out which areas you think they’ll try to exploit.
“Whatever we’ve had trouble with, plays or a certain type of blitz or whatever it happens to be, a certain type of coverage or a certain type of play that we’ve seen offensively that we look at and we feel like we haven’t defended very well or haven’t handled very well, then you have to get those fixed because you’re going to keep seeing them on a weekly basis,” Belichick said. “If not this week, it will be next week. You’re certainly going to get those so we try to get those things fixed.
“That’s one of the big parts of our Monday film session, win or lose, is to make sure that the things that came up in the game that we didn’t handle properly, that we address those so that everybody at least understands this is what we need to do because it’s really a foregone conclusion that it’s going to come up again.”
This won’t be the earliest point in a season the Patriots have played an AFC East opponent twice. In 2006, the Patriots opened with the Bills, then played them again in Week 6. They won both games. In fact, the last time the Patriots lost a second divisional meeting was Dec. 6, 2009, when the Dolphins won in Miami.
The Patriots, like the Jets, will decide how they want to attack. What worked Sept. 12 won’t necessarily work five weeks later.
“One of the things you always do at the beginning of each week is try to familiarize yourself with who is playing on each team that you are playing against, how they use their people, what style of defense they have, how does the coordinator call the game,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. “There are a lot of, I would say, personality traits of each team that you are trying to find an answer to at the beginning of each preparation.
“When you play your division opponents, certainly the second time at least, you definitely have that already in your corner, and that goes both ways. They know us, we know them, and if it is a situation where the staffs have been together for quite some time, then there is even more carryover to it.
“Certainly each game is different, each game plays out differently. Which players were inactive the first time versus the second time? [Is it] a home game versus a road game? There are a lot of different qualities to each game when you play them twice, so there are a lot of differences certainly in terms of that kind of preparation.”
Michael Whitmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.