Believe it or not, the Patriots may actually have the healthier offense when they play the Jets this Sunday in New Jersey.
While the status of Rob Gronkowski (forearm) and Danny Amendola (head) is unknown, the Jets will be missing a few key players of their own in their rematch against the Patriots.
No. 1 receiver Santonio Holmes is likely to be out for a few more weeks with a hamstring injury. Speedy receiver Clyde Gates was put on injured reserve Tuesday with a shoulder injury, and running back Mike Goodson was lost for the season with a torn ACL Sunday.
“I think we all saw what we were so excited about, that type of explosiveness that that young man presents,’’ coach Rex Ryan said Monday of Goodson. “It’s an unfortunate thing, for sure.”
The Jets, ranked 29th in points, managed just 10 in a Thursday night loss to the Patriots in Week 2 at Gillette Stadium, and it’s hard seeing them having much success this week against a defense ranked fourth in points allowed.
The Jets scored only 6 points in an ugly home loss to Pittsburgh this past Sunday, and were forced to sign receivers Josh Cribbs and Greg Salas this week to help ignite the offense.
The Jets do have a nice running game with Bilal Powell (360 yards, 4.1 average), while Stephen Hill (300 yards, one touchdown) and Jeremy Kerley (222 yards, one TD) have emerged as solid options in the passing game.
And rookie quarterback Geno Smith had a couple of great performances in wins over the Bills and Falcons. He is averaging 248 passing yards a game while throwing seven touchdowns against 10 interceptions, but Patriots coach Bill Belichick said he’s seen a lot of growth from Smith as the year has progressed.
“I think he shows a lot of poise in there and it looks like he’s getting a little better each week,” Belichick said. “They seem to be expanding the offensive attack with personnel groups, formations, plays, and building on it on a weekly basis for him and obviously the entire offense, but certainly for him in the passing game.”
The Patriots should definitely be concerned, though, with the Jets’ fourth-ranked defense, which has limited five of its six opponents to fewer than 350 total yards. The Patriots gained only 232 total yards and scored 13 points in the first matchup, and should expect another physical, low-scoring game Sunday, although Belichick said the Patriots shouldn’t expect the Jets to have the same game plan this time around.
“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,” Belichick said.
The Jets are allowing a league-low 3.0 yards per carry, and have a stout defensive line anchored by defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson (five sacks). Sheldon Richardson (2.5 sacks), Calvin Pace (3 sacks), Damon Harrison, and Antwan Barnes (2 sacks) are also a handful.
Antonio Cromartie has been excellent in coverage this year despite not having an interception, but the Patriots may be forced to spread out the Jets defense with three- and four-receiver sets if they want to have any success running the football.
The Patriots are facing a Ryan brother for the second straight week; this past Sunday, it was Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, this week’s it’s Rex.
Belichick said he’s not too worried about Rex getting an edge from his brother.
“I’m sure that they’ll exchange whatever information,” Belichick said. “But again, I think these two teams know each other pretty well.”Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin