What to Watch For: Patriots vs. Jets
Thursday, September 12, 2013
When it comes to true rivalry in the NFL, few match-ups are more intriguing than New England vs. New York.
And the emotion of the whole New England-New York thing usually comes through for the fans as well as the players...continuing in the best Sox-Yankees, Celtics-Knicks or Bruins-Rangers tradition. But this is the NFL, and in the present day all it takes to get a little riled up is to have a player or coach from the other side do a little smack-talking. To say things they shouldn't really be saying. More often than not, ill-conceived verbosity comes back to haunt the speaking party - see Ryan, Rex (head coach), Scott, Bart (ex-linebacker) and Cromartie, Antonio (defensive back) as three recent examples of foot-in-mouth disease running rampant.
Earlier this week, as the two teams began preparing for Thursday night's Patriots home opener at Gillette Stadium, the rivalry got a little gas for the fire one more time, as Jets defensive end Mo Wilkerson told Newsday "I'm confident in our coaching staff to have a great game plan and us being 2-0." He also later told WFAN Radio "We're going up to Foxborough and get this win."
Fighting words? Hardly. They could be construed as self-confidence as much as anything else. No "Patriots cheat, Brady s***s, Belichick s***s," nothing like that. At least not yet. For an organization that has turned chips-on-shoulders into boulders from NY verbal barbs, there's no telling what Wilkerson's comments might mean - if anything - to the Patriots.
Perhaps it's just more of a reflection that a young Jets team is gaining confidence. On the other sideline, with 14 rookies on the roster, some younger Patriots probably aren't aware of the recent salvos fired this way from New York...making this game "the next game on the schedule," and nothing more.
Rex Ryan has been tame by comparison this week, saying the Patriots look to be "pretty stout," as long as they have Tom Brady and Vince Wilfork. But with the Jets getting a power ranking of 32nd last week - worst in the NFL - by several sources, Ryan did use that as a motivational tactic before their opener against Tampa Bay. Perhaps it contributed to their last-second, 18-17 win.
The Jets do seem confident, self-assured. Some of that ol' swagger appears to be coming back, in spite of lower-than-normal expectations...without the foot-in-mouth disease tagging along.
The National Spotlight
With a Thursday night NFL Network special, both teams will have a chance to show off for a national audience. At the same time, they'll also be exposing current deficiencies, of which there are several on both sidelines. Emotion could certainly play a factor in this one, and with Ryan having once told his team before a recent NE game that he'd like to "punch Bill (Belichick) in the face," and they happened to win that game, expect the Jets to be more than ready once the ball is in the air. They lost the infamous "Butt Fumble" game last Thanksgiving to the Patriots, 49-19. Few really expect them to win. Can the Patriots match their intensity?
It Hurts When I Do This
Injuries are always a factor, despite arguments to the contrary. Yes, teams have to play with and through them all the time. In New England's case, missing Shane Vereen (last week's hero with 101 rushing yards, out with a broken wrist) will undoubtedly keep Stevan Ridley's stay in the doghouse for turnovers relatively short. Ridley and LeGarrette Blount, who didn't impress in his brief playing time last week in Buffalo, may get the opportunity to literally carry the load for the offense this week. Conversely, expect the Pats' "D" to pressure rookie QB Geno Smith as much as possible, as the Jets can have trouble with protection. Under pressure last week, Smith's completion percentage dropped significantly. They will most likely miss WR Jeremy Kerley, who has a concussion.
The "D" is Key
The Patriot defense gave up two scores at Buffalo, just one extended scoring drive, and held the Bills to less than 300 yards of total offense. In this day and age of spread offenses, that's always a good performance. The Jets defense showed toughness in limiting Bucs' running back Doug Martin to 67 rush yards last week, and their improved speed with LB DeMario Davis and DT Sheldon Richardson leading the way was evident. Considering that both offenses may not have primary receivers to throw to (Danny Amendola, Rob Gronkowski probably won't play), it's reasonable to assume the "D" will need to have an "A" game for either team to win.