Leading up to both of the Jets-Patriots regular-season meetings, newyorkjets.com participated in an “Across Enemy Lines” content exchange with New England Sports Network. And as the tiebreaker nears for the division rivals, we visit with NESN’s Jeff Howe, the station’s Patriots reporter, a third and final time. Today we present Jeff’s answers to six of our questions. Friday Eric Allen will get last licks at a half dozen of Howe’s queries.
1. Do you get the sense that the Jets have already taken the Pats’ best shot while the Pats know they’re going to see a different club than they saw on Dec. 6?
It’s definitely tough to imagine the Patriots playing any better than they did in Week 13, and I don’t think there’s anyone in the football world who thinks the Patriots are 42 points better than the Jets. But that’s a big difference to make up, and the Patriots have been a very consistent team for the last two months. That game put little doubt in my mind that the Patriots’ post-Randy Moss transformation has been completed and they’re simply a better team than the Jets.
2. When was the last time Devin McCourty looked like a rookie cornerback? To what do he and his coaches attribute his rapid rise into a Pro Bowl defender?
Well, he had one bad drive against the Ravens in Week 6, but other than that, he’s never looked like a rookie. On the very first play of the year, Carson Palmer threw a deep ball down the left sideline to Terrell Owens and McCourty knocked it aside. He’s been a tremendous player from the jump, but his Pro Bowl ability came out around Week 7 in San Diego. That’s when he picked off his first of seven passes (the excellent tackler has also forced two fumbles) and went from being a reliable cornerback to a ballhawk.
At some point in every young player’s career, he talks about the game slowing down for him, but with McCourty, you could actually see it happening in the middle of the season, and his rise has been fun to watch.
3. The Packers obviously lost to the Patriots up there in Week 16, but they seemed to have them on their heels. Can the Jets take anything away from the way the Packers attacked that night?
Rookie inside linebacker Brandon Spikes was suspended for four games, and that was the only time when an opponent really dismantled the Patriots’ run defense from start to finish. Spikes is a great run stopper —- he is spelled on passing downs by Gary Guyton — and the Patriots were also missing a number of defensive linemen that night. So it was tough to tell if it was something the Packers did or if the Patriots were undermanned.
Whatever the case, there’s no way the Packers should have had that much success running the ball in New England, and that’s the only way the Jets can beat the Patriots, whose defense is most vulnerable against balanced offenses. Quarterback Matt Flynn, in his first career start, was efficient in the short passing game to complement the run, and that’s what Mark Sanchez, LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene have to emulate.
4. Will the Patriots load up on the run and play man and Cover-3 on the outside?
Building off the last question, the Patriots’ first priority will be stopping the run, but in pass defense, they’ll zero in on Dustin Keller again. Keller killed the Pats in Week 2, but he was a non-factor in Week 13. Once Sanchez showed he was too erratic throwing to the outside, the Patriots knew they could continue attacking from the inside out. That will be their most likely game plan again.
5. Tom Brady didn’t throw Darrelle Revis’ way back in December. Peyton Manning stayed away from Revis last Saturday night. If you’re the Jets, what would you do with Revis against this prolific offense?
I’d have him shadow Wes Welker and hope Antonio Cromartie plays better than he did in Week 13. There is much more to the Patriots’ passing game than Brady to Welker, but Welker is still the guy who can drive the offense. By removing Welker from the equation, the Jets will put pressure on Deion Branch and the young receivers and tight ends, and while the youth movement has been strong, there have been times when they’ve struggled with drops and poor routes.
However, if the Patriots’ supporting cast plays well like it has for much of the last two months, I’d start moving Revis around to at least force the Patriots to think a little more. I think everyone basically assumes Revis will cancel out Welker, and that’s why Cromartie is the most important corner for the Jets on Sunday.
6. What’s happening Sunday?
Patriots 31, Jets 13. The Patriots are simply the better team.
Tags: Across Enemy Lines, Antonio Cromartie, Brandon Spikes, Darrelle Revis, Devin McCourty, Dustin Keller, Jeff Howe, Mark Sanchez, Tom Brady, Wes Welker
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