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The New England Patriots have had a lot of big games this season, but none of those come close in importance to their upcoming Week 13 matchup with the division rival New York Jets.
The Jets and Patriots enter this week’s showdown with records of 9-2, which means the winner of this game will have the inside track to the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye entering the playoffs.
After their embarrassing loss to the Cleveland Browns, the Patriots have rattled off three straight victories, including wins over the Steelers and Colts. The Pats managed to score at least 30 points in all of those wins, thanks in large part to the outstanding play of quarterback Tom Brady.
The Jets, meanwhile, enter Monday night’s contest riding a four-game winning streak. Their resume, however, isn’t nearly as impressive as the Patriots’. The Jets needed overtime to defeat the 2-8 Detroit Lions and 4-7 Cleveland Browns, and edged the 6-6 Houston Texans by a field goal at home.
When these two teams met at the New Meadowlands Stadium back in September, Mark Sanchez threw for a career-high three touchdowns en route to a 28-14 Jets’ victory. The Patriots led 14-10 at halftime in that game, but fell apart in the second half.
This time around, however, the game will be played in Foxboro, where Brady has won 25 consecutive regular-season starts.
Statistically speaking the Patriots defense is terrible. They currently rank 32nd against the pass, and 16th against the run. More importantly, however, they rank 32nd in third-down efficiency.
Their inability to get off the field on third down is due in large part to their porous defense against power running. Against runs on third and fourth down, when two yards or less are needed to gain a first down, opponents are successful 77 percent of the time.
The Jets have two solid running backs in LaDanian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene. LT provides the explosive playmaking ability, while Greene usually gets the ball in short yardage situations. The Pats interior line must get leverage and hold their ground in order to stop the Jets from moving the chains on third and fourth down.
Mark Sanchez is young, and he’s also inconsistent, but he’ll gain more and more confidence with each third down conversion. The Pats’ defense can’t let him get comfortable like they did in their first meeting back in Week 2.
The Jets have been playing very good defense this season. They currently rank fourth in the NFL in points allowed, fourth against the run, and second against the pass.
The strength of the Jets defense is its secondary. Shutdown corners Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie usually do a good job taking away the opposing teams top receiving threats, while safeties Jim Leonhard, Eric Smith, James Ihedigbo are used in coverage and blitzing. They also love to blitz with corners Drew Coleman and Dwight Lowery.
The Jets have blitzed a defensive back more than any other team so far this season, and they’ll certainly try to put the heat on Brady on Monday night.
In order to counter the aggressiveness of the Jets defense, the Patriots offense must be able to run out of the spread formation, something they’ve been effective with all year. Doing so will keep the Jets defense on their heels. The Patriots love using the pass to set up the run. They did so against the Steelers, and I expect them to do the same against the Jets.
Also look for Tom Brady to run the hurry-up offense to counter the Jets blitzes. Running the hurry-up offense doesn’t allow the defenders to move around a lot, and keeps them from disguising their coverage and/or blitz packages.
What the Patriots lack in talent they make up for in their game plan and scheme. It’s the reason they won three Super Bowls earlier in the decade, and it’s the reason continue to be one of the NFL’s most successful franchises.