The New York Jets have played 10 games this season, and it has been quite a ride. There has been a lot of name calling, ugly quarterback play, hurt feelings, dropped passes, unhappy and nauseated fans -- yet, amazingly, the New York Jets’ biggest roadblock to a playoff spot is tonight against the New England Patriots.
The AFC wildcard seeding for No. 6 is so weak that, if New York can pull an upset on the Rob Gronkowski-less Pats, they will likely be the frontrunners to grab that spot with a Stay-Puff-Marshmallow schedule left. Weeks 13-17 will see the Jets play Arizona (home), Jacksonville (away), Tennessee (away), San Diego (home), and Buffalo (away). You could not dream up a better plate of turkeys (sorry), unless they could switch the away game at the Titans with a home game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
With Gronk breaking his forearm, and rookie phenom pass-rusher Chandler Jones doubtful, how does New York make their once-scoffed-at playoff pipedream a reality? In the most cliché sports column of the year, here is your Thanksgiving table du jour!
Festive Appetizers: For starters, a nice golf clap to the Jets for absolutely shellacking the Rams in St. Louis last Sunday. It has become very apparent that the best player on the Jets roster right now is defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, who once against dominated the opposing rush attack and forced a turnover. If Quinton Coples can develop into a dominant pass-rusher, the Jets will be set on the edges for years to come.
The Patriots have transformed their offense into being much more balanced, physically dominating the line of scrimmage and pounding the football for positive yardage when needed. Tight end Aaron Hernandez will return from injury, somewhat alleviating Gronk’s absence (albeit he is not nearly the threat in the red zone and does not provide the sensational blocking that Gronk does).
Additionally, the Patriots will look to try to spread the Jets out with three-receiver sets, and slot receivers Julian Edelman and Wes Welker will be the beneficiaries of Tom Brady’s quick strikes. Brady was 18 of 20 on his pass attempts between the numbers against Indianapolis, and the more the Jets can disrupt Brady and drive him into the turf, the more reticent he will become to stand in the pocket longer and take the punishment.
Turkey: The turkey or meat of this preview is somewhat simple. The Patriots do not blitz a lot, hoping they can generate pressure with a four-man rush. If Sanchez can get into any kind of a rhythm, he can be successful.
Offensive coordinator Tony Sparano does not want Sanchez throwing the ball too much. New York has pledged to go with a multi-pronged running back approach, and Bilal Powell showed a good nose for the end zone against St. Louis, but with the Pats’ Vince Wilfork manning the interior it will be a difficult proposition.
The Jets are prone to mental errors and unconscionable miscues, and the season turnover margin difference between the two teams is 18. If the Jets want to win this game, they will need to decrease that large disparity.
Stuffing: I like the idea of picking the Jets’ offensive line as the stuffing because the Jets’ ability to manufacture points with Sanchez and his receivers/running backs will be the emphasis (i.e., the turkey), but everyone loves the stuffing and the Jets’ adeptness at thwarting pressure on their signal-caller is arguably as important.
Against St. Louis, Sanchez was only under duress four times according to ProFootballFocus. Reminiscent of Week 1 and Week 6, when Sanchez has the time to pass, he actually looks decent and delivers the ball with accuracy and pace to his targets. Against the Rams he completed 75 percent of his throws and went 60 percent (3 of 5) on balls that were thrown longer than 10 yards. Astoundingly, the Jets won the turnover battle 3-0.
Although New England’s defense is still suspect, its secondary has looked improved this year with Devin McCourty appearing more comfortable in his position and the newcomer Aqib Talib making an immediate impact last week. With Jones unlikely to play, the pressure rests on defensive end Rob Ninkovich, aka “Jet killer.” That is a lot of pressure on him since the Pats’ defense does not aggressively pursue the quarterback. And with Sanchez, pressuring him is the key to forcing him to make mistakes.
Holiday Side Dishes: Missed tackles for the Jets are going to be a big factor in whether they can keep this game close. Last week, Rams’ running back Stephen Jackson had 40 of his 81 yards after contact. Two members of New York’s secondary, LaRon Landry and Antonio Cromartie, had a pair of missed tackles.
Form tackling will be especially important against the elusive and slippery Edelman and Welker. Last Sunday, Edelman accrued 56 of his 58 receiving yards after the catch, so the Jets keeping Edelman in front of them is essential. If the Jets can wrap up the opposing ball-carrier, it will force Brady and the running game into longer drives.
Dessert/Prediction: Gronkowski and Jones not playing will make this game much closer than people might anticipate. The Talib addition helps, but New England’s secondary is still a big weakness and they will miss Gronk’s blocking in the run game. If Sanchez has time to make deliberate decisions, and the Jets get a big play on special teams, this could be an upset special. Ultimately, the Jets do not have enough offensive weapons to beat the Patriots, but it will be a nail-biter.
Patriots 24, Jets 21