Friday, January 14, 2011

How the Jets could attack Patriots defense + Playoff picks

If the Patriots defense showed any vulnerabilities in it's final two blowouts of the season, it was to the deep ball.

In a 34-3 rout of the Bills, the Pats gave up three passes of 30 yards or more. In that game, Kyle Arrington failed to defend passes of 41 and 40 yards to Buffalo rookies C.J. Spiller and Donald Jones respectively. Later in the game, Patrick Chung also got caught behind Naaman Roosevelt on a 30 yard bomb.

While there were significantly less completed deep balls the following week in a 38-7 thrashing of Miami, Dolphins' quarterback Tyler Thigpen did have some success going long. In the third quarter he completed a 27 yard strike to Brandon Marshall and later attempted a 32 yard throw to Marshall which drew a pass interference call from Darius Butler.

It's a slight trend that the Patriots have almost certainly spent a portion of the past two weeks attempting to fix. The Jets have some dangerous threats in Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards in their receiver corps. Whether or not the Jets try to test Arrington or Butler deep will be something to watch for in Sunday's game especially if the game is close late.

New York has had a lot of success moving the ball quickly down field in clutch situations. One of the more notable examples came against the Houston Texans when, trailing by a touchdown, Jets' quarterback Mark Sanchez completed a 42 yard bomb to Braylon Edwards with just 24 seconds left in the game. That set up a Sanchez to Holmes 6-yard touchdown catch to seal the game for New York.

The Jets are also likely to test a depleted Patriots' defensive line on Sunday. When New England blew out New York 45-3 back on December 6th, Ron Brace was the starter in the three-man front alongside Vince Wilfork and Gerard Warren. Since then, Brace has been placed on IR, joining four other defensive linemen on that list for the Patriots. To make matters worse for New England, defensive tackle Myron Pryor has missed practice all week with a back injury and is doubtful for Sunday's game.

Needless to say, the Patriots are thin on their defensive front, a weakness the Jets are likely going to try to exploit with the running game.

In the last game between the two teams, the Jets came out in a no-huddle offense and put the ball in Mark Sanchez's hands to win the game for them. That approach yielded only three points. This time around, the Jets are likely to get back to their ground and pound approach. With the injuries for the Patriots, there's two defensive players to watch against the New York running game.

Undrafted rookie Kyle Love is likely to start alongside Wilfork and Warren on game-day for only his second start of the year. In the nine games Love has appeared in this season he has seven tackles, two sacks and one pass defended.

Brandon Spikes will be another Patriot to monitor. Spikes had possibly his best game of the season against the New York Jets back on December 6th, totaling seven tackles and one interception. However, after that game, Spikes was suspended for the rest of the regular season for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing drugs policy. It remains to be seen how effective he can be after missing so much time.

The Patriots may have been blowing out their opponents in the final month of the season but there's no guarantee that can continue in the post-season. With some key Patriots offensive players hobbled by injuries -- notably Deion Branch (knee) and Aaron Hernandez (hip), both questionable -- the Pats defense needs to mimic a performance close to the December 6th blow out.

The Jets are a team that prides itself on it's running game which doesn't bode well for New England given their injuries up front. Expect to New York to put the ball in the hands of running backs Ladainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene and have Mark Sanchez test the Patriots' corners not named Devin McCourty with the deep ball.

Divisional Round Picks
Baltimore over Pittsburgh (17-13)
Atlanta over Green Bay (31-28)
Chicago over Seattle (20-17)
New York Jets over New England (23-20)

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