Jets at Pats.
These are my keys to the game, back after an unfortunate day off.
This time, it's personnel.
The Jets and the Pats have shared blood connections ever since Parcells split for New York. Belichick, Mangini, and "Player Personnel" Scott Pioli have all worked together, and for both teams. Mangini was Linebacker Coach and Defensive Coorindator under Belichick in New England through the Super Bowl years. Belichick brought Mangini into the NFL when he hired him as an entry-level coaches assistant with the Browns in 1995. They both graduated from Wesleyan and were members of the same fraternity.
A lot has been made of their gameplanning, scouting capability, and rivalry. They've played twice this year and the postseason offers a rubber match. I think personnel, not personality will determine the outcome.
Their first meeting in New York was on artificial turf, game two was in driving rain on the muddy Foxboro natural grass. The Jets didn't blitz at all in game one, preferring to mute the Pats' running game. It didn't work. Dillion and rookie Lawrence Maroney combined for 140 yards and two TDs. In the second game, the Jet pressured Brady and blitzed often. But the conditions didn't stop the Jets from driving with expected success and didn't stop the Pats run attack.
What was the difference? The Pats' offensive line was weak with inexperience. The Jets exploited this to great effect, sacking Brady a season-high four times and forcing an interception. A secondary effect was even more problematic. The rush forced Brady to throw quickly to outlet receivers, unable to wait for deep patterns to develop. Combined with the conditions, this crippled the Pats' ability to come back from a 10 point Jets lead in the fourth quarter.
Two weeks later, the Patriots installed an artificial turf at Gilette.
When they win big, the Patriots have successfully followed deep passing gains with red zone runs to score touchdowns. When they lose frustratingly close games, like the second meeting with the Jets, it's often because they're settling for field goals and not closing with the run. On the new turf and under what is forecasted to be clear and chilly conditions, the Patriots should be able to stretch the field with speed. Maroney will make a contribution, but Dillion (#28) should will his way to a back-breaking second half run opportunity.
In the first game, the Pats played in a 4-3, putting pressure on Pennington with the front four alone. In the second game, the 3-4 was less effective. With Ty Warren out, Richard Seymour and Jarvis Green switched sides at linebacker and struggled against the Jets playbook in the slow field.
The Pats' secondary is once again missing Rodney Harrison, but the Jets will bleed the Pats slowly with short passes and in-cuts, not with safety bait.
Watch for the return of the 4-3 on many early downs to congest the Jets run and keep Pennington pinned behind his offensive line and between the tackles. Ty Warren (#94) is back and should make the difference here.
Cotchery vs. Caldwell.
Cotchery made game one competitive and extended clock-draining drives in game two. In two games against the Pats, he snared 12 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns. He was particularly good at getting open in the many times Pennington scrambled to the outside and improvised. He made the game-closing acrobatic catch to give the Jets a 17-6 late in the fourth.
The Pats will find success reducing Cotchery not through coverage but through pressure. Ideally, the front four of the 4-3 will get penetration and sack Pennington without flushing him outside the tackles.
Meanwhile, Reche Caldwell (#87) the rookie analog to Maroney in the air, should make the difference here. If he can get his name called and rack up 60 yards or more, the Patriots will win handily.
Posted January 6, 2007.