The Patriots will head down to MetLife Stadium on Sunday for the second meeting of the 2011 season with the New York Jets.
New England’s first “repeat” game comes with a three-way tie at the top of the AFC East. The Bills, Jets and Patriots all sit at 5-3, with the Jets flying high off a win over the Bills.
After losing back-to-back games for the first time since Weeks 12-13 of 2009, the Patriots need a repeat performance of their Week 5 victory over the Jets. New England won 30-21 behind 136 yards and two touchdowns from running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis. However, the Jets haven’t lost in three games since that last meeting, scoring impressive wins over the Bills and Chargers (as well as the Dolphins).
Here are three areas to watch for Sunday night:
* The Jets defense keyed in on Tom Brady in Week 5, putting six or fewer players in the box on 58 of New England’s 79 snaps. However, when the Jets dropped extra defenders into pass coverage, New England turned to Green-Ellis. The “Law Firm” ran roughshod over New York’s lighter defensive fronts, gaining 7.1 yards per rush on 14 carries with six or fewer defenders in the box and scoring one of his two touchdowns. His 99 rushing yards with six or fewer in the box is the highest individual total against the Jets this year. The Jets' defense is likely to remember this performance, and may respect New England’s running game a little more the second time around.
* The Jets’ offense has seemingly returned to its run-based roots. Last week against the Bills, New York ran the ball 39 times for 126 yards in a 27-11 win. Thanks to their ability to move the ball on the ground, the Jets held the football for over a full quarter longer (15 minutes, 44 seconds) than Buffalo. This season, the Jets are 4-0 when they have run the ball at least 26 times, including wins in their last three games (1-3 in games with 25 rushes or less). Mark Sanchez has also benefitted when the Jets have been able to run the ball. Against the Bills, Sanchez was 11 of 12 for 129 yards and his only touchdown came on play-action passes. Running the ball well enough to move the chains keeps Brady on the sidelines -- a strategy that must be the goal for New York on Sunday. Stopping the run early would help the Patriots rattle the foundation of the Jets’ offense.
* Part of what makes Jets-Patriots so interesting is how much the two teams pride themselves on success in the same area -- New England’s short passes and New York’s ability to defend them. Like the Patriots, the Bills have excelled using quick, short throws this season. Ryan Fitzpatrick is the only quarterback in the league with a better QBR on throws of 10 yards or fewer than Brady. However, Fitzpatrick was 15-of-31 for 191 yards and a pair of interceptions in Buffalo’s loss to the Jets last week. His seven-yard touchdown pass to David Nelson late in the fourth quarter of a 24-point game was Buffalo’s only touchdown. When sending a four-man pass rush or fewer, the Jets held Fitzpatrick to 7-of-14 passing and both interceptions. The Jets' defense has some momentum right now, and Brady versus Rex Ryan (again) is the matchup to watch.