Jets will test Patriots defense

Join the conversation every Friday as former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi and Mike Reiss break down New England's upcoming game against the New York Jets.

Mike: Well, Tedy, you were always the tone-setter on the field, so why don't you lead it off here.

Tedy: This is a big week for both teams, not only because it's for first place, an early first-place advantage, but it's Boston versus New York. Players in both locker rooms feel that rivalry, even the players who are now on the other side. This year is no different, with longtime Patriots special-teams captain Larry Izzo now with the Jets. The fans are always involved -- from comments about who you are as a person to Boston being a terrible city -- and it makes it very exciting to play in that stadium. In recent years, the Patriots have had success there, and with that, the players could give it back to the fans late in games. So I'd just say that there is a lot of excitement right now, Boston versus New York, and also because the teams want to put the other behind them and get up early in the year.

Mike: The Patriots have won eight straight over the Jets in the Meadowlands. One of the big storylines for the Patriots entering this game is how they will adjust without LB Jerod Mayo, who has a sprained right medial collateral ligament. That's your position, inside linebacker, so if anyone knows how big of a loss it will be, it's you.

Tedy: It's a huge loss, and the reason I think it's a huge loss is because the defense is already in a developmental mode. In the transition from the 3-4 to the 4-3, you already saw times Monday night against the Bills when Fred Jackson was able to get around the edge for a big run, and it seemed at times that certain gaps weren't accounted for. These growing pains will be even tougher to get over with the loss of Mayo. Gary Guyton will be playing inside, and he has experience inside in this 4-3 system. But Mayo is such a special player. It's comforting to know as a defensive lineman that Jerod is back there and making the calls.

Mike: You were in the meeting room with Guyton, working alongside him last season, so you can speak from a unique perspective on him.

Tedy: One thing about Gary Guyton that people might not know is that he was the fastest linebacker in the draft two years ago. His physical skills are off the charts. There is no reason to doubt any of his physical ability. The only thing, if there is a drawback, is his experience. As he gets older, he will also become a player that New England fans will look to as a playmaker on defense.

Mike: Hard to believe that Guyton went undrafted out of Georgia Tech in 2008. Bill Belichick once hypothesized that it could have been because some teams weren't sure whether he was an inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, a middle linebacker in the 4-3, or an outside linebacker in the 4-3. Maybe he got caught in a bit of no-man's-land in the eyes of scouts. Given the injury situation at linebacker, I think this puts even more pressure on the defensive linemen up front. Controlling the line of scrimmage is always important, but it seems to take on added importance this week. The Jets return all their starters on the line -- D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Alan Faneca, Nick Mangold, Brandon Moore and Damien Woody. Earlier this year, Woody said it's the best line he's played with in his 11-year career.

Tedy: This front five of the New York Jets is legit. This is going to be a huge early-season test for the Patriots' front seven. One thing to look for is if the Jets' offense relies on the screen pass. The Patriots had so many problems with the screen pass Monday night; it's almost obvious that you have to threaten that defense with screen passes. This is a copycat league, and I believe the Patriots will be seeing screen passes on a regular basis over the next month until they stop it.

Mike: When you say that, the first thought that came to mind is Jets running back Leon Washington.

Tedy: He is one of the biggest threats for the entire Patriots team -- not only defensively, but on special teams as well. He is one of the most explosive players in the entire NFL. When he gets the ball in space, look out. He's a player the Jets want to game-plan to get screen passes to, with the possibility for the big play. On special teams, the unit to pay attention to is the Patriots' kickoff coverage versus the Jets' kickoff return unit. That when Washington will be getting another touch, and he'll be in space. We've all seen highlight films of him taking it back to the house. And you also know that when Izzo is playing out there on special teams, leading the way for the Jets, it's going to be a big challenge.

Mike: That's a great point on special teams. Remember the 2007 season opener at the Meadowlands when Ellis Hobbs (then with the Patriots) took that kickoff back 108 yards for a touchdown? Special teams seem to be a huge factor when these two teams meet. From a Patriots perspective, that's an area that has been really impressive through the preseason and the first week of the regular season. The transition from coach Brad Seely to Scott O'Brien seems to have gone quite smoothly. Speaking of transitions, how about the Jets turning the quarterback spot over to rookie Mark Sanchez?

Tedy: Usually, when you get a top-rated quarterback coming out of the draft, he goes to a struggling team, like Matthew Stafford in Detroit. That can be tough. Sanchez, however, is not in the same boat. He went to a team with a formidable running game, and with a defense that puts a lot of pressure on the opposition and creates turnovers. I think that gives him the ability to play loose, like coach Rex Ryan says. It gives him that much more confidence that he can hand the ball off and they'll get 4-5-6 yards a pop, or if they punt the ball, good things can still happen with the defense on the field.

Mike: The Patriots will be hoping that history repeats itself against Sanchez, as Bill Belichick-coached Patriots teams are 5-1 against rookie quarterbacks in regular-season play, the lone loss to Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger on Halloween in the 2004 season. One of the big topics with the Jets is their No. 2 receiver after Jerricho Cotchery, but it almost seems as if tight end Dustin Keller fills that role.

Tedy: Keller is a very athletic player, not in the Antonio Gates/Tony Gonzalez discussion yet, but he has similar ability. The difference is that his receptions are longer; he had a 40-yard reception last week, which was the Jets' longest play from scrimmage. Remember last year against the Patriots -- he converted the third-and-15 in overtime against a blown coverage. The Jets have confidence to go to Keller, and one of the things that stands out with him is what he does after the catch. Some tight ends catch the ball and fall down. Not him. He can extend a play 20, 30, 40 yards.

Mike: One Patriots defender also mentioned this week that the defense has been preparing for the Wildcat. The Jets run it with Brad Smith, so the Patriots' D will be on the lookout for that. What do you see on the flip side in the matchup between the Patriots' offense and the Jets' defense?

Tedy: Watching the Jets-Texans game last week, I was surprised at how quickly they got to the quarterback. From the very first drive, they were knocking Matt Schaub down. One thing to look for is the overload blitz -- when they overload four blitzers to one side. When the pressure is coming quick, checkdowns can be a big help for an offense, getting them out of blitzing mode. So a player like Kevin Faulk could play a big role, as could the tight ends, who could sell the fact they're picking up the blitz, but then slip into routes.

Mike: The game within the game could be how the Patriots pick their spots to spread the field. Looking back at the last time the Patriots faced a Rex Ryan defense, it was in December 2007 against the Ravens, and New England's offense tried a few four-receiver sets early but was forced out of them because of protection problems. So the Patriots ended up going straight-up with the three-receiver set, often keeping the tight end and backs in for six-man and seven-man protections. That's how the Ryan-style attacking defense can alter your plan. Tom Brady took six hits in that game.

Tedy: In last week's Jets-Texans game, linebackers Bart Scott and David Harris combined for a total of six hits on the quarterback -- four for Bart and two for David. The Patriots can't have Tom getting hit that often. Those linebackers come off the edge, up the middle, from everywhere.

Mike: Harris was a second-round draft choice in 2007, the 47th overall selection. That was the year the Patriots had two first-round picks -- 24th and 28th -- and some projected that maybe Harris would be one of them. They ended up going with safety Brandon Meriweather and then trading No. 28 into the next year, for the pick that netted Mayo. Hard to argue with that.

Tedy: A couple of other things stand out when dissecting this matchup. I remember last year in the Meadowlands, Jets DE Shaun Ellis was so disappointed in the loss that he slammed his helmet on the ground with 1:30 to go. So he'll be really motivated for the game. And in the Jets' secondary, Darrelle Revis had a great performance last week against Andre Johnson, who had just four catches for 35 yards. They've also added safety Jim Leonhard back there, which has helped with the transition to a Rex Ryan defense. Leonhard is keeping everyone on the same page, having played the defense last year in Baltimore. He brings confidence, and that can help the other guys and their knowledge of the system.

Mike: It seems like we've dissected almost every aspect of this matchup except for one area -- the coaching.

Tedy: I think there are similarities between Bill Belichick and Rex Ryan in that they both want their teams to be tough, competitive and physical. But when you look at Ryan's goals as a head coach -- I was going through the Jets' game notes, and I saw two words that wouldn't be in Belichick's points to win football games: "stay loose." Rex Ryan uses that a lot. He likes his team to be that way, to be loose, have fun, be borderline arrogant. He likes the confidence that gives his team, and his team is not short on confidence at all.

Mike: That's some great stuff, Tedy. This could be a fun conversation to have every week leading up to every game. Let's plan on doing it again. You started us off strong and now let's close it out.

Tedy: This is going to be an entirely different test for the Patriots' defense. In Week 1, Buffalo's two backs combined for 17 carries. The New York Jets, no matter what the situation is, they're going to run the ball, and they're going to run it all the way through the game. Rex Ryan has said that, and they did it last week against Houston. So I think this is a true test for the Patriots' new 4-3 defense. How will it hold up against a running team, one that is dedicated to it behind that offensive line? It's a big test for the front seven.