Every week leading into the Patriots' next game, ESPN NFL analyst Tedy Bruschi and ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss break down the team's next game. This week, it's the home opener, against the New York Jets on Thursday night (NFL Network, 8:25 p.m.).
Mike: Tedy, things didn't turn out exactly the way we envisioned for the Patriots in the season opener, but they still got the win. Now it sets up this quick turnaround and a game that looks a little more challenging for them given injuries to receiver Danny Amendola (groin) and running back Shane Vereen (wrist).
Tedy: I think this week you start with the rivalry that is the Jets and Patriots. These are two teams that have always had dislike for each other. Playing the Jets, you always felt a little more intensity from the coaching staff. You'd be sitting there in Wednesday meetings, the first big meeting of the week, and you could hear a little extra emphasis in the coaches' words. They may keep it close to the vest publicly during the week, but the players want this one bad.
Mike: Tom Brady is 17-4 against the Jets as a starter. Three of those losses have come with Rex Ryan as the Jets' coach. We've seen Brady dissect Ryan's defense in the past, but also there have been times when Ryan has dialed up schemes that gave Brady as much trouble as anyone. That has been my theme this week: For an offense working to find its groove, Ryan might be the last defensive coach the Patriots want to see right now. He might struggle at times with keeping an even keel as a head coach overseeing an entire team, but as a defensive coach, he does present problems for the opposition.
Tedy: Especially after a win, Rex Ryan knows how to keep things going, and when you win a game, it gains even more of the players' attention and gets them focused that much more. Overall, I think Ryan is still growing as a head coach and I say that with the preseason in mind and how he handled quarterback Mark Sanchez. That was such a huge mistake, putting the future of one of your potential starting quarterbacks in jeopardy by having him on the field with an offensive line that couldn't protect late in a game. The situation he's in now, I don't want to call it desperation, but he has nothing to lose. That's why in this game, on a short week and broadcast to a national audience, I could see him going into his bag of tricks. Maybe he goes for it on fourth down, calls some fakes on special teams, that kind of stuff. He's at his best when no one gives them a chance.
Mike: He was playing that up on our media conference call Tuesday, citing ESPN.com's power rankings and how the Jets were 32nd last week. He joked that maybe they'd move up to 31st this week (they were actually 27th). After watching the Jets' 18-17 season-opening win over the Buccaneers, I'd sum up my thoughts on the Jets this way: offensively challenged with limited weapons, strong defensively with a powerful line, and with special-teams units that complement the defense. Let's start on offense, where rookie Geno Smith starts at quarterback.
Tedy: He did some good things and some bad things in the opener, but one thing that stood out to me was how the play-calling of offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg helped settle him down and took some pressure off him. You saw multiple Wildcat snaps with running back Bilal Powell in the backfield and receiver Jeremy Kerley in the backfield. Kerley also had a pass attempt. There were multiple screen plays and roll-outs where the reads for Smith were either half-field or clearly defined. That's something you can do to help a young quarterback. You also saw a lot of chip-releasing from receivers before they got into their pass pattern, which helps protection; you could really see that on a 26-yard catch by receiver Kerley on the Jets' first play. The more time Smith has to survey the defense and deliver a good pass, it's obviously better, and I thought those types of things really helped him last week and reflected the presence of a veteran offensive coordinator.
Mike: Similar to rookie Bills quarterback EJ Manuel, I was impressed by Smith. It obviously wasn't perfect -- he was strip-sacked deep in Jets territory leading to a touchdown and also threw a bad interception late in the second quarter -- but all things considered for a first career NFL start it was solid. I think the Patriots' defensive game-plan will be similar to what we saw in Buffalo: a heavy focus on rush-lane integrity because Smith can make plays with his feet too, just like Manuel. In other words, make him prove he can beat you from the pocket.
Tedy: Here's one thing the Patriots' defense can expect to see again: a bunch formation in the red area. Tight end Kellen Winslow's 7-yard touchdown in the second quarter came out of a bunch, and so did Bills receiver Robert Woods' 18-yard touchdown against the Patriots in the opener. When coaches see that teams have a problem with communication, and a play like that is already in your package, it's something the Patriots should prepare for. I'd say the main player to watch would be receiver Kerley, who looked like their most dynamic offensive weapon, but he was ruled out after sustaining a concussion. That's a big loss for the Jets.
Mike: Kerley is also their top return man. So look for 2010 first-round pick Kyle Wilson to step into that returner role, which is a downgrade. Winslow played well for them in the opener, and they seemed to want to get Powell the ball in the passing game on running back screens. Receiver Santonio Holmes looked like a non-factor (44 snaps played, 1 catch) -- cornerback Darrelle Revis might have had a part in that -- as this is an offense that generally lacks explosiveness.
Tedy: It's an approach that almost defines Ryan, starting with a tough offensive line that will fight you. Left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson and center Nick Mangold are solid, and the right guard Willie Colon is a guy I always felt was a scrapper. He doesn't have overwhelming size or ability but he fights and that's what you respect in an offensive lineman. The backs, Chris Ivory and Powell, run hard. The one place they must attack is the inexperience of the rookie quarterback. Disguise everything you can. The Jets utilize a slower tempo than the Bills. With more time in between snaps you can show a pre-snap defensive look and get in position for what you are really running post-snap.
Mike: I think defensive tackle Tommy Kelly and defensive end Chandler Jones (as an interior sub rusher) could have big games, as Colon and fellow left guard Vlad Ducasse looked like they struggled at times in the opener. On the play Smith was strip-sacked, Ducasse -- the former UMass lineman -- couldn't hold his block. If I'm the Patriots, I'm isolating the matchup on the guards as much as possible. Now let's look at the other side of the ball and the Jets' defense.
Tedy: The defense has some similarities to what the Patriots saw in Buffalo. That makes sense because the Bills' first-year coordinator, Mike Pettine, had the same role with the Jets from 2009 to 2012. In that scheme, they expect a lot out of their cornerbacks and the Jets have Antonio Cromartie and rookie Dee Milliner, the ninth overall pick in the draft. Rex Ryan wants corners he can count on because he wants double-teams happening inside on the higher-percentage throws in between the numbers. The corners will try to lock you down and jam you at the line of scrimmage.
Mike: Ryan made the point this week that the key against the Patriots is to mix things up and not tip off intentions before the snap. As Jets coach, Ryan is 3-6 against the Patriots and one of the common threads in the victories is how the defense disrupted Brady's rhythm in different ways.
Tedy: Rex is going to want to play man coverage, which is probably the best thing to do against the Patriots because Brady can just tear apart zone. Rex does a good job changing things up, playing some zone and some man pressure; he's had times where he's rushed three and played a max-coverage concept. You also see what looks like pressure but is really more of a late "hug" concept where if the offense keeps a back in for protection, the linebacker whose responsibility it is to cover the back will then blitz. So this is another game where the young receivers are going to have to figure things out post-snap, identifying where the potential double-teams are coming from. The Patriots can use bunch formations and stack receiver sets to help them. As many looks as this defense gives you, there can still be blown coverages with receivers running open down the field, like Bucs WR Vincent Jackson's 37-yard catch-and-run late in the fourth quarter of the opener that helped set up a field goal. As multiple as they want to be, sometimes they fool themselves.
Mike: Another thing to mention is that they're tough to run on. I thought they did a good job on Buccaneers running back Doug Martin in the opener (65 yards, 24 carries, 1 fumble) and it starts with a big, powerful front. You don't see too many third-and-35 situations in games, but the Jets' defense was a factor (along with some boneheaded Tampa play) in creating one on the first drive.
Tedy: You hope for more production for your running game, especially with Amendola out. It's time to forgive and forget with Stevan Ridley. I know he was benched last week for fumbling, but it's slim pickings on offense and it's not time to send a message now. All hands are needed on deck. This Jets defense does have talent. I like their defensive line. Muhammad Wilkerson is starting to come on a little bit and then they have Sheldon Richardson, the first-round pick this year out of Missouri. They'll be looking for those two to get pressure on Brady up the middle. Wilkerson had a sack of Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman and Richardon had a half-sack.
Mike: They mixed their fronts last week, playing some 3-4 and 4-3, which the Patriots will have to be prepared for. David Harris remains a physical presence at middle linebacker, while the safeties (Dawan Landry, Antonio Allen) looked like they might be able to be exploited. Landry had a big missed tackle on Jackson on that 37-yard catch you mentioned.
Tedy: That's where the loss of Rob Gronkowski shows up, because if you think a team is weak at that position, he can really attack that. But it looks like the Jets won't have to worry about that, which gives them more flexibility.
Mike: Tedy, if what we saw in the opener carries over, there could be an opportunity for Julian Edelman to break a big one on a punt return. Tampa's Eric Page had one nice punt return (28 yards). But overall, I think the Jets' special teams play well off of their defense -- you see them pinning punts in close and setting the defense up to attack and create havoc. Like you said, it's sort of what you'd expect from a Rex Ryan-coached team, even though there has been a big change at the top with John Idzik taking over as general manager.
Tedy: It's the Idzik era, but as long as Ryan is the head coach he's the one leading the room in front of the players every day, and he's the one in front of the press. So I still see a big presence in Ryan, right down to the team's top draft picks -- cornerback Milliner and defensive lineman Richardson. A defensive coach like Ryan has to love that, so I have to be honest, I'm not really seeing any "Idzik Effect." You put the film on, watch the game, and it looks like a Rex Ryan type of team. The biggest different to me is Mornhinweg as offensive coordinator and the way he did a nice job of making Smith feel comfortable with the plays he called.
Mike: Before we get to our predictions, I'd be remiss if we didn't point out that the Patriots will be honoring you at halftime of the game. You were inducted into the team's Hall of Fame on July 29 and that honor will be recognized Thursday night. How much do you look forward to that?
Tedy: It's a tremendous honor for me and my family. I will be there with my wife and three sons. It will be a special night for us.
Mike: Great stuff, Tedy. Hope it's a great night for you and the family. I think the Patriots improve to 2-0 with a win. It should still be an offensive struggle, especially considering Amendola likely won't be playing and Vereen is already out. But I think the margin for error is significant because the Patriots are at home and playing against a team that struggles to score points. Patriots 27, Jets 13.
Tedy: There is no time for Ridley to sit and think about the mistakes he's made. This team preaches moving on. It's time to accelerate that process and get him back in the game. Ridley and LeGarrette Blount have a big day. Patriots 30, Jets 24.