Every week leading into the Patriots' next game, ESPN NFL analyst Tedy Bruschi and ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss preview the matchup. This week, it's a Thursday night football game against the Jets at Gillette Stadium (CBS, 8:30 p.m. ET):
Mike: Tedy, you've spoken a lot about this game in the past from the rivalry perspective. If you think about the Patriots' true rivals, the Jets are probably No. 1 on the list.
Tedy: You always felt the rivalry in the locker room, especially as a young player, because a lot of it comes from the coaches. Don't get me wrong, I think the coaches on the two teams have a mutual respect for each other, with Bill Belichick respecting Rex Ryan and vice versa. But it's about the history of the coaches involved over the years, and in this case, mainly Belichick and his experience with the Jets, how he was the one-day head coach and all that. I always sensed how much he wanted to win every time he played the Jets.
Mike: For you, what stood out about Patriots-Jets games as a player?
Tedy: This was the only rivalry where I would yell back at fans. You always felt it from them, almost like their remarks were directed personally at you. They knew your name, and it was almost like they Google-searched you before the game based on some of the things they'd say during games, or about certain plays. It wasn't just clever, it was knowledgeable about something that maybe just happened on the field. So you'd be sitting there on the bench, waiting, because you knew something was coming in your direction, or maybe it was about something that was on the Internet a couple of weeks before that. I laugh about it now, but this was the one time I looked forward to going out there and trying to make the Jets' offense look bad so I could yell at the fan who maybe had that sharp tongue. It was always fun. I always thought the New York-Boston thing was real and over the past decade, I can say that Boston has had the upper hand in terms of championships won and the success of the Patriots against the Jets. Hey, if there are Giants fans reading this, there's only thing I can say: You got us.
Mike: These Thursday games require a quick turnaround as the teams generally hold only walk-through practices leading up to it, so it's mental preparation more so than physical.
Tedy: Yes, and one thing the NFL has done is making these short-week games divisional matchups. You look at the schedule to this point, starting in Week 2, and it's Ravens-Steelers, Buccaneers-Falcons, Giants-Redskins, Vikings-Packers and Colts-Texans. So you're focusing on matchups where the teams are familiar with each other and that helps with the shorter preparation time. I think it definitely helps to be the home team, as the more hours you have in preparations can be valuable when compared with what the visiting team devotes to travel, getting on the plane, the logistics of being on the road. Football teams use every spare minute they have to prepare.
Mike: Tedy, I know this might not be a popular thing to say around these parts but when it comes to Rex Ryan, I think he's a top-notch defensive coach. Yet there's a difference between excellence as a defensive coach and an overall head coach, and from afar, maybe that's where things fall off a bit.
Tedy: He's obviously in a little bit of trouble from a job-security standpoint. They're 1-5. But I see Rex Ryan as someone that no matter what the record, he coaches those players hard and lets them know they're in this together and the players seem to respond to that. With a short week, playing the "hated" Patriots, this plays right into Rex's hands in terms of getting players' minds right for the game.
Mike: Let's get into what you've seen from the Jets' defense in your film study.
Tedy: You think about Ryan and it might be easy to just say, "He brings the heat." But this past Sunday against the Broncos, it was actually a lot of three-man rush vs. Peyton Manning. They were daring the Broncos to run the ball, and when you have as good of a front three as they do with Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and Damon Harrison, it's easier to do that. If you're the Patriots and Tom Brady, you have to be prepared that you might see the same thing. They just lost running back Stevan Ridley, the O-line is hurting with some injuries, so maybe the Jets look at it and say, "Let's see if the backup running backs can beat us." In that Denver game, they dropped eight and you saw Wilkerson breaking free for a sack on a three-man rush. Same with Leger Douzable. When you can get pressure with three, and put eight in coverage, that's perfection.
Mike: We saw the Raiders have some success with that against the Patriots, so that's an interesting point. I do wonder how much the potentially heavy rainfall could alter those plans.
Tedy: At the same time, you look at the Patriots' offensive line and some of its struggles and maybe Rex Ryan just says, "Let's bring the house too." So we'll see what he comes up with because you're talking about a very creative defensive mind here. As dysfunctional as the Jets might seem at times, I agree with you, he's still a top defensive coach to me. You see the concepts last week against Denver and the first reaction is, "That's smart, good stuff right there." They have talent, their best players are up front, and Rex Ryan does a great job with that, telling his players up front that "We're counting on you to stop the run even though you're not getting much help up there." When you hear that as a player, it helps you get your mind right and want to play for him. In this game, I think if I were Rex, I'd favor the three-man rush and put it on Sheldon Richardson, Muhammad Wilkerson and Damon Harrison up front and see if they could beat the five up front for the Patriots. If it's the other way around, you're asking your defensive backs to match up one-on-one and right now I'm not sure they can pull that off.
Tedy: He's not bad, and is the type of safety Rex Ryan likes. Earlier this year, when the Jets were preparing to face the Packers (who drafted safety Ha-Ha Clinton Dix in the first round), Ryan talked about how he preferred having a safety who will "knock your face in" like Pryor. He will come up and hit you and that's one thing that is critical -- the ability to tackle -- if Rex Ryan decides to go with heavy pressure and overload looks and play man coverage.
Mike: Other than Pryor, who else shows you that ability in the Jets' secondary?
Tedy: I'd put Antonio Allen in that category as well. Go back to Week 1 against the Raiders (fourth quarter, 9:00) and he makes a great open-field tackle away from the overload blitz when he is playing off about 15 yards. That, to me, was a perfect example of coming downhill, buzzing your feet, gathering and wrapping up. You saw him make another nice tackle on Santonio Holmes in the Week 3 game against the Bears (8:45) on a short pass. On the opposite end of the spectrum, in Week 2 against the Packers, you saw Pryor fail to wrap up Jordy Nelson on his 80-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter (2:21). So while they show the ability to do so, it's not perfect.
Mike: I always like going back to past drafts and comparing players who play similar positions and were picked around the same time. This week, it's a good time to compare the Jets' Quinton Coples (2012, first round, 16th overall) and the Patriots' Chandler Jones (2012, first round, 21st overall). Jones looks like the superior player.
Tedy: One thing you see from Coples is his ability to help disrupt the passing game by lining up over receivers and rerouting them, so that's something to look for Thursday night.
Mike: Offensively, the Jets seem similar to the Bills from last week in the sense that they don't seem to have things squared away at the quarterback spot, with questions still surrounding Geno Smith. It's hard to get where you want to go without that position being in good hands.
Tedy: There's "Good Geno" and "Bad Geno." I like the way he uses his checkdowns, but he still needs to know when to take chances and when to play it safe. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg sets things up so Smith can make multiple high-percentage throws throughout a game and that's really what they need to do. When Smith is well protected, like he was in the season opener against the Raiders, he can be efficient as a passer when focusing on those high-percentage throws. The play he made against the Raiders in the second quarter (4:25) was a good one to highlight, a pump fake that was designed to move the defense and safety before he hit receiver Eric Decker on the other side. So he doesn't look bad at times; he just lets himself go too often, and makes mistakes (e.g. fumbling on a scramble in which he tried to do too much; or forcing a throw and getting intercepted by Charles Woodson). So just when you want to like him, he makes the easy look difficult sometimes.
Mike: I thought maybe the Michael Vick signing was good insurance there, but it hasn't panned out that way.
Tedy: They put both quarterbacks on the field at times, especially in the red zone (second quarter, vs. Raiders, :37), and there are many options they can dial up with that (e.g. direct snap to running back Chris Johnson and an end-around handoff to Vick). You figure they'll try everything against the Patriots. But overall, from a pure quarterback standpoint, they still think Smith gives them the best chance to win. The "Bad Geno" hurts them, though. In the second quarter against the Raiders (3:48), tight end Jeff Cumberland is wide open down the middle of the field and there's a window for Smith to deliver the ball where it can be caught, but instead it's basically a long foul ball. Later in that game, in the third quarter (2:45), Smith tried to be too cute avoiding the rush in the pocket and was stripped of the ball. Then in the fourth quarter (10:20), he's dancing to avoid the rush and gets sacked to take the Jets out of field goal range.
Mike: Getting the running game going with Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson obviously helps, but that's also been a struggle for them at times despite their No. 10 ranking in average yards per carry this year (4.5).
Tedy: You'll see some unique formations too, like the pistol formation by the quarterback with an inverted wishbone around him (Week 1, vs. Raiders, :44). On that play, Johnson rushed for a first down. Johnson doesn't seem to have the same explosiveness that he had a few years ago, but I will say this, Ivory is a running back I really respect. I'm always looking for candidates for the end-of-year "All-Bruschi Team" and he is that type of guy. He runs hard, never seems to go down on first contact, and is just tough. The other thing to be concerned with when it comes to the Jets' running game is Smith himself. They have planned quarterback runs, where Ivory turns into a lead blocker (e.g. third quarter, vs. Bears).
Mike: You wonder what receiver Eric Decker (20 catches, 258 yards, 3 TDs) thinks after catching passes from Peyton Manning for four years and now finding himself in this type of offense.
Tedy: He's one of those guys who isn't the fastest and most skilled, but by the end of the game you see his production and say, "How did that just happen?" He makes plays and he's someone you can't underestimate and fall asleep on. If you do, he'll hurt you. The Jets also have rookie Jace Amaro (team-high 24 receptions), who is basically a receiving tight end. In college, almost every route he ran he caught less than 10 yards down the field. They'll also get creative with receiver Jeremy Kerley, but overall, you look at this offensive personnel and you just don't get overwhelmed. Sure, you respect Ivory and how hard he plays, and you can't sleep on Decker, but really you're just waiting for the quarterback to have a lapse in judgment, which seems to happen a handful of times per game. Mornhinweg, the offensive coordinator, generally does a good job trying to manufacture offense.
Mike: In a lot of ways, it sounds like the same Jets team we've seen in recent years. When was the last time an opponent really feared its offensive weapons like it might the aggressive defensive approach?
Tedy: The Jets will deliver on who they are, and don't disappoint in that area. They like the power running game, safe throws from the quarterback with an occasional shot, and multiple pressure packages from a physical defense led by their stout line. They could use some more help from their special teams -- we saw the muffed punt against the Broncos and Peyton Manning making them pay for it by then driving down for a score. If this team can't play complementary football, it's over. That has to be their winning formula.
Mike: Does the projected forecast of heavy rainfall help them against the Patriots?
Tedy: It does help a bit from the standpoint of emphasizing the running game, but at the end of the day, you see the Patriots tied for first in the NFL with a plus-9 turnover differential and the Jets tied for last in the NFL with a minus-9 turnover differential. The Patriots take care of the ball. The Jets don't. It's all about ball security and that doesn't look like a strength of the Jets.
Mike: Before we get to our predictions, how about a quick word on cornerback Ty Law being honored at halftime, following his induction into the Patriots Hall of Fame this summer.
Tedy: I'm so happy for Ty and it's a well-deserved honor. He was the best we had on defense in those Super Bowl championship years. His presence made it all work for us and one thought stands out to me with him: The bigger the game, the better he played.
Mike: Basing a prediction on a weather forecast is always risky business, but I think the heavy projected rainfall evens things up and is a nice break for the Jets. To win in the elements, the running game is critical and I have doubts that the Patriots will be able to get it going against a solid Jets front that has contributed to a No. 6 ranking in average yards per carry allowed (3.5). But in the end, I keep coming back to the one contrast duly noted between the teams on the stat sheet: The Patriots are tied for first in turnover differential (plus-9, 14 takeaways, 5 giveaways), while the Jets are tied for last in the NFL (minus-9, 3 takeaways, 12 giveaways). I expect a close one, with a spirited effort from the Jets, but that discrepancy is just too big to ignore. Patriots 17, Jets 13.
Tedy: For the Jets the biggest question is whether Geno Smith can play a complete game. Right now, my answer is no. That inconsistency will lead to mistakes. The Patriots will win on a night when they induct Ty Law into the Patriots Hall of fame and Darrelle Revis will take one to the house. Patriots 28, Jets 10.