After a close call against the Buffalo Bills two weeks ago, the New England Patriots brought their A game to the party against the Indianapolis Colts, After a slow start, the Pats were able to get touchdowns from their defense and special teams in a 59-24 rout. However, it was an injury that got most of the headline. Star tight end Rob Gronkowski is now out for at least the next four weeks with a broken forearm he suffered blocking an extra point. New England will most likely get their other tight end, Aaron Hernandez back. However, they will be without all-pro left guard Logan Mankins and rookie defensive lineman Chandler Jones.
The Pats’ next opponent is a Thanksgiving night game against a rival head coach (Rex Ryan) that Bill Belichick would probably not want to have a turkey dinner with. The Jets have had their own family problems after the internal criticism of backup quarterback Tim Tebow.
Most of the media spotlight in New York is on 4th year quarterback Mark Sanchez. Sanchez has had the worst season of his career, but he did put up 345 yards in the Pats 29-26 overtime win back in Week 7. However, if you ask people in New York, fans only remember the fumble by Sanchez that ended the game. Now, the Jets go into Thursday night with their division hopes slim at 4-6, but they are still very much in the playoff hunt if they can pull off the upset.
Here are my keys to Thursday night at MetLife with a Turkey Twist :
1. “Stuffing The Line of Scrimmage”: Once again, I am starting a preview with talking about the running attack on both sides of the ball. For the Patriots, the running game becomes more crucial due to the loss of Gronkowski. I take a look at Stevan Ridley who had only 28 yards last week against the Colts. In Week 7, the Jets did a good job at containing the run game holding him to just 65 yards rushing on 17 carries. Now, the Patriots did run the ball 25 times for 114 yards in that matchup with Ridley and Shane Veren, but can they do it consistently with the trio that is Ridley, Vereen, and Danny Woodhead.
As for the New York Jets, they love that old cliché of ground and pound under Rex and offensive coordinator Tony Sparano. Last week against the Rams, the Jets ground game ran the ball 27 times for 106 yards and two touchdowns from Bilal Powell. But, Shonn Greene is the key in this one. Greene had 15 carries in each of his last five games, but the Patriots did hold him to 3.5 yards per carry in the first game. If Greene can’t get it going, then all the pressure falls on the shoulders of Sanchez.
2. The Slot Dishes: As you sit down for Thanksgiving dinner, you always want to have some good sides to go with your turkey. This is similar to a quarterback liking his secondary targets when the primary receiver gets shut down. Both Tom Brady and Mark Sanchez might lean on some smaller wide receivers this week
For the Patriots, I want to focus on Julian Edelman. Edelman is going to see more reps in the passing game due to the injury of Gronk. Against the Colts, the former Kent State product had five catches for 58 yards and a touchdown. Plus, he had a 47 yard punt return for a touchdown. He makes an impact in both aspects of the game, plus he’s a receiver who can turn a 3rd and 11 screen into a first down.
The Jets have lost a ton of weapons on offense to injury, including troubled wide receiver Santonio Holmes. But, they have had one young receiver emerge to become a favorite target of Mark Sanchez. The slot man that Sanchez has developed some solid chemistry with is Jeremy Kerley. Kerley is dealing with heel and hamstring issues, nevertheless, he had six targets or more in each of his last five games. Against the Patriots in Week 7, Kerley had 7 catches for 120 yards! If he has that kind of impact again both in the slot and on the outside, the Jets will have a solid chance in this one.
3. Spiking Up The Apple Cider: With the injury to Chandler Jones, the Patriots were able to do something last week that they haven’t really done a lot in the past few years. That was the ability to blitz the quarterback and force turnovers. Andrew Luck had his worst game since he played the Jets earlier in the season due to three interceptions. The player I am spotlighting solely for this key is Brandon Spikes. Spikes had 11 tackles against the Jets in the first matchup. Plus, if you are going to beat Mark Sanchez, you have to get pressure and force him to make mistakes to a player I will talk about in my prediction later on in this piece. Spikes racks up the tackles, but his ability to hit hard as Fred Jackson saw two weeks ago could force the Jets to cough up the ball and gives the Patriots good field position.
I will be at the game tonight, so I am excited to watch this game and this rivalry in person for the first time since the Joe Namath interview with Suzy Kolber. Yes, it has been that long! As for the game itself, I expect this game to be similar to the first matchup. It will be close to the bitter end as the Jets will have some success running the ball with Shonn Greene. However, I don’t trust Mark Sanchez to play the kind of game he played last week against the Rams for a 2nd straight week. Look for Patriots’ linebacker Rob Ninkovich to have at least a fumble recovery or an interception in this one. Ninkovich has 2 interceptions and a forced fumble in his last three games vs. New York. Patriots win, but it will be a lot tighter than people think.
PATRIOTS 31 JETS 23