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Dave D'Onofrio's Patriots Notebook: Quieter-than-usual Jets come to town
Removing the name to protect the mediocre, let’s say NFL Team A owned a defense that ranked 18th in yards allowed, 14th in points per game, 28th in stopping the run, 27th in sacks, while also being the league’s third-easiest to convert a third down against, football’s fifth most-penalized unit, and having lost its best-in-the-game cornerback to a season-ending injury.
Then let’s say that defense is going on the road to face Team B, which boasts an offense that ranks No. 1 by measures of both yards and points, and with a hall-of-fame signal caller at the helm of a no-huddle assault that’s particularly lethal at home.
The logical conclusion, obviously, is that Team B shouldn’t have much trouble moving the ball and scoring against the Team A.
And so the Patriots attack shouldn’t find the Jets defense to offer much resistance this afternoon, either.
Since Rex Ryan took the reins in New York, there have been two truths perpetually expected of the Jets: they’ll talk a lot of trash, typically to the point they become blowhards; and they’ll keep themselves in games with a tough, stout, physical defense.
This season, however, neither of those has yet proven true. Compared to the standard of the three previous years, the bluster blowing toward Foxborough, Mass., from Florham Park, N.Y., has been practically still, with little bragging beyond the head coach’s innocuous admission that he intended on telling his players that he believes they can win this battle of 3-3 clubs.
That’s a bit surprising. But even more of a shock is the way that Ryan’s defense has faltered through the first six games, failing in a few unexpected facets — even while going up against a series of opposing offenses that aren’t exactly fearsome, and none of which really comes to rivaling the powerful potential of the Patriots.
Aside from the ineffectiveness of a pass rush that’s generated only nine sacks to this point, the Jets’ pass defense hasn’t really been a problem despite superstar cover man Darrelle Revis going down for the year because of a knee injury. In fact, Ben Roethlisberger’s 265-yard performance in Week 2 was the most New York has thus far yielded.
However, the Jets can’t stop the run. They gave up 195 yards to Buffalo in Week 1. Then 185 yards to Miami in Week 3. Then 247 to San Francisco (during a 34-0 throttling) in Week 4. Then 169 yards to Houston in Week 5.
Last week they limited Indianapolis’ bottom-feeding ground game to only 41 net yards, though still the Jets are giving up an average of 150.5 yards per game, and only the Bills have surrendered more than the eight rushing touchdowns they’ve surrendered. To put the dropoff in perspective, consider that the Jets allowed an average of 111 rushing yards in 2011, 91 yards in 2010, and 99 in 2009. As a result, a defense that hasn’t ranked worse than fifth in yardage since Ryan took over currently ranks 18th — smack in the middle of the pack at a robust 359.8 yards per game.
On average that’s only 11.7 yards better than the much-maligned Patriots defense. And when considering the sizable disparity between the potency each team presents on the other side of scrimmage, that’s not nearly a wide enough chasm for the Jets to come into today with a lot of confidence.
Of course, it’s not as though the Patriots are going to publicly dismiss the challenge. “They have good players, good schemes and they always change it up a little bit each week against everybody, it doesn’t matter who it is,” Bill Belichick said.
But no matter what he might say, Belichick is the coach of Team B, and the fact of the matter is that regardless of how things might’ve played out in previous iterations of this divisional rivalry, this does not seem to be the Team A of yesteryear.
And thus, as long as things go as expected, there is only one logical conclusion to today’s contest.
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UNDERRATED: Antonio Cromartie. His off-field foibles and the fact he plays second fiddle to Revis when the Jets are healthy have detracted from the perception of Cromartie as a cornerback. But he’s an accomplished player who is having a good season, and to hear New England quarterback Tom Brady talk — “He’s one of the best corners in the league and has been for a while” — he may now be New York’s most dangerous defense player.
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OVERRATED: The Jets’ offensive line issues. Throughout their much-covered training camp a lot was made about the struggles of New York’s line beyond center Nick Mangold and tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson — but through six games the group has allowed only 11 sacks, fewer than 20 other teams. The switch to Austin Howard from Wayne Hunter at right tackle has seemingly paid dividends.
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KEEP AN EYE ON: Fake punts. The Jets have attempted three through the first six games, and it appears to be the most useful application of Tim Tebow’s combination of size and skills. When he is the up man in the punting formation, the Patriots will need to be on high alert.
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KEY MATCHUP: Patriots’ front seven vs. Jets’ running game. Shonn Greene ran for 161 yards and three touchdowns last week, and subsequently his team put up 35 points. If the Patriots and the NFL’s fifth-ranked run defense can limit New York on the ground, it’ll force Mark Sanchez to beat them. (Then again, the same was said of Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson before last week.)
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STAT OF THE WEEK: Sanchez has completed 88 of 177 passes this season (49.7 percent), making him the only qualifying NFL quarterback to complete fewer than half his throws. By comparison, Brady has thrown six fewer incompletions — in 66 more attempts.
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Dave D’Onofrio covers Boston sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is email@example.com. Twitter: @davedonofrio