Patriots Cheat Sheet: Week 7
The New England Patriots return home this week to host the divisional rival New York Jets, and once again the two teams will battle for the top spot. All four teams in the AFC East are tied at 3-3, with the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins rounding out the bottom two spots after both have failed to win a game within the division. According to the standings, the AFC East is the tightest race in the league right now, though the observant NFL fan knows that the division still belongs to the Patriots with the Jets scratching at their heels.
With that being said – and despite all the hype every time New York and Boston meet – this game really will not decide anything between these two teams or even within the conference. A win in Week 7 will not be a major statement one way or the other, especially with a more important matchup looming just a month away. The Patriots will travel to the Meadowlands again in Week 12 for a primetime game on Thanksgiving, and by then these their fates may be contingent upon a win or loss. For now, it’s really more about the bragging rights.
The game-time stories
Both teams have had triumphs and stumbles on their way to Week 7 as they deal with inconsistencies offensively and gaping issues defensively. The difference between the Patriots and the Jets at this point is that the Patriots have an identity on both sides of the ball and are just failing to execute enough to win their tight games. Offensively they are a powerhouse, despite a poor day in Seattle last week.
Defensively, the Pats’ front seven has become a force despite having arguably the worst secondary in the league for the second year in a row. The issues with the defensive backs in New England is one of the most obvious Achilles heels for any team in the league, and last week, the Seahawks and novice quarterback Russell Wilson wrote the blueprint for exploiting it.
The good news is that the Patriots have lost their three games by just a combined four points. In any of those games, one extra first down, a made field goal or even a two-point conversion could have made the difference. Tom Brady and the offense are more than capable of taking advantage of those moments moving forward, even with the amount of injuries that the Pats are struggling with right now. It’s just a matter of whether or not they will.
For the Jets, it’s not as easy.
Going into Week 7, no one is even sure who they will start at quarterback. The problem the Jets have is that neither of their quarterbacks is capable of doing what Wilson did last week. Tim Tebow has barely seen any snaps at quarterback this year, and the last time he passed against the Patriots he was sacked five times and only completed nine passes. Mark Sanchez had a great game against the Indianapolis Colts last week, but prior to that he had failed to complete more than 46.7% of his passes in any game this year.
Part of the problem is that his career has been plagued with inaccuracy and an inability to read defensive schemes and deal with the blitz. The other part of the problem is that his receivers are not exactly the cream of the crop. The Jets receiving core is only averaging 192.8 yards per game, putting them at 29th in the league. In comparison, the Patriots are averaging 307.5 receiving yards per game.
The New York Jets’ defense is also no longer the formidable pack that that Rex Ryan rolled out in his earlier seasons as head coach. They have already allowed over 900 yards rushing this year, with only the Buffalo Bills having a worse defense against the run.
Players to watch
New England’s rushers – especially Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden – have excelled this year, doing a great job of complimenting and balancing a diverse offense. Last week the Patriots were forced to throw because of how well Seattle shut down the run, and this week, it looks like the Patriots will have to play without Bolden due to injury. If the Jets can’t manage to stop the bleeding on the ground, the likelihood that Brady will force a ball in the direction of feared defender Antonio Cromartie is slim. Cromartie already has three interceptions on the season and has even stepped in at wide receiver when needed. His physical stature and ability to play the ball matched with his familiarity against Brady will be the Jets’ defense’s best chance at getting the extra time they will most likely need on offense.
Also keep an eye out for their standout linebacker David Harris, who has accumulated 49 solo tackles and recovered a fumble. He is fast coming off the line, and should be able to give the Patriot offensive line some trouble.
Injuries in Week 7
Backup running back Bolden (knee) is likely to miss this week’s game after missing two practices in a row, meaning that Danny Woodhead will probably see more time relieving Ridley. Tight end Aaron Hernandez (ankle), safety Steve Gregory (hip) and guard Logan Mankins (calf/hip) are all listed as doubtful after missing practice on Thursday.
Checking in with the coach
Per usual when it comes to Belichick and Ryan, this week’s match-up is as much about the coaching as it is about the players. Belichick was asked about the compliments he has received (with a wink) from his rival coach.
“I have a lot of respect for Rex,” Bill said on Friday. “I think we have a good relationship. I see him from time to time at the owners meetings and Indy combine and stuff like that. But I know on Sunday he’ll be doing the best job he can for his team. I’ll be doing the best job I can for my team. We’ll see what happens. But, I think there is good mutual respect there. We had his brother on our staff here. I’ve known his dad for a long time. It’s just competition.”
This game may be the warm-up for their meeting next month, but both teams and coaches are sure to make it as much of a battle as possible.