By Greg Doyle, Patriots Daily Staff
The Jets come to town Monday night with the same 9-2 record that the Patriots have. The game is big; it’ll likely not only decide the division, but its probably the difference between the number one seed overall in the AFC and a #5 wildcard road for the loser. Have the Jets been lucky or good? Its a tough question, but you have to say good teams find a way to win and the Jets have done that. One could look at the Patriots run of Super Bowls earlier this decade and all the detractors who were constantly carping they were “lucky” or the other team beat themselves.
We as Patriots fans learned then how close the NFL is, its the teams that figure out how to win those close games that are the truly great teams. But on the other hand, I don’t recall during those years, 2001, 2003, 2004, the Patriots winning as many close, literally down to the wire, games against bad opponents as the Jets have. The Patriots had many nip and close wins against good teams, but despite the reputation, usually took care of the bad ones fairly handily. The only close games in 2001 against someone I’d label a bad team were an overtime win against LaDanian Tomlinson’s Chargers, who finished 5-11 and the infamous Buffalo overtime win where David Patten was allegedly knocked out on the sidelines. In 2003 they had only two single digit wins out of fourteen regular season wins over a team that ended with a losing record. In 2004 only three of their fourteen wins came by less than double digits and only one of those against teams with a losing record. So in three championship season, they arguably only had 5 “close” games amongst their 39 regular season wins against losing teams.
In contrast, before last week’s 16 point win against the Bengals, the Jets previous five wins had all come against bad or very bad teams. Two of them went to overtime, others against Houston and Denver they essentially won on the last play of regulation. The only winning team they’ve played since September (Green Bay) they lost to 9-0. Overall they’re 2-2 against teams with current winning records.
So, I don’t think the “lucky” label can be completely dismissed. Give them credit. Good teams find a way to win. But they’re taking it to a new level.
Mark Sanchez (#6), Quarterback: Sanchez has proven himself a bit more since we last looked at him. One area of his game which is somewhat of a surprise and he’s caused damage to opponents with is his mobility. He isn’t really a quarterback who’ll regularly take off and run, though he is quick enough he can do that a bit. And he isn’t mobile in the sense Tom Brady is, where he just steps up or makes slight movements to avoid the rush. Instead, Sanchez seems to run all over the pocket to create time and is at his most effective and accurate finding receivers who come uncovered as he buys extra time. Accuracy is certainly an issue with Sanchez. His 55.2 percent completion rate is the lowest among any quarterback who has started more than 7 of his team’s games besides the immortal Derek Anderson in Arizona. If you can keep Sanchez in the pocket rather than throwing on the move, he is far less effective. Particularly on deeper drops. It seems not just a pass rush is important with Sanchez, but containing the outside so he can’t roll and throw on the run.
LaDanian Tomlinson (#21), Running Back: Tomlinson got off to a very fast start this season, but seems to have slipped back to form as a beat up, aging, marginally effective running back. In his last 6 games, Tomlinson’s stats are 16 carries for 55 yards, 16-54, 15-55, 18-57, 12-36 and 13-49. This is a total of 90 carries for 306 yards or 3.4 per carry. He remains an effective pass catcher. These stats have been piled up despite playing a majority of mediocre defenses against the run during that time. The bottom line is, Tomlinson simply isn’t a great running back anymore. He averaged 3.3 per carry last season for a reason. He wanted to blame the San Diego line, as he often points elsewhere or becomes sour when beaten, but the blame is on him. He is merely a decent pass catching running back now in deep decline. It wouldn’t surprise me if he is sitting on the bench a majority of the time by the time the playoffs roll around and assuming the Jets are in them.
Damien Woody (#67), Tackle: Woody, of course started his career with the Patriots in 1999 and he has a very solid resume to be proud of when it finally comes to an end. Woody was a member of the first two Super Bowl Championships in 2001 and 2003 with the Patriots before leaving for Detroit in free agency in 2004. He’s been a two-time Pro Bowler (2002 and 2005). Woody also went to college at Boston College and then was drafted as a center by the Patriots. He played there most of his time, but problems with the shotgun snap led to occasional switches to guard. In Detroit, Woody mostly played guard. And now with the Jets, Woody has completed the offensive line trifecta by being their regular starting right tackle. Jets coach Rex Ryan calls him the “best run blocking right tackle in the NFL.” He shown toughness in recent weeks by playing with a sprained MCL and will almost certainly play this week versus the Patriots. But perhaps his quickness is diminished just enough one of the Patriots pass rushers can beat him a few times for some sacks.
Calvin Pace (#97), Outside Linebacker: Pace missed the Patriots first matchup with the Jets with a broken foot. He has come back to play in the last 7 games and has 33 tackles to go along with 4 sacks. He had one of his better games last week versus Cincinnati with 7 tackles and a sack as the Jets defense held the Bengals to 10 points. Originally the 18th pick overall for Arizona in 2003, Pace was largely considered a bust early in his career. However, when the team switched him from defensive end to outside linebacker in 2007, his play improved markedly. It was enough to warrant him a 6 year $42 million dollar deal with the Jets in 2008. He’s already been suspended once for banned substance, so one more violation could land him with a year’s suspension. But when he is on the field, he remains a pretty effective outside linebacker the Patriots will have to be gameplan for.
Bart Scott (#57), Inside Linebacker: Scott has had a disappointing two years for the Jets. Always willing to put the spotlight on himself with loud, emotional yelling on the field, he has been unable to duplicate the success he had in Baltimore since coming to New York. He’s been largely overshadowed by his fellow inside linebacker David Harris, who at this point is a far superior linebacker to Scott. In 27 games for the Jets, Scott has gotten 2 sacks, defensed 2 passes and forced 1 fumble. Not exactly playmaking stats from someone who talks so much. And his tackles statistics are exceedingly average for an inside linebacker. Now in his thirties and a bit undersized, it appears Scott’s career has begun its inevitable descent.
Brodney Pool (#22), Safety: Pool was one of this offseason’s big acquisitions, meant to fill the void caused by the Kerry Rhodes trade, who never completely meshed with head coach Rex Ryan or his system. But Pool has largely been a disaster and was benched last week in favor of Eric Smith. Safety play in general has been a problem for the Jets this year and they’ve slipped significantly from their #1 pass defense rankings of last season. Last year they only gave up 8 touchdown passes all year and intercepted 17 passes. This year thru 11 games, they’ve already given up 15 touchdown passes and only intercepted 7 balls. They’re also giving up about 55 more yards per game in the air. Its uncertain if Pool will be back starting this week after Smith put in a decent performance last week in his place. But the middle of the field, where the Patriots now seem more effective with the tight ends and Deion Branch in place and Wes Welker’s health improved, could be a soft spot for the Patriots to attack.