Jets-Patriots: five things to watch tonight

Let’s talk some Jets-Patriots leading up to tonight’s kickoff in Foxborough on ESPN. Five things to watch for in this crucial AFC East matchup…

1. The Patriots’ running game: Got to have it tonight. We all can see that Tom Brady is playing at an elite level right now, but don’t let that discount what the running game means for New England. The Pats can produce in the sprint draw and inside trap out of the gun or—as we have seen before—align in their Jumbo personnel (1 WR, 3 TE, 1 RB) and use their full compliment of one-back runs. One way to limit pressure is to run the ball with production against the Jets’ defense. Ben Jarvis Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead need to play big tonight.

Santonio HolmesICONHow will the Patriots game plan Santonio Holmes tonight in Foxborough?

2. The Santonio Holmes matchup: Bill Belichick has had 10 days to prepare for the Jets offense after the Pats beat the Lions on Thanksgiving. It will be unique and it will also have new packages that New York has not seen on tape. However, what is the plan to stop Holmes? Can the Pats matchup a player such as Devin McCourty in man-coverage and see success? The Jets’ Braylon Edwards can stretch the field, but it is Holmes that becomes an issue from a game plan perspective. He can produce in the 3-step game and in the intermediate route tree. New England can’t allow him to win at the line of scrimmage and work the middle of the field.

3. The loss of Leonhard: The Jets’ safety was put on IR after breaking his leg in practice. As I wrote on Friday, Leonhard’s production goes beyond running the secondary in Ryan’s system when we start to talk about what he could do on both defense and special teams. The Jets will start Brodney Pool and Eric Smith at safety tonight. The first thing to look for is coverage busts. You make a mistake from an alignment perspective or don’t adjust to personnel, Brady will exploit it. Leonhard has talent, but replacing that leadership in the secondary is key. Keep an eye on the New York safety play tonight.

4. Brady vs. the Jets’ cornerbacks: Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie are the best cornerback tandem in the league. One way to approach this is to create free releases at the line of scrimmage by using bunch and stack looks, plus some pre-snap motion. The Pats can use the WR Wes Welker in bubble screen and run multiple combination routes to draw some favorable matchups. I don’t doubt that Brady will challenge both Revis and Cromartie, but you can scheme this combo by getting creative. It only helps—and don’t discount the impact of the New England tight ends.

5. Mark Sanchez: The Jets’ QB doesn’t have to match the production of Brady. Instead, Sanchez has to make the plays that extend drives and put points on the board. Expect to see an offensive game plan from Brain Schottenheimer that is heavy in run packages with LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene. However, when we talk about third downs and in the red zone, Sanchez has to take make the proper decisions and take calculated risks against the Patriots’ secondary. Can’t make mistakes on the Monday night stage in a divisional matchup. Run the game plan, and when you have to make a play, get it done.

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