What to Look For…

Monday’s matchup between the 9-2 New England Patriots and the 9-2 New York Jets may be the most anticipated and hyped regular season game in quite some time.  Both teams are considered to be among the elite AFC teams, as well as the top teams in the entire NFL.  Both have Super Bowl aspirations, but know that winning a division title is a big step in that direction.  Much has been made of the contrast in coaching styles between Bill Belichick, the comments out of New York about the Patriots, and even comparisons between Michelle Ryan and Gisele Bundchen.  But, when it Monday night finally rolls around, here is what to look for…

-In the first matchup between the Patriots and Jets all the way back in week 2, there were two things that stuck out to me that were essential parts of a New York victory.  LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene combined to rush for 128 yards and Dustin Keller racked up seven receptions for 115 yards and one touchdown.  The Jets formula is pretty simple, pound the ball until the defense can’t take it anymore, and then use the play action pass to seal the deal.  Although the Jets run game has slowed down a bit as of late, they are still a run first team, and that is scary to think about when they have weapons like Santonio Holmes and Dustin Keller in the passing game.  New England is 18th in the NFL, allowing just over 110 yards per game on the ground.  Since the Jets game, the Patriots are allowing an average 110 yards per game on the ground, and since their bye week they are allowing 110 yards per game on the ground.  So, the Patriots defense has consistently shown that they will let up yards on the ground…or have they?  Over New England’s last 3 games, they have let up over 100 yards once (129 in a Detroit blowout), and held Indy and Pittsburgh both under 76 yards rushing.  In their matchup against Minnesota and Adrian Peterson, the Pats allowed a total of 125 rushing yards, 33 of which came on one Tavaris Jackson scramble.  They allowed less than 100 yards against both Baltimore and Miami, two teams that rely on the run game to produce.  What to look for: How the Patriots defense works to contain the Jets run game, and limit the effectiveness of Dustin Keller.

-The New York Jets possess the third best run defense in the entire NFL, allowing just over 86 yards per contest.  Seeing those stats, one may be inclined to think that the Pats will abandon the run all together and rely heavily on Tom Brady’s effectiveness, but history tells us otherwise.  The Pats have had the luxury of playing against six teams that are in the top ten in the NFL in terms of rushing yards per game against (NYJ, PIT, MIN, SD, BAL, MIA).  Against those six teams, the Pats are averaging a respectable 96 yards per game on the ground.  I am not calling for 35 carries and 150 yards out of the Pats rushing attack (although it would be nice), but at least being productive on the ground will force the Jets to consider the run up front, opening up some more throwing lanes for Brady.  What to look for: How effectively the Patriots run game is/ is used against one of the league’s best run defenses.

-There are two huge differences that I see in this game compared to their week 2 matchup, Santonio Holmes and Danny Woodhead.  Holmes has been the Jets’ most effective receiver since coming off of his suspension after the Jets’ fourth game.  Holmes has put up over 100 yards in two out of his last four games, and has found the end zone four times in his last three contests, not to mention the late-game heroics that he has pulled over the last couple of weeks.  Danny Woodhead has proven to be one of the Patriots most dangerous offensive weapons since joining the team right before the week 2 loss to the Jets.  He has filled in for Kevin Faulk seamlessly, and in my opinion, has even been a more dynamic player than Faulk.  Both players will have an impact on Monday night’s contest, and the amount that each impacts the game may very well be a key determinant in the outcome.  What to look for: What impact Danny Woodhead and Santonio Holmes have on the game.

-What might turn out to be the biggest battle in this game is if Darrelle Revis gets shifted inside across from slot wide receiver Wes Welker.  Welker’s played has improved as of late.  After getting off to a great start at the beginning of the season (26 receptions, 217 yards, 3 touchdowns) through the first four games, his played faded after the departure of Randy Moss.  Since the Pittsburgh game, Welker has seemingly regained his old form and has been the best receiving threat on the field for the Pats over the last three games (21 catches, 237 yards, 3 touchdowns).  We all know the legend of Darrelle Revis.  Just 11 games into his fourth year in the NFL, Revis is considered by many to be the greatest corner to ever play the game.  No wide receiver has ever caught a pass with Revis covering him.  Randy Moss will not make the Hall of Fame because he faced off against Revis seven times…Alright ESPN, we get it.  The guy is a good cornerback.  I’m not arguing those facts.  He is a top three corner in the NFL, and has to be in the argument for number one.  Is he unbeatable?  No.  Will Darrelle Revis have a harder time covering Wes Welker than Randy Moss?  If both are healthy, yes.  Welker is shifty and tough to jam.  He doesn’t run deep routes and loves making quick cuts.  Revis excels at jamming receivers and then running with them down the field.  What to look for: If Welker and Revis are matched up against each other, how each performs out of their element.

-THIS WEEK’S PREDICTION: Patriots 20 – Jets 10

Week 12 – The Mattyoshow Review

In this segment I will provide a weekly review for the previous weekend’s Patriots game, as well as my prediction for next weekend’s game.

-The New England Patriots got off to a slow start in Thursday Thanksgiving Day battle in Detroit, finding themselves in a 17-10 hole going into halftime.  But, a reestablished focus combined with a fiery halftime speech from Tom Brady amounted to a 35 point second half and a blowout of the Detroit Lions.  Much has been made this season of the Patriots young defense not being able to stop the bleeding when teams began piling on points.  Well, on Thursday their defense did just that.  After allowing 17 first half points, the defense tightened up, essentially shutting down Calvin Johnson, and subsequently allowing only 7 Detroit points in the second half.

-It seems that in every edition of the Mattyoshow Review, I can not mention the defense without bringing up two names, Jerod Mayo and Devin McCourty.  Jerod Mayo had yet another game where his effectiveness can not be measured in terms of stats.  Although he posted a good stat line (8 tackles, 4 assists), Mayo was seemingly in on nearly every play.  Detroit’s run game was surprisingly effective early in the game, but once the defensive line settled down and started plugging holes, Mayo began to shine.  He stuffed a few runs at the line of scrimmage, and then when the Lions began to abandon the run game, Mayo made nearly every play on the underneath passing routes that the Lions ran.  Countless times Mayo and teammates would crush Nate Burleson and Brandon Pettigrew on catches that they made over the middle.  That’s what is needed and expected from a middle linebacker, and Jerod Mayo continues to deliver.  This guy deserves serious consideration for defensive MVP.  As far as I know, Devin McCourty has missed only one defensive snap the entire season.  It is for a good reason because McCourty is one heck of a football player.  As the season progresses and McCourty becomes more comfortable in the Patriots’ defensive scheme, his personal statistics are beginning to pile up.  McCourty recorded two interceptions against the Lions, which gives him 5 interceptions in his last six games.  The more I am afforded the opportunity to watch McCourty play, the more I see a shutdown corner in the making.  This kid is a special football player, and defensive rookie of the year might be one of many awards McCourty will win in his career.

-Prior to Thursday’s game, Tom Brady had thrown for over 300 yards only one time this season (week 10 @ Pittsburgh).  But, on Thursday Brady looked like the 2007 version of himself as he surgically picked apart the Lions defense en route to a 21 of 27 effort for 341 yards and 4 touchdowns, not to mention compiling a perfect passer rating.  Brady did a great job spreading the ball around, completing passes to seven different receivers.  What may have been more impressive than that was his reliance on his two top receivers, Deion Branch (3 catches, 113 yards, 2 touchdowns) and Wes Welker (8 catches, 90 yards, 2 touchdowns).  There has yet to be a game that both Branch and Welker had very good numbers, but Thursday proved to be the day.  Brandon Tate dropped a couple of key passes, which hurt the success of some drives, but Branch and Welker stepped up to pick up the slack.  Hopefully, their joint production will continue throughout the remainder of the season.

-Fred Taylor was active for Thursday’s game, but didn’t see any time on the field.  Thankfully, the Patriots didn’t need him.  BenJarvus Green-Ellis capitalized on the few carries that he got (12 carries, 59 yards, two touchdowns), finding his way into the end-zone twice.  I was wary of how much work BJGE would get with Taylor returning, and in the first half he very rarely saw the football (mainly because the Pats were forced to pass as they were down), but in the second half when he was called upon to ice the game and punch the ball into the end-zone, Green-Ellis delivered.  Looking ahead, a backfield consisting of BJGE, Danny Woodhead, Fred Taylor, and the occasional Sammy Morris sighting could be very effective complimenting Tom Brady and the passing attack.

NEXT WEEK’S PREDICTION: Patriots 20 – Jets 10

Week 9 – The Mattyoshow Review

In this segment I will provide a weekly review for the previous weekend’s Patriots game, as well as my prediction for next weekend’s game.

-I want to start this post by congratulating the Cleveland Browns for winning Super Bowl XLV.  It was a majestic scene as Mangini got doused with Gatorade, the offensive coordinator was flopping around the field like a fish out of water, and the players were hugging each other, expressing their pure joy after spending an entire season working towards this one goal…Seriously Cleveland?  I know it was a big game for you.  The Patriots had the best record in the NFL, this game has probably been circled on your calendar’s since the schedule was released.  But a Gatorade bath in the first week of November?  You’re better than that Cleveland…or at least we thought you were.

-The lack of a deep threat finally reared its ugly head in Sunday’s loss in Cleveland.  I’ve been calling out this receiving corps for three weeks now, and we finally got to see how much the offense is hindered when you can’t get a receiver behind the defense.  The four longest completions of the day, 22, 22, 26, and 22 yards went to Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski, Danny Woodhead, and Sammy Morris respectively.  That means every pass completed over 20 yards were essentially dump off passes where the receivers ran after the catch.  Welker was blanketed for the fifth week in a row.  Without a deep threat, this offense will continue to struggle.

-BenJarvus Green-Ellis did his best Houdini impersonation today, disappearing a week after having the game of his career.  Nine carries just isn’t enough to get his guy rolling.  Granted, being down the whole game almost forced the Patriots into a no-huddle offense, where the majority of plays were passes, giving Woodhead more playing time.  But still, nine carries for BJGE isn’t enough to establish the run game, isn’t enough to force the defense into respecting the run, isn’t enough to make the play action pass effective, and isn’t enough to get victories.

-So much for the improving and impressive run defense for the Pats.  Hillis ran into, over, and around New England’s front seven early and often, leading to a career day (29 carries, 184 yards, 2 touchdowns).  Jerod Mayo again led the team in tackles, but he seemed to be one of the few Patriots even attempting to slow Hillis down.  Tully Banta-Cain, Rob Ninkovich, and Jermaine Cunningham were all terrible at attempting to set the edge.  I counted at least five or six times that Banta-Cain flew up the field and Hillis ran right underneath him.  If the Pats want to be considered among the elite teams in the league, their run defense can never have another performance like that again.

-Colt McCoy was 14-19 for 174 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions….unacceptable in my opinion.  When facing a rookie quarterback it is imperative that you not only confuse him, but force him into turnovers.  Colt McCoy was eerily accurate on Sunday, completing severely tight passes through small windows, and often on crucial downs.  I am aware that the Pats defense is essentially as young as McCoy, but Belichick’s scheme needs to be complicated enough to put his defense in places to make plays off of mistakes.  I failed to see it on Sunday, and that was very disappointing.

-NEXT WEEK’S PREDICTION – Patriots 18 – Steelers 17