By Tyson Rauch
On Thursday night Geno Smith and his New York Jets (1-0) take on Tom Brady and the New England Patriots (1-0) on the big stage of prime time football. Geno and the Jets are coming off of an improbable victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers while the Patriots enter the game energized following a last-second victory over the Buffalo Bills.
As you look at the match-ups in Thursday night’s game the first thing that sticks out is the personnel changes within the Patriots offense. Tom Brady’s favorite target Wes Welker has been replaced by Danny Amendola while Aaron Hernandez and Brandon Lloyd are no longer on the roster. Tight end Rob Gronkowski has been missing time due to injury and the team will be without running back Shane Vereen who was injured in Sunday’s game.
New England’s offense is still supported by an excellent offensive line that does a good job winning the battles in the trenches. The strong line play allows the Patriots to establish the running game, which then opens up the passing attack. The ground game will feature running backs Stevan Ridley and LeGarrette Blount and possibly Leon Washington with Vereen out.
In the Air
In terms of the passing game Danny Amendola (10 catches, 104 yards) adequately replaces Welker while Julian Edelman continues to make significant contributions (7 catches, 79 yards, 2 tds). Rookie Kenbrell Thompkins is a wide receiver with a ton of potential giving quarterback Tom Brady another weapon to exploit defenses with.
The New York Jets defense must find ways to stifle the Patriots ground game in order to make the offense one-dimensional. Gang Green’s new and improved defensive line led by Mo Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson must use their athletic ability and speed to get the offense out of rhythm. Linebackers David Harris and Demario Davis must remain consistent in terms of tackling and make plays sideline to sideline.
As for the pass defense the Jets must find ways to get to quarterback Tom Brady. Linebackers Antwan Barnes and Calvin Pace must make plays off of the edge and get hits on Brady. The more hits on Brady the better off the Jets defense will be. Gang Green must find a way to slow down Amendola and force Tom to explore other options. This will be a big game for several members of the Jets secondary including Kyle Wilson, rookie Dee Milliner, as well as Darrin Walls and Isaiah Trufant.
Patriots Playing Some D
New England’s defensive approach will be the same as the Jets as the team will try to slow down the ground game and force Geno Smith to beat them with his arm. One of the best match-ups to keep an eye on is defensive tackle Vince Wilford against Jets center Nick Mangold. Also don’t be surprised to see the Patriots try to exploit left guard Vlad Ducasse (maybe with defensive end Chandler Jones) who struggled a bit on Sunday against the Buccaneers.
The Patriots have several quality playmakers in their secondary including Aqib Talib, Kyle Arrington, and Devin McCourty. There is a good chance that the Jets will be without wide receiver Jeremy Kerley Thursday night, which will put more pressure on Santonio Holmes, Stephen Hill, and Clyde Gates to make plays. Tight end Kellen Winslow had an excellent game on Sunday and emerged as a safety value for Jets quarterback Geno Smith. Look for offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to try to take advantage of match-ups with Winslow as he tries to protect his young quarterback.
Geno Smith’s Big Test
As for the Jets young signal caller, Geno Smith displayed a tremendous amount of composure in his first NFL game. The game did not seem too big for Smith and he made several big plays with his arm and legs. On Thursday night Geno will be facing a stiffer test as Bill Belichick will bring out all the stops to confuse the rookie. The Jets quarterback must take what the defense gives him and once again use his legs when the opportunity presents itself. One of the big keys for Geno will be not to hold onto the ball too long and stare down his receivers. If Smith can avoid the big mistakes this game could be much closer than people expect.
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Tyson Rauch is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.