With the Patriots and Jets ready to square off for a third and final time in the 2010 season, we corralled Eric Allen from newyorkjets.com to offer some more insight on a game between two teams that couldn’t be more familiar with one another.
This is the third time Allen has stopped by NESN.com to break down Gang Green, and we’ll make sure to hit him up on speed dial in the spring when Tom Brady and Antonio Cromartie take a break from football to join up for a celebrity death match.
Anyway, back to the game. Here’s what Allen had to say about Mark Sanchez‘s struggles, the Jets’ new right tackle and his thoughts on the final score.
NESN: Should we believe Mark Sanchez is good enough to overcome two awful performances at Gillette Stadium?
Eric Allen: Ah, the $64 million question. Those numbers aren’t pretty when you consider his two trips to Gillette Stadium have resulted in seven interceptions, a 46 percent completion rate and losses by an average of 30 points.
He certainly wasn’t accurate in the first half last week against the Colts, hitting on just nine of 19 passes and throwing a bad red-zone pick in the waning seconds prior to intermission. But he settled down after halftime, completing nine of his final 12, including a tremendous back-shoulder toss to Braylon Edwards (which he called) up the sideline that set up Nick Folk‘s game-winning 32-yard field goal. Sanchez, playing with the injured shoulder, had plenty of zip throughout, but the rock just sailed on him at times.
The Jets won in the second half playing a style that suits them, dominating on the ground and mixing in the pass. While the talented 24-year-old signal caller hung in there, he knows he has to step up his game in the divisional round.
In my mind, the key to this game is a fast start for the Jets. They didn’t score until the third quarter last week and have totaled a paltry 36 first-quarter points in 17 games this season. But a fast start doesn’t mean matching the Pats point for point, as they may have gotten caught up trying to do in Foxboro by coming out in the no-huddle. Instead, it means getting positive plays and playing sound. To have a chance, the Jets have to run it well and put the kid in third-and-manageable. For all of the things the Patriots do well, their third-down defense is porous when you consider that 47 percent conversion rate.
NESN: How has Antonio Cromartie played since getting picked on at Gillette in Week 13?
E.A.: It’s been a mixed bag. The Jets’ defense absolutely dominated the punchless Dolphins in Week 13, but Ben Roethlisberger repeatedly beat their pressure and both Mike Wallace (seven receptions, 102 yards) and Emmanuel Sanders (seven, 78) benefited on the stat sheet. Then in Week 16, Jay Cutler carved up the secondary in the third quarter, including a perfect throw to Johnny Knox (his second touchdown of the day) with Cromartie in coverage.
Both Darrelle Revis and Cromartie sat out the regular-season finale, and Cromartie drew the assignment of Pierre Garcon against the Colts. Garcon had a big numbers game with five receptions for 112 yards, but in fairness to Cromartie, he should have gotten safety help from Brodney Pool on Peyton Manning’s 57-yard strike to Garcon.
NESN: The loss of Jim Leonhard really seemed to hurt the Jets in Week 13, but now that they’ve had six weeks to move on, have they improved their situation at safety?
E.A.: That was a huge loss for the Jets, losing an emotional leader and their defensive signal caller just three days before they played on Monday Night Football. But there will be no excuse this week, and the Green and White have reason to feel confident about their situation heading into Sunday.
Eric Smith played one of the finest games of his career against Peyton Manning, totaling 10 tackles and adding two passes defensed while making the calls. And Pool (minus the Garcon score) stood out for all the right reasons with seven total tackles, including two early stops on third-and-1 plays.
NESN: Brad Smith hasn’t broken free from the Patriots’ kickoff coverage this season, but if he’s unable to go Sunday, how much of an impact would that have on the Jets?
E.A.: Smith was fantastic throughout the regular season, averaging 28.6 yards per kick return and taking two back for scores. But Cromartie remains one of the fastest players in all of football and his 47-yard return in the final minute set up Sanchez and Co. for the dramatic win. He has long legs and gets upfield in no time. I don’t think it would have much of an impact at all on special teams, but it would be foolish to underestimate Smith’s absence on offense.
NESN: What can you tell us about Wayne Hunter?
E.A.: Hunter is perhaps the finest athlete on the offensive line. He started the final three games of the season at right tackle in place of the injured Damien Woody. Now that the former Patriot is on injured reserve, the 6-foot-5, 318-pound Hunter should be ready for the big stage. Sanchez has complete faith in Hunter, and the Jets’ offensive line didn’t miss a beat when he was in there down the stretch. It doesn’t hurt that he’ll line up next to one of the finest guards in football in Brandon Moore.
NESN: What is your prediction?
E.A.: Do the Jets have to play perfect to win this game? No, but they can’t turn it over. They still have the best offensive line in football, and both LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene are running like they haven’t eaten for a week and are on the hunt. Expect the Jets to run it early and run it often, and that’s eventually going to wear down the Patriots’ defense. And sure, the Pats had 25 interceptions during the regular season, but the Jets can exploit them through the air when they give Sanchez manageable down-and-distance situations.
Rex Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine just won a chess match with Peyton Manning, and now they’ll get their shot at Tom Brady. They won’t shut him completely down, but they’ll slow him just enough.
Call it 28-27 Jets. And it won’t even be the biggest upset of the postseason, as the Seahawks will keep that title.