As the New England Patriots prepare for their Thursday night game against the division rival New York Jets, the story surrounding the team in Foxboro is who isn't going to be playing in the home opener. Tom Brady will be leading a offense that will be without running back Shane Vereen (on IR with broken wrist), wide receiver Danny Amendola (groin), and tight end Rob Gronkowski (back). The Patriots' offense showed a ton of growing pains in Week 1 up in Buffalo as they needed a last second field goal from Stephen Gostkowski to win the game 23-21. They were able to contain Buffalo QB E.J Manuel, but can head coach Bill Belichick defeat a rookie quarterback for the second straight game?
The New York Jets also had some last second drama in their first game as a penalty by Lavonte David helped New York move into field goal range to win the game over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on a last second field goal. That being said, Geno Smith still performed well in his NFL debut, throwing for 256 yards and 1 touchdown while also leading the team in rushing. Yes, that means Mark Sanchez won't be around for any butt fumbles this time around. Of course, the strength of the Jets is their defense that head coach Rex Ryan loves to boast about, even without defensive back Darrelle Revis, who is now in Tampa. That being said, this rivalry has seen its fair share of good moments. Will we get another moment to remember Thursday night?
Here are my keys to tonight's home opener in Foxboro:
Big East, Big Sacks?: Even though college football's geographic landscape has shuffled because of realignment, two players in this football game have a good familiarity with each other that could determine the outcome of this game. Jets' quarterback Geno Smih went to West Virginia last year and Patriots' defensive end Chandler Jones graduated from Syracuse, who was in the Big East at that time. Coming into the season, fans have been looking for Jones to improve a Patriots' pass rush that has struggled in recent seasons. Well, in college, four of Jones' ten career sacks came against Smith. The Patriots did a good job last week of keeping E.J Manuel in the pocket and preventing him from running, but had zero sacks last week. Can the Patriots follow this scheme against a Jets' offense that will be without wide receiver Jeremy Kerley due to a concussion? If Geno can't get out of the pocket, you can take his running out of the game since he led the Jets in rushing last week, but pressure has to be a priority Thursday night!
The Pass Rusher Muhammad: Last week, the Patriots' offensive line showed a little bit of vulnerability against Mike Pettine's defensive scheme. Pettine branches off of the Rex Ryan tree, who is one of the defensive coaches who know the gameplan on how to contain Brady's production: pressure, pressure, and more pressure. The Bills had two sacks and forced Brady to get rid of the ball early. The Jets have a pass rush that can frustrate the Pats' quarterback should the new receivers not get open quick enough. Third year pass rusher Muhammad Wilkerson had one sack last week as the team had a total of five sacks against Josh Freeman. Rex will be looking for Wilkerson to be the primary pass rusher on the defensive line. Rex will throw the kitchen sink at the Patriots, but can Brady get rid of the ball quick enough to exploit the open spots on the field?
A Ridley Wrapped In An Enigma: With the latest injury to Shane Vereen, the Patriots' running attack is now mainly on Stevan Ridley. Ridley was benched last week and put in Belichick's doghouse after two fumbles, including one that was brought back for the touchdown. The Patriots came into the season with depth at running back and now that depth with players like LeGarrette Blount and Leon Washington will have to produce more than expected. Ridley is a top running back, but the fumbles can't happen with the growing pains the pasing attack is going through right now. Keep an eye on Washington for third downs because he is a veteran running back that can catch passes out of the backfield, even though he isn't Shane Vereen.
The easy prediction to make for this game is that Tom Brady is going to continue to show impatience on the sideline with yelling at rookies who make mistakes on the field. The Patriots are likely going to see Aaron Dobson make his NFL debut at wide receiver, which will help the offense out. The key player is still Julian Edelman who will be Brady's target in the red zone when the team is looking for touchdowns, not field goals. That being said, this is a game where the defense will have to win just like last week.
This matchup will be low-scoring and I expect Geno Smith to make a couple of mistakes to either Kyle Arrington (forced fumbles) or a key interception from Rob Ninkovich. The Jets' inept offense may be the only reason why New York doesn't pull the upset. I wouldn't be surprised if the Jets won in Foxboro, since it's happened before, with Sanchez winning in his second game against Brady, but New England will hang on late and improve to 2-0.
PATRIOTS 24 JETS 17