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Scouting Report: What you have to know about Patriots-Jets

12.19.14 at 10:18 pm ET
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Rob Gronkowski and Tom Brady combo will provide a test for the Jets Sunday in North Jersey. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Rob Gronkowski and Tom Brady combo will provide a test for the Jets Sunday in North Jersey. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Here’s what you have to know when it comes to Sunday’s Patriots-Jets game at MetLife Stadium:

WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN THE BALL

Don’t expect New England to run the ball that much, as the Jets are still one of the better run defenses in the NFL. New York is fourth in the league when it comes to stopping the run, yielding a stingy 87.5 rushing yards per game. The Jets have allowed more than 100 rushing yards on just five occasions this season, and the Patriots had just 63 when they first met back in October, with Shane Vereen leading the way with 11 carries for 43 yards. (For what it’s worth, that was in the relatively brief window following Stevan Ridley‘s season-ending knee injury against the Bills and the return of LeGarrette Blount from his nine-month odyssey in Western Pennsylvania.) It’s always dangerous to try and predict what the Patriots are going to do when it comes to utilizing their backs. But given the fact that they settled for less than 100 yards on the ground against the Bills, Broncos, Lions and Jets (all top 10 run defenses) and came away with wins in all four of those games, it wouldn’t be a shock to see them run the ball just enough to keep the New York defense honest, but throw to win.

WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS THE BALL

Not breaking any major news here, but expect tight end Rob Gronkowski to be a sizable part of the game plan. His past career numbers against the Jets (in his last four games against Jets, the big fella has 27 catches on 47 targets for 373 yards and four touchdowns), combined with the fact that New York has struggled mightily to contain tight ends over the course of the season (Football Outsiders ranks them 32nd when it comes to defending tight ends in the passing game this season), are certainly good enough reasons to think that he will play a major role this week against New York. In the last few games where Gronkowski has been good to go, he’s seen a lot of 6-foot-1, 210-pound safety Antonio Allen, and while Allen has done a relatively good job against him — Allen picked off a ball intended for Gronkowski in the first game back for the tight end in 2013, taking it to the house for a pick-six — he still faces a massive challenge in trying to slow Gronkowski, who is the most unguardable option in the league.

If the Jets are going to have a hope of pulling off the upset, they’ll have to demonstrate an ability to get to Patriots quarterback Tom Brady on a consistent basis with their pass rush. Given New York’s ability to pressure the passer over the course of the season — and the occasional struggles of the New England offensive line — this is a possibility. The New York pass rush is led by Sheldon Richardson (6.5 sacks) and Muhammad Wilkerson (4.5 sacks). In the first game of the season between the two teams, the Jets were able to sack Brady once (veteran linebacker David Harris got to him) and hit him seven times, with Wilkerson delivering three of those shots on the quarterback. They need to get to him as fast as possible because, as our scout friend noted here, the Jets secondary has struggled throughout the season, and don’t figure to have much of an answer when it comes to slowing Gronkowski. Look for the tight end to have a particular impact in two areas: that classic seam route down the field is always a favorite against the Jets, while he will also have his usual opportunities in the red zone.

(One more thing worth noting — Vereen has almost always managed to pick up at least one sizable gain in the passing game against the Jets each time there’s a New York-New England matchup. He had five catches for 71 yards and a pair of touchdowns as a receiver the first time these two teams matched up earlier in the year.)
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Why stopping the Jets on third down means everything to Patriots

12.19.14 at 8:02 pm ET
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Devin McCourty and the Patriots defense must find a way to stop Jets on third down. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Devin McCourty and the Patriots defense must find a way to stop Jets on third down. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — Before Chris Jones saved the day with a blocked field goal attempt by Nick Folk on the game’s last play, Bill Belichick remembers exactly how the Patriots found themselves in such a precarious position with the lowly Jets on Oct. 16 at Gillette Stadium.

The Patriots allowed Geno Smith and the Jets to convert 9-of-16 third down chances to extend drives.

“Yeah, killed us,” Belichick recalled Friday morning.

Devin McCourty was a bit more expansive.

“Big point [of emphasis],” McCourty said. “They dominated third down and that gave the ability to dominate the time of possession and keep our offense off the field, keep them in long drive, help them really be able to pound the ball against us. We’ve got to play better on third down.

“Every week, we talk about third down and red area being a lot of times the determining factor in a game. I think it’s no different this week and now, coming up to a game where we’ve already played them, they were over 50 percent on third. It was evidence in watching that film, that third down really killed us.”

If there’s one sure way to keep the 3-11 Jets hanging around on Sunday at MetLife Stadium, it’s allowing them to convert 56 percent of their chances on third down, keeping the Patriots’ defense on the field for extended period.

“Third down was a big problem for us in that game on both sides of the ball,” Belichick said. “It’€™s been a problem for us with them. We don’€™t have the ball very long on offense and we’€™re out there on the field too long on defense. It’€™s us converting them and it’€™s us, well, it’€™s converting them on both sides.”

By contrast, the Patriots converted just 6-of-13 chances (46 percent) on that soggy Thursday night. That night in October, the Jets found a way to convert nine third downs, outrush the Patriots 218-63, outdistance the Patriots in first downs (28-16) and outlast New England in time of possession (40:54-19:06). The Patriots somehow found a way to win.

“It’€™s us converting them offensively to stay on the field and it’€™s us converting them defensively to get off the field and get the ball back for our offense and with good field position,” Belichick added. “We haven’€™t made them punt very much. We just have too many, they have too many extended drives and we’€™ve had too many short ones.”

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Devin McCourty, New England Patriots, New York Jets

Devin McCourty isn’t buying disrespect card played by Jets: ‘There’s no difference between these 2 teams’

12.19.14 at 7:31 pm ET
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FOXBORO — There was a ton of commotion when the reporters were allowed in the Patriots locker room early Friday afternoon. There was Devin McCourty in the middle of everything, yelling and screaming.

He wasn’t trying to fire his team up about finishing the season strong or warning them about the perils of taking the 3-11 Jets lightly Sunday.

No, he was telling everyone within earshot that he leads the fastest group of Patriots on the field. He was willing to race anyone willing, including Jonas Gray, Matthew Slater or even Aaron Dobson.

“It’s matters what we run,” McCourty laughed. “We’re onto the Jets. We’re onto the Jets. You’re going to get me in trouble.”

Once the yelling the settled down, McCourty was asked about the noise coming from New York that some Jets players like Willie Colon and Jeremy Kerley feel disrespected by Patriots players and the entire organization.

“It’d be hard for us to say we don’t respect a team [when] the last three or four games have been decided three points or so and one of them last year, they won. So, I really don’t see how that’s possible. You’ve got two teams that like playing each other,” McCourty said. “You watch the film, you can tell that right away. There was a fight here, scuffle here last year. There’s no love lost between the two teams but I think there’s definitely a good amount of respect definitely coming from our side and I think they respect us, too. And I think that’s why we go out there and we play each other tough and have competitive games. We know how they want to play us, they know how we want to play them and I think that’s why there are so many good games between the two teams.”

To McCourty’s point, the last three games have been decided by three or fewer points. In New England’s 13-10 win in the 2013 home opener, there was a brawl as the Patriots hung on for the win. The Jets got a measure of revenge five weeks later in a 30-27 overtime decision at MetLife Stadium.
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Read More: Devin McCourty, New England Patriots, New York Jets,

Julian Edelman (thigh/concussion), LeGarrette Blount (shoulder) among 12 questionable vs. Jets

12.19.14 at 4:05 pm ET
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LeGarrette Blount. (Getty Images)

LeGarrette Blount. (Getty Images)

FOXBORO — The Patriots had perfect attendance for the last two days of practice but there remain several question marks when it comes to the health and readiness of the team for Sunday’s game against the 3-11 Jets at MetLife Stadium.

As a matter of fact, 12 players were limited for a second straight day and all 12 are officially listed as questionable (50-50 chance of playing) by the Patriots in their final injury report of the week.

Leading that list is Julian Edelman (thigh/concussion), who apparently received a concussion this week during practice. Edelman played in the closing moments of Sunday’s win over the Dolphins and spoke to reporters, not likely if he had been playing with the suspicion of a head injury. LeGarrette Blount (shoulder), Kyle Arrington (hamstring) and Danny Aiken (finger) are among the 12 players limited.

Quarterback Tom Brady (ankle) remained a full participant.

Here is Friday’s complete practice report:

Limited participation

LS Danny Aiken (finger) QUESTIONABLE
CB Kyle Arrington (hamstring) QUESTIONABLE
RB LeGarrette Blount (shoulder) QUESTIONABLE
OL Dan Connolly (knee) QUESTIONABLE
WR Julian Edelman (thigh/concussion) QUESTIONABLE
OL Cameron Fleming (ankle) QUESTIONABLE
LB Dont’€™a Hightower (shoulder) QUESTIONABLE
DE Chandler Jones (hip) QUESTIONABLE
WR Brandon LaFell (shoulder) QUESTIONABLE
DE Rob Ninkovich (heel) QUESTIONABLE
RB Shane Vereen (ankle) QUESTIONABLE
LB Chris White (ankle) QUESTIONABLE

Full participation

QB Tom Brady (ankle) PROBABLE

Read More: injury report, Julian Edelman, LeGarrette Blount, New England Patriots

Alan Branch could have a huge impact, along with Sealver Siliga vs. Jets

12.19.14 at 1:40 pm ET
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Defensive lineman Alan Branch has been a big force for the Patriots. (Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

Defensive lineman Alan Branch has been a big force for the Patriots. (Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — It’s not just Vince Wilfork‘s job to plug the middle anymore.

For years, the Patriots run defense hinged on the ability of the veteran nose tackle to stay on the field, sometimes for the whole game.

With the emergence of Sealver Siliga last year and the addition of Alan Branch this season, the Patriots have some big bodies backing up the big man along the Patriots defensive line.

And with the Jets on deck Sunday at MetLife Stadium, the Patriots have picked a good time to get healthy in the middle of the line where New York loves to run Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson behind Pro Bowl center Nick Mangold.

“I’€™d say the combination of getting Alan and Siliga back,” Belichick said. “It was two weeks ago, right? Well, Branch was longer than that, Siliga and even Chandler [Jones] last week. Those players have definitely given our line more depth and more versatility really.

“Branch is a big guy, Siliga is a big guy, Chandler is more of an edge guy, but when you put them all together, it looks a little different than it did a few weeks ago. The guys that are coming back like Siliga and Branch [has] now been here going on two months, but they have improved. Just like Chandler, his timing and some of the things that he does this week will probably be fundamentally a little better than they were last week.”

Branch, released by the Bills after an August DUI, was considered a project when the team signed him to a one-year deal Oct. 29 after being claimed him off the waiver wire. But now, he is playing on short yardage and early down situations, seeing 16 snaps on Sunday.

“Alan has done a good job. He’€™s had some versatility,” Belichick said Friday. “He’€™s got length, but he’€™s also got size. He’€™s very athletic, [he] runs five flat or whatever. He has good quickness and can move. So, he has the versatility to play some different spots and do some different things along the defensive front.”

But just because he’s playing short yardage and on first and second down doesn’t mean Belichick would hesitate to leave him on the field. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Alan Branch, Bill Belichick, Buffalo Bills, New England Patriots

Chandler Jones back to playing full speed, and Bill Belichick notices

12.19.14 at 1:15 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Chandler Jones had no hesitation in returning to game action last Sunday, playing 55 of 78 snaps in a 41-13 win over the Dolphins.

But more to the point and more importantly, Bill Belichick saw no hesitation in his game. His seven combined tackles was third highest on the team and his 1.5 sacks led a revitalized Patriots pass rush that got after Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

A coach can never be certain a player is ready to return, especially after Jones missed six games with a hip injury. But Belichick said Friday he had a pretty good idea.

“I think you usually get a pretty good indication of it in practice, but there’€™s no substitute for game evaluation. I think that’€™s where you really can highlight it. A guy can look good in practice, you could feel like he’€™s ready to go and then you watch him perform in the game and maybe it’€™s not quite what you thought it would be, or maybe it is.

“I think that’€™s when you really know. Some of that is just confidence too. You go out there and a guy hasn’€™t played for a while and he kind of goes out there and tests it a little bit and then as he feels more confident then he becomes more aggressive.”

Jones was subbed in early on in the first half of last Sunday’s game but after watching the way he was playing, Belichick and the coaching staff gave the green light for him to play almost the rest of the way.

“I’€™d say in Chandler’€™s case, I think he didn’€™t have much of a tentative aspect to his game,” Belichick said. “I thought that he really went out and right off the bat, as soon as he got on the field, his playing style was similar to what it was before. I’€™m not saying that’€™s the case for him, but until you actually see it, the player himself might be a little ‘€˜need to see it,’€™ and the coach might need to see it, too.”

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Julian Edelman again present as Patriots post perfect attendance Friday at practice

12.19.14 at 12:49 pm ET
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FOXBORO — For a second straight day, the Patriots had perfect attendance on a cold, gray day on the lower practice field outside Gillette Stadium.

The 11-3 Patriots are preparing for Sunday’s game against the 3-11 Jets at MetLife Stadium.

The presence of Julian Edelman is a good sign that he could be available after a concussion resulted in his name being added to the injury report Wednesday.

Edeman played in the final minutes of Sunday’s win and spoke postgame, leading to speculation that the injury occurred during Wednesday’s practice. Having him present at the start of practice on Thursday and again on Friday is a good sign for his availability Sunday.

The team worked out in sweats and shells.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

Read More: Julian Edelman, New England Patriots, New York Jets,
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