Sunday, September 14, 2008

Patriots 19, Jets 10 (9/14/2008)

My question to you is this: would you rather be the first place, 2-0 Patriots with a backup at quarterback, or the last place, 0-2 Chargers, Bengals, or Jaguars with the usual starter at QB? By season's end, things could look different, but the Patriots out-hustled and out-worked the Jets for a 19-10 victory in New Jersey. And at the moment, they are tied for first place in the AFC East (with Buffalo); while the Chargers, Bengals, and Jaguars are all dead last in their divisions. It's an interesting question... maybe they'd all take 2-0 with the other talent the Patriots possess.

The Patriots defied everyone (me included) and rode a competent performance by Matt Cassel, a sometimes punishing running game, and vastly superior special teams play to the top of the division. It isn't often you credit the special teams with a victory, but the Patriots average drive started on their 42 yard-line, while the average Jets drive started on their 21 yard-line. It was due mostly to very good returns and excellent kick coverage.

The Patriots did get one more turnover than the Jets, but looking for any other edge outside of special teams is futile. Rushing yards were even (Jets 104 to Patriots 104), passing yards were close (181 to 165), QB sacks were close (3 to 2), and there was just the one turnover. The most glaring differences favored the Patriots special teams: punting average was 50 to 40.5, and Kevin Faulk's 53 punt return yards to zero for the entire Jets team. Not saying that was the only reason they won, but it was a major factor.

New QB Matt Cassel was sacked on his first three passing plays of the third quarter, and it was the best thing that could have happened. Because he ate the ball, did not try to do to much or force a bad pass, and thus did not throw the killer interception that could have cost the Patriots the game. I wrote last week that the Jets would be patient and wait for Cassel to make the critical mistake. Looks like they'll have to wait nine more weeks, when they next play the Patriots in Foxboro.

The O-line did a serviceable job, despite giving up the three sacks early in the third quarter. They blocked well on the short screens and opened up running lanes late that helped them seal the deal. LaMont Jordan (11 carries for 62 yards) was their most effective running back, perhaps motivated by playing his former team. And Kevin Faulk threw in a three good runs (for 16 yards), none of which went for first downs but all of which helped get them close to first downs. The only receiver worth mentioning is Wes Welker, who caught them short, medium, and long -- and this week, he didn't fumble!

The defensive line and linebackers are playing very well indeed. The Jets couldn't run inside much, and the Patriots front line got pressure without blitzing, which had Favre throwing off his back foot all day. Ty Warren was the star of the game, and Richard Seymour continues to improve towards his pre-injury level of play. And I note that they continue to rotate linemen, which gives them solid play from Jarvis Green and Mike Wright.

Adalius Thomas played the best of the linebackers. He couldn't keep up with a Jets wideout early in the game, but aside from that he was great at setting the edge against the run and sacked Favre for a 20-yard loss late in the game. I think Tedy Bruschi was the second best of the 'backers, and he is clearly benefits from having Jerod Mayo next to him and Thomas and Mike Vrabel in their more dominant outside positions. It's been a struggle for #54 the past few years, but Mayo looks like he might stick (even though he reacts a bit too much to QB scrambles at this point). Heck, even Pierre Woods looks better with the revamped LB-corps.

With the front-seven playing so well, the defensive backfield is rounding into form. When the pressure doesn't get to the QB, there are still receivers running free. But Ellis Hobbs knocked away at least two passes, Deltha O'Neal cut off a passing lane and almost intercepted the ball, and last year's hands-of-stone nominee, Brandon Meriweather, finally picked off a ball. I don't see this unit being dominant this season, but if the front-seven is dominant, the defensive backfield should hold its own.

Special teams, you ask? Chris Hanson, 50 yards a punt. Stephen Gostkowski, 4-4 on field goals and 5-6 kickoffs went for touchbacks. Kevin Faulk I've already written about, but how about Ray Ventrone, who blasted the Jets only kickoff returner at the 20. Overall, the Patriots won this phase of the game decisively, and it might have made the difference between a win and a loss.

So where does that leave us? 2-0 and tied atop the AFC East with the Buffalo Bills. If Cassel can continue to play mistake free (or at least avoid the *big* mistakes), the Patriots could well contend for the division title. Hell, they're already one game ahead of where I thought they'd be :) Up next is a Miami team that has all the hallmarks of a major rebuilding program. This could be a dangerous game, but frankly it isn't nearly as dangerous as the Jets game should have been.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: In their first NFL starts, Tom Brady and Matt Cassel had amazingly similar statlines:
Brady went 13- 23, 168 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs
Cassel went 16-23, 165 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs
Even odder -- if you add up all the numbers from each stat line, you get the *exact* same total:
Now *that's* a little bit spooky, isn't it?

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "The NFL might be a quarterbacks league, but I think Carson Palmer [0-2 Bengals] and Phillip Rivers [0-2 Chargers] might like to trade places with Matt Cassel right about now."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 2-0!

No comments:

Post a Comment