It’s a playoff atmosphere in early December and first place in the AFC East is at stake. Gang Green is eager to establish their place among the elite on Monday Night when they visit the Patriots for a contest with home-field advantage implications in the postseason (8:30 p.m. ESPN).
The Jets (9-2), an improved team since handing the Pats a 14-point defeat in Week 2, have an opportunity to remain perfect on the road and in the division. By relying less on the run and more on second-year quarterback Mark Sanchez, who’s avoided costly mistakes while emerging as a leader in the clutch, Gang Green’s offense has become more dynamic.
Since trading away Randy Moss, New England (9-2) has become a more diverse offense with new playmakers stepping up each week. The efficient Tom Brady is tied for the league high in touchdown passes (23), with only four interceptions on the season.
Save the “Ground & Pound” for later
With the Jets running game in neutral, Sanchez has led a more potent passing attack, throwing for 1,116 yards and seven scores during the Jets’ current four-game win streak. Given Sanchez’s success, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer should tailor his play selection to target the Pats’ league-worst secondary. New England’s pass defense has allowed an average of 288 yards per game, with 21 touchdowns and 42 plays of 20 yards or more.
Floating the islands
Without Moss, or any game-breaking receiver in New England, the Jets secondary can allow cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie to roam the middle of the field and participate in blitz packages. By shifting them to the inside, the Jets could neutralize the slippery Wes Welker and versatile rookie tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski without fear of being scorched for a big play downfield. Also, according to ESPN, Brady’s has posted a 69.5 passer rating when defensive backs blitz — seventh-worst in the league.
Working through the Pats’ zone
In his last outing against New England, Sanchez completed 70 percent of his passes (just short of his regular-season career high) by working underneath the Patriots’ zone schemes. However, since Sanchez is now more willing to escape the pocket to make plays, mixing his elusiveness with quick-timing patterns could keep defenders on their heels while opening space for the run.
Make the Wildcat wilder
Brad Smith propelled the Jets past Cincinnati with two touchdowns on Thanksgiving night, scoring on a 53-yard reverse and again on an 89-yard kick return. Given Smith’s diversity and athleticism, the former college quarterback’s predictable option plays from the Jets’ Wildcat formation should provide an opportunity to surprise the Patriots with an unexpected throw.