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SNY- Jets vs Pats by the numbers


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09/07/2007 2:38 PM ET

Jets vs. Pats by the numbers

If Pennington can't deliver it will be a long day for the Jets

By Michael Salfino / SNY.tv

Thomas Jones' (left) will be making his first start as a member of the New York Jets. (AP)

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New England Patriots (-6.5) at New York Jets, Sunday, 1 p.m.

Key Stats: Last year, the Patriots were 13th in net yards per pass attempt (YPA), 2nd in net interceptions, 3rd in move net (runs plus completions minus those allowed by their defense), 1st in net points per pass attempt (PPA, only TD passes for and against relative to pass attempts), 1st in net red zone possessions and 6th in net third-down percentage.

The Jets were 12th in Net YPA, 13th in net picks (remember, interceptions correlate to winning far better than do lost fumbles), 13th in move net, 17th in net PPA, 15th in net red zone possessions and 4th in net third-down percentage.

Analysis: Eric Mangini's Jets were 1-2 last year versus the Patriots, and Vegas thinks the Jets have lost a little ground on the defending AFC East champs since last September, when the Jets were six-point underdogs versus New England at the Meadowlands.

The Patriots seem primed for a fall. Star defensive lineman Richard Seymour is out six weeks. Safety Rodney Harrison, the leader of the secondary, was suspended four games for steroid use. And Tom Brady was unable to work with new weapon Randy Moss (hamstring) all preseason. Donte' Stallworth also had an undisclosed injury. Slot receiver Wes Walker was healthy, but he and Brady did not appear to be on the same page in games. Of course, the really important preseason stuff takes place on practice fields away from our eyes.

So, banged up Pats defense plus rusty passing game equals Jets upset, right? Unfortunately, Jets fans, we've seen Bill Belichick work miracles with backups before. And no matter how rusty the Patriots offense looked at times in August, the Jets and Chad Pennington looked far worse.

No matter who is on the field, you know the Patriots are going to take away the underneath and middle routes and dare Pennington to beat them on deeper sideline throws, which they don't think he can throw. The stats from last year also say he lacks the arm strength to hit on these passes. And, of course, so do our eyes when we see those lollipop throws. Last year, Pennington threw TD passes of 22, 46, 71 and 77 yards versus the Patriots (three games including playoffs). But take away those plays and Pennington averaged an awful 8.7 yards per completion against New England last year. To put that into context, last year Tony Romo averaged 8.6 yards per attempt.

Despite the loss of Seymour, the Patriots should be able to generate pressure with free-agent acquisition Adalius Thomas, who will lineup everywhere and will normally be pointed right at Pennington. Tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson will try to protect Pennington's blind side. I keep looking for something special from Ferguson, but he often looks to me like a JAG (just another guy).

The Patriots really beat the Jets up last year with their running game. It's no longer two-headed, with Corey Dillon retired, but second-year man Laurence Maroney is big, fast and very capable of greatness every week. The only question with him is whether he can take the every-down pounding.

The Jets run defense is a concern, of course, especially in the red zone where running is much more important generally; but their secondary play and ability to generate pressure will be a bigger factor this week, as it is every week in almost every game. Last year, the Jets were able to pressure Brady with heavy blitzing. That's a dangerous way to play, of course, but it's usually very effective on third and longs because the QBs safety read can only get the first down if he breaks a tackle. Of course, with the type of run defense the Jets play, third and long isn't a down and distance we see nearly enough. The Patriots brought in Moss and Stallworth to strongly discourage blitzing on first and second down.

The Jets look like they'll have Thomas Jones (quad) at least in some capacity. He's practiced partially all week. That may mean nothing. But we'll only find out from Mangini if we shoot him up with a double dose of sodium pentothal. The Jets offensive line did not look in the preseason to be remotely capable of powering a top-shelf NFL running game. But maybe something will click when the switch gets flipped for real.

Prediction: This is a very important game for New York with the trip next week to Baltimore, which should have a sparkling defense again. You don't want to start 0-2, of course, though that's no longer quite the season death sentence it used to be. But, assuming Brady is Brady and his receivers are healthy (very likely considering the late cut of last year's top weapon, Reche Caldwell), they'll be too much for a Jets defense lacking definable strengths. Rookie cornerback Darrelle Revis will need to play great in his first game against a Hall of Fame quarterback. How likely is that? Pennington will have to hit on some more big plays of the catch-and-run variety. The beleaguered run defense must contain Maroney. Instead, I see Maroney going off for about 125 and a touchdown. Brady will find his rhythm in the second half with a couple of scoring strikes to whoever happens to be open. Pennington struggles and gives rise to a whispers for Kellen Clemens that will grow louder after Week 2. Thomas Jones is held under 70 yards, but nifty Leon Washington adds in a couple of big plays.

Patriots 27, Jets 13.

Michael Salfino is a nationally syndicated columnist and analyst.

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