The concerns of New England Patriots fans sharply turned from the secondary to offensive line this week.
New Englanders combed through the other 31 NFL rosters trying to find cornerbacks available for trades after Tarell Brown was placed on injured reserve, but Rashaan Melvin — who Tom Brady torched in the Patriots’ postseason win over the Baltimore Ravens last season — was New England’s choice to claim off waivers last week.
The cornerbacks are off the hook now with left tackle Nate Solder on injured reserve and three other starting offensive linemen nursing injuries.
Starting left tackle Marcus Cannon already has been ruled out with a toe injury suffered against the Indianapolis Colts last week, while left guard Shaq Mason and swing guard Josh Kline are questionable. Mason is unlikely to play against the New York Jets in Week 7 after sitting out Wednesday and Thursday’s practices with a bum knee. The severity of Kline’s shoulder injury is unknown, but it was enough to limit him in all three practices this week.
The Patriots have five fully healthy offensive linemen going into Sunday’s game, and one, Ryan Wendell, hasn’t played yet this season after an illness knocked him out of two weeks of practice.
Brady’s quick passes better keep working, or else he could frequently wind up face down on the Gillette Stadium turf. Here are three keys to beating the Jets this week:
AVOID RISKS WHILE TARGETING DARRELLE REVIS
Brady knows Darrelle Revis as well or better than the Jets cornerback knows the Patriots’ offense. Revis becomes more dangerous as he gets further down the field, where he can use his instincts and closing speed. Brady needs to avoid mistakes against the Jets’ secondary, and that means continuing to focus on shorter passes.
When Brady has a chance to drop back and take a risk downfield, he should be looking far away from Revis and toward cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie and Buster Skrine, safety Calvin Pryor and linebackers David Harris and Demario Davis.
Revis will give up receptions, but they’ll likely come on shorter patterns by wide receiver Julian Edelman.
This could be a big game for tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is a difficult matchup for the Jets’ safeties and linebackers. And if the Jets bracket Gronkowski with free safety Marcus Gilchrist, that will only open up the field for other targets, including wide receiver Brandon LaFell.
TRUST THE SECONDARY AND LOAD UP AGAINST THE RUN
Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has 13 touchdowns, 17 interceptions and a 1-6 record against the Patriots, won’t win this game for the Jets. But Chris Ivory, who is playing like the best running back in the NFL, could contribute toward a winning effort.
Ivory has been fantastic this season, averaging 5.5 yards per carry while running for 460 yards on 83 carries. To stop him, the Patriots will need to load up against the run, and that could mean a 3-4 alignment with three 300-pound defensive tackles in the middle of the Patriots’ front seven.
The Patriots have nice depth at the position with Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Akiem Hicks, Sealver Siliga and Dominique Easley. They could use Jamie Collins and either Dont’a Hightower (if healthy) or Jerod Mayo at inside linebacker with Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich on the edge.
Going heavy on base personnel would mean trusting a combination of defensive backs Logan Ryan, Devin McCourty, Malcolm Butler, Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon to take away the Jets’ passing attack — which now includes wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who’s averaging over 100 yards per game at 31 years old.
WIN THE TURNOVER BATTLE
The Patriots are just 35-43 in the Bill Belichick era when they lose the turnover battle, and last week’s game against the Colts was the first time New England had more giveaways than takeaways this season.
The Jets are one of just six teams in the NFL who have a higher turnover differential than the Patriots. The Patriots have seven takeaways and three giveaways, while the Jets have 15 takeaways and 10 giveaways. This game will match strength vs. strength and weakness vs. weakness and feature another epic battle between Brady and Revis.
Fitzpatrick vs. McCourty isn’t nearly as tightly contested, which is why the Patriots should win the turnover battle and the game.
Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via Sep 27, 2015; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots free safety Devin McCourty (32) intercepts a pass by Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles (5) (not pictured) in the second quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports