The 1-0 Patriots travel to the Meadowlands to take on the 1-0 Jets, so the victor will enter Week 3 leading the division. The Patriots enter the game 47-43-1 against the Jets in their long-standing rivalry, which has been refueled by the media this week. Here are a few of the things the Patriots need to do Sunday to turn last week's win into a winning streak.
1. Continue running the ball
In their first game of the season against the Bills, the Patriots had the second-most rushing first downs in the NFL. Laurence Maroney racked up 86 yards on 17 carries and Corey Dillon gained 73 yards on 16 carries. The two combined for 159 yards against Buffalo, and will need to continue to perform at this level while Tom Brady gets comfortable with a group of receivers he's largely unfamiliar with. The offensive line did a great job of opening holes in the Bills defense for the runners, but Buffalo finished 31st in the league at defending the run last season. The Jets didn't do much better, closing the 2005 season with the fourth-worst run defense in the NFL, so if the running backs and linemen keep up the good work then the Pats should be able to keep drives alive.
2. Improve the pass protection
The Patriots started the season off on the wrong foot by blowing the pass protection and allowing Takeo Spikes to fly in unscathed and sack Brady. The play resulted in a touchdown for Buffalo. That wasn't the only problem the offense had with pass protection in that game - the Patriots only passed for 136 net yards last week. Ok. They weren't as bad as Oakland's line, which allowed nine sacks last week, but the Patriots offensive line is a more capable group than they looked. They've shown their ability to move would-be tacklers out of the play in the running game, but a great offensive line needs to be able to protect the passer as well. Brady admitted that the soap opera dubbed "The Branch situation" weighed on his mind a little last week, but that's over now and shouldn't be a factor. He'll throw it well to whomever's open, and the Pats receivers can get open, but Brady needs to assess the play before delivering the ball. Giving him more time to do that will be a needed improvement this week.
3. Prevent big returns
Last week the Patriots coverage units keptTerrance McGee from breaking any kick returns open. He could be the best kick returner in the NFL, but the Jets Justin Miller is right up there – they both put up similar numbers last week. RookieLeon Washington returned a few during the preseason, including a 50-yarder in the final week. The Jets kick return team does a good job of creating room for their return men to run, and they broke one wide open for a touchdown in their second preseason game against the Redskins. The Jets offense seems transformed since last season, at least in their first game, but they could still have trouble stringing together 12-play drives against the Patriots defense. Preventing big returns will force them to try and march the ball down field and test their long-drive ability, which hasn't been successful against the Patriots in the past.
4. Stop Laveranues Coles
Ellis Hobbs shadowed Lee Evans for much of the Bills game, limiting him to only two receptions. Hobbs refused to give anything away about how the Patriots intend to stop Laveranues Coles this week, but Coles caught eight passes for 153 yards against the Titans last week. With Chad Pennington looking fully recovered from his shoulder surgery and the Jets running game now limited by Curtis Martin's absence, the Jets will be looking to throw to Coles whenever they can. Coles had a catch for a 41-yard gain last week. It's those kind of big plays that could come back to haunt the Patriots. If Hobbs or Asante Samuel can keep Coles covered up, that will force Pennington to look around for another target, making sacks and turnovers more likely. Jerricho Cotchery and Justin McCareins are both good receivers, but they don't compare to Coles. Shutting him down will force the Jets to become 1-dimensional, running the ball whenever they think they can.
5. Keep flying around on defense
Last week against the Bills, the defense saved the game by scoring two points on a safety. They hadn't done that since the 2003 season. The safety went to Ty Warren on the stat cards, but as the week progressed and analysis of the play became available, it became apparent that the play was the result of a great effort by the entire defense - from Tully Banta-Cain who broke through the line as well, to Junior Seau who played the pass coverage perfectly. After the game, Rosevelt Colvin talked about the importance of taking advantage of opportunities whenever they present themselves, which is exactly what the defense needs to keep doing. Whether it's Samuel having the confidence to make a jump on a ball he thinks he can intercept, or Colvin following up a 9-yard sack with a batted pass, the defense needs to keep flying around and playing their kind of football. Tedy Bruschi spoke today and there's no way to know if he'll play on Sunday, but even if he doesn't, the Patriots defense needs to maintain the intensity with which they played last week.
Bill Belichick was the Jets assistant coach from 1997-99 … Jets Head Coach Eric Mangini was the Patriots defensive backs coach from 2000-04 and the defensive coordinator in 2005. … Defensive line coach Pepper Johnson played for two seasons with the Jets before retiring in 1999. … Patriots Vice President of Player Personnel Scott Pioli was the director of pro personnel for the Jets from 1997-99. … Jets running back Curtis Martin, currently on the team's PUP list, was drafted by the Patriots in the third round of the 1995 NFL draft and played three seasons with the Pats. … Linebacker Don Davis originally signed with the Jets as a rookie free agent in 1995. … Jets linebacker Matt Chatham was originally with the Patriots as an undrafted free agent and spent his first six seasons with the Pats before joining the Jets this season. … Jets wide receiver Tim Dwight spent the 2005 season with the Patriots. … Jets tight end Sean Ryan and Patriots center Dan Koppen were teammates at Boston College. … Jets guard Brandon Moore and Patriots safety Eugene Wilson were teammates at Illinois. … Jets linebacker Jonathan Vilma was a teammate with Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork at Miami. … Jets fullbackB.J. Askew and linebacker Victor Hobson were teammates at Michigan with Tom Brady and Patriots linebacker Pierre Woods, though Woods and Brady weren't there at the same time.