The hallmark of the New England Patriots of the last decade has been their high-octane offense. The same rings true this season as the Pats are at the top of the league in passing yards per game, second in total yards and fourth in scoring offense. It's a unit that poses a problem for every opposing defense.
"You have to balance your looks," defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said at his weekly news conference today. "That's the hard part. You can't just play the same way because they will have made adjustments to it. It's a balancing act. You have to have your core looks that have worked well, but you have to mix in the new."
New England's quick-thinking, adaptive offense burned the Jets late in their Week 5 game. The Patriots, leading by six midway through the fourth quarter, completed a 13-play, 69-yard drive in which RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis carried the ball 10 times en route to a field goal that put the game out of reach.
The Green & White never saw the ground onslaught coming.
"We thought there was a reasonable chance we'd get some run," said Pettine. "By the time we were able to change personnel, we were at midfield. We got some bigger people on the field and then made some mistakes."
Defensively, the Jets seem to have corrected those errors. They rank in the top 10 in the NFL in total yards and passing yards allowed per game and in third-down efficiency.
"We continue to grow, continue to accept coaching," said CB Kyle Wilson. "Everybody's just accepting a new challenge each week, going out with a new attitude and with something to prove."
The Jets had plenty to prove after the loss to New England dropped them to 2-3. Now riding a three-game winning streak, they have answered the bell.
"From a coaching standpoint, you feel what we do is so important," said Pettine. "But we tell our players it's not about the game plan. It's our execution, our level of intensity."
That level may be higher than usual come Sunday night, as the Jets have an opportunity to place one game's distance between themselves and New England. With the Patriots riding consecutive losses, Pettine and his staff have been able to study the successes that opposing defenses have enjoyed against Tom Brady and Co.
"Pittsburgh surprised them by playing a lot of press-man coverage," said Pettine. "It seemed the Patriots had a plan to beat the zone, but Pittsburgh went very out of character against them. But with Brady, you never feel comfortable. That's a very intelligent group up there."
Regardless what the general defensive approach will be on Sunday, there will be an emphasis on WR Wes Welker.
"That's Brady's go-to guy," said S Eric Smith. "If he could throw the ball to him every time, he would."
After opening the season on a record-breaking pace, Welker has seen his share of physical play. He has recently endured a string of battering defenders, intent on knocking him off his route and disrupting his timing, in turn affecting Brady's progression. He's listed as limited in practice this week with a rib injury.
"It's definitely important to get your hands on him," said Wilson. "They run a lot of crossing routes. It's predicated on free access. They want you to play off them so they can get to their spots. It's our job to disrupt that."
In the October matchup between the two teams, Welker was held to five receptions, the fewest he has had all season. Yet the danger in focusing too hard on him is losing sight of the countless other weapons the Patriots have.
"They can put five guys out there," said Pettine. "There is a potential mismatch at every spot. We need to know what our matchup is, know when to double-team. That's what makes them so dangerous. They're so good at identifying that."