Cotchery has two touchdowns against the Pats this season
Besides turnovers, there may be no more important gameday statistics than red zone touchdown percentage and third down percentage. The New England Patriots excel in both areas, and the Jets know they'll have to rise to the challenge come Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
"With New England, they have been excellent in the red area both offensively and defensively," said Jets head coach Eric Mangini on Friday. "They have been excellent in points allowed defensively and also points scored. That's another thing I learned in my time there was the most important statistic always comes down to points scored and points allowed."
The Patriots averaged 24.1 points per game in the regular season and only allowed 14.8 points per game. Those numbers placed the Pats seventh and second in the respective categories, and they can be directly linked to good play inside the red zone and on third down.
Over the course of 16 regular season games, the Patriots scored touchdowns on 60% of their trips inside the red zone; only four teams owned a higher percentage. They also kept drives alive offensively by converting 42.5% of the time (7th in the NFL) on third downs. If they failed to convert on third down, the Pats didn't mind pulling the trigger on fourth down. New England converted 16 times on 20 attempts, a healthy percentage which paced the NFL. It doesn't hurt that they have Tom Brady, two-time Super Bowl MVP, running the show when a conversion is needed.
"Even going back to when I played with him in college, we always felt confident that he would be able to deal with adversity," said linebacker Victor Hobson, a former teammate of Brady's at the University of Michigan. "The main thing is trying to present different looks and not allowing him to feel comfortable. If we allow him to feel comfortable, it will be a long day."
Defensively, New England's numbers were even more impressive. The AFC East Champions allowed a 35.9% conversion rate on third down, which ranked eight in the NFL. They were also stout with their backs to the end zone, yielding touchdowns 34.3% of the time when opponents reached the red zone. That percentage was good for second-best in the league.
"They are very difficult against the run, which makes it difficult to run it in" Mangini said of the Patriots. "In the passing game they have combination coverages, so it's not just a standard coverage. There are different ways they can double-team receivers. There are variations in terms of what they present coverage-wise and recognizing the two."
The Jets, who averaged 19.8 points per game in '06, ranked just 20th in the league in red zone TD percentage at 45.8%. But the Green & White were one of the elite teams on third down, converting an impressive 43.8% of the time. That was fourth-best in the NFL as quarterback Chad Pennington had little difficulty moving the chains.
"Chad does an excellent job with finding the open receiver," Mangini said of his seventh-year passer. "We have had some third down conversions throughout the year that were just sheer effort plays, guys diving over line. That to me is not just effort but awareness of where the sticks are and what exactly the yardage needed is."
The Patriots know all about this Jets' sheer effort plays on third down. Back in September at the Meadowlands, the Jets converted 11 of 18 against the visitors for a 61% clip. Two of those conversions were highlight-reel plays coming from wideouts Jerricho Cotchery and Laveranues Coles. Cotchery scored a remarkable 71-yard touchdown on a 3rd and 13 play, and then Coles eluded a half of a dozen or so Patriots on a 46-yard score coming on 3rd and 8.
Bob Sutton's defensive unit played great football down the stretch. The Jets, who surrendered just 18.4 points per game, finished 19th in red zone touchdown percentage (52.2%) and 10th in the league on third down conversions (36.5%). Throughout the season, the Jets literally painted a yellow line on the practice field – not unlike what you see on your television screen – to symbolize the first down marker. Mangini credited his offensive coordinator for the idea.
"On the field, we have the yellow lines that you'll see that will go across," he said during his morning presser. "That is something Brian (Schottenheimer) brought from San Diego. We use those lines as a guide. We have the sticks set up, which is great. We also have it all the way across the field, so defensively you know exactly where the ball needs to get to and offensively the same thing. I think that has helped us overall."
In two meetings this season, the Jets out-played the Pats on third down while converting 55% of the time and holding the Patriots to 42% on third down conversions. The Pats dominated red zone action, scoring four touchdowns in eight opportunities. Conversely, the Jets were limited to just three third red zone opportunities and scored one touchdown on a two-yard run from running back Kevan Barlow.
These numbers bear watching come this weekend. A berth in the AFC divisional playoffs is on the line.
Good family news for the Green & White. Anthony Clement and his wife, Lahoma, celebrated the birth of a baby son, Caleb, on Tuesday. Earlier Friday morning, Chris Baker became a proud father of Chris Baker Jr. "It's good to have some more additions to the Jets family," Mangini said…
Friday Injury Report Jets Questionable: FB B.J. Askew (foot), RB Kevan Barlow (thigh), CB David Barrett (hip), WR Laveranues Coles (jaw), CB Andre Dyson (knee), FB James Hodgins (knee), C Nick Mangold (knee), OL Brandon Moore (ankle), S Kerry Rhodes (knee) & DL Dewayne Robertson (knee)
Probable: *LB Matt Chatham (foot), *RB Cedric Houston (calf), *QB Chad Pennington (calf), *DB Eric Smith (foot) & *DE Bryan Thomas (shoulder)
Patriots Out: S Rodney Harrison (knee)
Questionable: WR Bam Childress (ankle), RB Kevin Faulk (knee), CB/S Chad Scott (back), TE Benjamin Watson (knee) & NT Vince Wilfork (ankle)
Probable: *QB Tom Brady (r shoulder), *CB Ellis Hobbs (wrist), *DL Richard Seymour (elbow) & LB Mike Vrabel (back)
*Denotes players who participated in practice