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Who Are the Key Players to Watch, Patriots – Jets

Steve Balestrieri
Steve Balestrieri on Twitter
December 26, 2015 at 9:35 am ET

Who Are the Key Players to Watch, Patriots – Jets(PHOTO: Greg M. Cooper - USA TODAY Sports)

🕑 Read Time: 6 minutes

The Patriots need just one more win to lock up the #1 seed and clinch home field advantage for the playoffs but they’ll have to travel down to the New Jersey Meadowlands and beat the New York Jets to do so.

The Pats (12-2), dispatched the lowly Tennessee Titans 33-16 last week but are banged up with 17 players on IR and another 13 dealing with different types of injuries. This will be a tough playoff-like test for the Patriots.

The Jets (9-5), are still very much in the playoff hunt but need to win both of their games and get some help as both the Chiefs and Steelers hold tiebreakers over them. The Jets enter on a roll having won four in a row.

We already broke down this game with our Key matchups breaking down the offensive, defensive and special team’s units for this week.

Now it is time for our players to watch for this week:

Steven Jackson: The Patriots newest running back hasn’t played in a year and questions remain on how much the talented back for the Rams and Falcons has left in the tank as well as how sharp he will be having just a few practices under his belt.

Jackson is a big, powerful runner and a good receiver out of the backfield so the Patriots may opt to use him in the passing game on early downs as well. For a player who hasn’t been on the field for so long, ball security will be a key area to watch.

We expect Jackson to get between 10-15 touches in the game and if he can give the Patriots some semblance of balance in this one it will take a ton of pressure off of Brady and the offensive line in trying to pass protect.

Key stat: In the first meeting back in October the Patriots rushed only nine times for 16 yards on the day. Brady led the Patriots in rushing with 15 yards on four carries. The Jets allow an average of only 82 yards per game on the ground and have given up just two rushing touchdowns in 2015.

Brandon Marshall: The talented Jets receiver was frustrated in the opening game between the two teams. The Patriots used cornerback Logan Ryan with over-the-top safety help to neutralize Marshall and he had one of his least productive games in 2015.

Marshall also had two of his seven drops of the season in that game including a key drop in the end zone that would have increased the Jets lead to eight in the pivotal fourth quarter in the 30-23 loss.

The plan was to get him the ball more often which resulted in Ryan Fitzpatrick having to look elsewhere in the passing game. Look for the Jets to move him around a bit more in this one and possibly put him in motion with some short crossing routes to get him involved more quickly this time around.

“He’s a guy we always want to get the ball to,” said QB Ryan Fitzpatrck.  “But we’ve also just got to make sure that we kind of pick and choose the right time to do it. But he’s always going to be a big part of our offense.”

Key Stat: Marshall had only four catches for 67 yards in the Week 7 matchup, for the Jets most prolific receiver with 93 catches for nearly 1300 yards and 11 touchdowns, that was a win for the Patriots defense. This time around will be a bigger test as Marshall looks for some payback.

Tom Brady: In the first meeting in October, Brady with closer to a full-complement of weapons albeit with a banged up offensive line, eschewed the running game for the short passing game and completed 35 of 54 passes for 354 yards and two touchdowns in the comeback win.

Brady will have to win this one without the services of both Julian Edelman (doubtful) and Danny Amendola (questionable), both of whom are key elements in the Patriots quick passing game. Brady will still have TE Rob Gronkowski who had a big game the first time around with 11 catches for 108 yards and a touchdown. But the Jets will put a premium on stopping him Sunday. Both he and James White will need to step up.

Key Stat: Of Brady’s 19 incompletions the first game, 11 were drops including six by Brandon LaFell who was in his first action after missing all of the spring and summer. But in the pivotal 4th quarter with New England down by four, Brady was vintage; he hit on 14 of 17 for 150 yards and two touchdowns in the comeback win.

Muhammad Wilkerson: The Jets big man in the defensive line is having an outstanding season. He’s been a force at stopping the run as well as rushing the passer. He’s due to hit free-agency in March and his stellar play in 2015 is adding up to dollar signs for 6’4, 315 defensive end.

Normally facing a double team, Wilkerson is a tough man to account for in the running game. The Jets like to move him around a bit on the defensive line to find a mismatches in pass rushing situations and he’s a guy that can get after the opposing quarterback as he sacked Brady in the first matchup.

Whoever lines up opposite Wilkerson is likely to have some help as he’s proven to be a player the Patriots will have to account for on every down. He has 12 sacks this season, a career high and will be looking to get even more on Sunday.

Key Stat: Wilkerson has been very consistent this season notching sacks in seven of the Jets 14 games this season but his best game was perhaps against Tennessee where he sacked Titans QBs three times, had a pass defensed and forced a fumble.

If the Jets get any kind of production like that on Sunday, things will be looking good for Gang Green’s defense.

Malcolm Butler: The Patriots second-year corner has transformed from an undrafted free agent and part-time player as a rookie to the Patriots starting left corner. Butler was just named to the Pro Bowl this week in just his second season. The confidence that the coaching staff has shown in him is particularly telling; the team frequently leaves him out alone 1-on-1 with opponents best WRs.

This week, he’ll probably draw the Jets Eric Decker and he’ll have to be on top of his game. Decker is the Jets second leading receiver with 72 catches for 930 yards and 10 touchdowns. But Jets coach Todd Bowles says that Butler is already one of the top corners in the league.

“He studies the game,” Bowles said about Butler. “He’s not just a man-corner, he’s a zone corner too. He’s got very good technique which is rare. He’s got great hand-eye coordination, and reads the ball well and accepts all challenges. You can tell he works at it. I enjoy watching him play.”

Key Stat: In the first game Butler didn’t have one of his best games. The Jets were 5 for 11 for 82 yards when passing to Decker. But Butler was flagged three times; once for illegal use of hands, holding and an 18-yard pass interference penalty. He’ll be looking to improve on that performance this week.

Ryan Fitzpatrick: The Jets much-traveled quarterback seems to have found a home in New York. Fitzpatrick has transformed himself into a solid starter and is having a career year. Fitzpatrick’s 26 passing touchdowns are just three shy of the Jets all-time single season record set by Vinnie Testaverde.

During the Jets recent four-game winning streak, Fitzpatrick has been excellent, passing for 1229 yards, with 10 touchdown passes and only one interception. He’s been the catalyst to the Jets resurgent offense led by the passing game in the second half of the season. He may look to get RB Bilal Powell involved early in this game; Powell missed the first meeting with an ankle injury.

Fitzpatrick has developed a nice chemistry with the mercurial Marshall who is in the Top 10 of NFL WRs in catches, yards and touchdowns. The Jets 1-2 tandem of Marshall and Decker lead the NFL with 21 touchdown receptions. It is no surprise that during the winning streak Fitzpatrick has hit Marshall frequently, he’s had three 100-yard games.

Key Stat: Fitzpatrick passed for 295 yards in the first game between the two teams and was sacked just twice. The Jets have allowed only 20 sacks this season and Fitzpatrick has gone down just 17 times. The Patriots have 47 sacks on the season and have had at least one sack in the past 27 games, the longest current streak in the NFL.

The key on Sunday will be for New England to get to him much more frequently than they did the first time. He’s playing at a level now where if he gets the time, he’ll find one of the plethora of talented receivers the Jets own.

Stay tuned to and we’ll have post-game analysis of the opener as well as transcripts from Bill Belichick’s press conference immediately after the game.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.


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About Steve Balestrieri

A former US Army Special Forces NCO and Officer, Steve has been following the Patriots since their days at Fenway Park. Steve has worked in the film industry and wrote as an Military Editor at, as a reporter for the Millbury Daily Voice, Millbury-Sutton Chronicle, and the Grafton News. He's also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

Tags: 2015 NFL Season Bilal Powell Bill Belichick Brandon LaFell Brandon Marshall Buffalo Bills Chandler Jones Chris Ivory Danny Amendola Dion Lewis Eric Decker Foxboro Stadium Julian Edelman LaGarrette Blount Malcolm Butler Muhammad Wilkerson New England Patriots New York Jets NFL Patriots Rob Gronkowski Ryan Fitzpatrick Todd Bowles Tom Brady

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