If I told you that Mark Sanchez had more pass attempts than Tom Brady this year, would you believe me? Probably not, considering how the Jets had over 100 more rushing attempts than the next highest team last year and threw less than any other team. That's not the case this year, however; though New York still ranks 2nd in rush attempts per game, we are beginning to see signs of balance with the Jets ranking in at 20th in the league in pass attempts.
The biggest difference in the team from last year to this year is the reason why there is more balance -- the improved play of Mark Sanchez. For all the flak he got last year (some definitely deserved), he was still just a 22/23 year old quarterback with only thirteen collegiate starts under his belt. Growing pains were and are to be expected. Many scouts liked Sanchez's upside but questioned if he were really able to help a team immediately due to his lack of game experience. Even though he had some real nightmare performances to put doubts into even the most optimistic of fans, he showed flashes of brilliance when his team needed him most, propelling the Jets into the AFC Championship game.
Though he has plenty more to work on and develop, the biggest things Mark has improved on this year is ball security and pocket awareness. He had done almost a complete flip flop on his TD:INT ratio; last year he had 15 total TDs (12 passing) with 20 INTs and 8 fumbles while this year he sports 18 total TDs (16 passing) with 8 INTs and zero fumbles. With improved footwork and down the field vision, Sanchez has begun to use his athleticism to his advantage.
After a hot start, RB LaDainian Tomlinson has cooled off considerably in the run game but has been an asset in the passing game as of late. While LT has been a pleasant surprise, RB Shonn Greene has been a disappointment in his sophomore season. I do not know if he is not in good playing shape or if the run-blocking is not quite up to par, but he has struggled to turn the corner and break any of the runs he was able to last year.
While he struggled to get in sync in his first two games back from suspension, WR Santonio Holmes has thrived as Sanchez's go-to guy and pilot in three of the Jets thrilling finishes. WR Braylon Edwards is primarily used as a deep threat and red zone target, while the surprisingly inconsistent WR Jerricho Cotchery operates the sidelines and is looked upon on third downs. TE Dustin Keller shows signs of brilliance but disappears during stretches just as quickly. Keller had success last time these two teams met but has taken a back seat in the passing game since the return of Holmes.
The two biggest weaknesses for this offense lie in its propensity for slow starts and its struggles in the red zone. While New York averages a not too shabby 24 points a game, they only average a pedestrian 9.6 points in the first half. This problem has been noticeably exacerbated in the games in which they have had ample time to prepare. This is something to monitor as they have not played in ten days. Whether it's the players playing tight or the coaching staff over-thinking things, it is something that needs to be resolved in a game of this magnitude. Lastly, while this offense remains run-first, it hasn't had the "Ground and Pound" success of 2009 in the red zone. Penalties have been a real thorn in the side as well, stalling out drives and leaving potential points on the board.
This is not the Patriots defense of old. Gone are difference-makers like Mike Vrabel, Richard Seymour, Tedy Bruschi, Ty Law, and Rodney Harrison. They rank dead last in pass defense and allow the 11th most points per game.
Yet at the same time, this unit has been a major reason why the Patriots are 9-2 thanks to well-disciplined, opportunistic, and smart play. It's pretty impressive considering the defense's youth and lack of elite players. Belichick has been a master of disguising coverages without having the luxury of a dominant pass rush, too. The result has been 15 interceptions; for comparison sake, that is more than double that of the Jets defense.
NT Vince Wilfork and ILB Jerod Mayo are the two top notch talents on the defensive front. Wilfork is a top end run stuffer that can play multiple positions on the line. Mayo, the former first round pick in 2008, is a sure tackler and leader of this defense. Rookie CB Devin McCourty took no time finding his niche in this play-making defense, recording 5 INTs thus far. FS Brandon Meriweather has nice athleticism for the position and SS Pat Chung has versatility in all phases of the game.
The biggest criticisms of this defense is its tendency to give up a ton of yards and to sometimes take its foot off the gas pedal when given a large lead. Even though the Pats outscore their opponents by roughly a touchdown a game, they give up more yards than they gain. Moving the chains has not been a problem for opposing teams; protecting the ball and going for six has been much tougher.