Patriots vs Jets: Strategy and Personnel

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...things happen due to the roster demands placed on teams by having players return from the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. The Patriots have a couple players that fit that category, including LB Matt Chatham and rookie draft pick, RB Cedric Cobbs.


Linebacker Matt Chatham, who spent the first six weeks of the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list, returned to practice Wednesday and could be activated to the 53-man roster any time between now and Nov. 9.

The Patriots placed rookie wide receiver P.K. Sam on injured reserve this week with a groin injury and Chatham is likely to be activated in time for the Jets game. Chatham is one of New England's better special teams players and his return will give the team a boost in the kicking game.

Sam was the sixth receiver, but was pressed into playing time when injuries hit the wide receiver position. He played in two games, but did not have a reception before injuring his groin and going on IR. Sam also missed much of training camp with a hamstring injury.


--LB Mike Vrabel might see his load lightened this week with Chatham's return. With the Patriots struggling in kick coverage over the first three games of the season, Vrabel was asked to step in and contribute in the kicking game. He's able to contribute on special teams because of the Patriots outside linebacker rotation that includes Willie McGinest, Rosevelt Colvin and Vrabel, which allows the coaches to better manage defensive playtime. Chatham should fill Vrabel's role as a kickoff wedge buster on the inside of the coverage team.

--S Eugene Wilson has struggled at times this season when it comes to providing deep help for a corner on his half of the field. The Jets, and Chad Pennington in particular, exploited the Patriots in that regard in their last win in Foxborough in 2002 when Victor Green was filling that role and it led to a pair of long touchdown passes. Wilson will be tested Sunday.

--DL Jarvis Green continues to get work as a nickel rusher up front for the Patriots, but his production hasn't been there. The Patriots are relatively thin up front and Green is trying to rekindle his 2003 AFC Championship Game performance when he notched three sacks of Peyton Manning. Green has just seven tackles and one zero-yard sack while playing upwards of 100 defensive plays through five games. The line rotation features Green, Richard Seymour, Vince Wilfork, Ty Warren and Keith Traylor. The group as a hole has been quiet, but no player more so than Green.

--RB Kevin Faulk will continue to see his offensive role expand this week. Corey Dillon entered last week with a foot injury and suffered a stinger vs. Seattle. Faulk will be needed in the passing game, but will have a tough matchup against the Jets fast linebackers. New England may split him out of the backfield when it goes to a four-wide formation with a tight end in for protection. Faulk has five catches for 51 yards in his two games back, including four for 37 yards against Seattle last week.

--WR Deion Branch remains doubtful on the injury report and will not likely play against the Jets as he continues to recover from a knee injury suffered Week 2.

--WR Troy Brown remains questionable with a shoulder injury that has kept him out of the last two-plus games. He missed portions of practice Wednesday and is a long shot to play.

--CB Tyrone Poole also missed some portion of practice Wednesday with a knee injury that forced him to miss the Miami game two weeks ago and half the Seattle game last week.

--FB Patrick Pass missed a portion of practice with a thigh injury suffered against Seattle. His return was announced as probable last week, but he never re-entered the game. He will likely sit out the Jets game.

--T Tom Ashworth appeared on the injury report for the first time this season as questionable with a back injury. He missed some portion of practice Wednesday after missing a huge portion of training camp with the injury this past summer. The severity of the injury isn't known, but the Patriots are thin at tackle behind Ashworth and Matt Light.

GAME PLAN: Offensively, the Patriots have to establish Corey Dillon early against an aggressive front that will come after Tom Brady looking to rattle the Patriots quarterback, who is short two of his favorite targets in Branch and Brown. Brady's ability to not only get the ball out quickly this week, but also accurately could prove to be the difference in the game. The Jets have seven interceptions in five games and their pressure along with speed and tight coverage makes their defense similar to Miami's in the way it can pressure an entire offense across the field. The solution to that is to use Dillon to slow the defense and take advantage of the play action opportunities he provides. The Jets have a fast defense, but it's not overly big and the Patriots have to get physical on offense while trying to keep Brady upright. He has taken some big hits over the past couple of weeks and one has to wonder if the cumulative effect of those hits will begin to affect his psyche.

Defensively, New England has its hands full trying to pick its poison. That said, it must stop Curtis Martin first. That means using Rodney Harrison in the box and locking Ty Law up against either Santana Moss if he plays or Wayne Chrebet is Moss sits out. The Patriots have to limit yards after the catch that have hurt them badly this year and force Chad Pennington to check down rather than attack down the field. Don't expect a heavy dose of blitzes, but when they do come, they will be off the edges looking to make Pennington step up rather than run outside the pocket where his mobility and ability to throw on the run become headaches.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Patriots NT Vince Wilfork vs. Jets C Kevin Mawae. Wilfork is the Patriots top tackler among defensive linemen with 24, but he is about to get his first taste of Mawae, who is arguably the best center in football. Wilfork needs to hold his own to prevent Curtis Martin from breaking through the line and out to the edge of the defense where he can make big plays. If Wilfork can't handle Mawae, the Patriots will have to adjust by crashing down inside and Martin will have a field day on the perimeter against a defense that's more tough than fast.

Patriots LT Matt Light vs. Jets DE John Abraham. It's another in a long line of tough matchups for Light, who has held his own against Jason Taylor, Dwight Freeney, Aaron Schobel and Grant Wistrom. Abraham has seven sacks in five games and he will beat Light on at least a couple of occasions. If those plays result in big plays for the Jets defense, it will sway the outcome of the game.

INJURY IMPACT: With Branch and Brown likely to miss another game, the onus once again falls on David Patten and David Givens to play a big part in the passing attack along with Faulk and tight end Daniel Graham. Faulk will also fill in as a kickoff returner if Patrick Pass (thigh) is unable to play while Faulk and Rabih Abdullah handle Pass' backfield responsibilities. Abdullah is probable with an arm injury and did not miss practice time Wednesday.

If Tom Ashworth can't play, Brandon Gorin will get the start, which could be trouble for New England since Shaun Ellis would have a huge advantage over Gorin in that matchup. With Adrian Klemm already on IR, an injury to Ashworth that keeps him off the field will leave the Patriots a play away from trying to plug a tackle spot with either a guard or a combination of tight ends. Christian Fauria or Jed Weaver could back up Gorin, who would move to left tackle if anything happened to Matt Light. Poole could miss his second game in three weeks as he tries to fight through a knee injury. He played on it last week, but was lifted in the second half. Asante Samuel will start in his place with Randall Gay and Dexter Reid coming on as the extra defensive backs in nickel and dime packages.

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