Patriots-Jets matchup of the day: Saturday

Posted Jan. 15, 2011 @ 9:30 p.m.
Posted By Kevin Fishbain

Here's a key matchup to watch in the divisional-round game between the Patriots and Jets:

Jets' third-down offense vs. Patriots' third-down defense

There is one big aspect of the Patriots' defense that has not improved all season long — third-down defense. The Pats finished the season last in the league in third-down defense, constantly staying on the field longer than they should.

Some of that can be attributed to games in which the Patriots had big leads and the defenses had a larger-than-usual cushion, but it's something that could hurt them in the playoffs.

The Jets finished the regular season 15th in the league in third-down offense. They converted 6-of-13 third downs in Week Two against the Pats and just 3-of-12 in their Week 13 loss to New England. In the wild-card win over the Colts, the Jets were 8-of-15 on third downs, well above their season average.

The Jets will likely try to run the ball, control the clock and keep Tom Brady off the field. One way they can do that is consistently converting third downs. The Patriots generally don't bring a lot of pressure on third downs, counting on their coverage to force incomplete passes. Look for the Jets to try to run the ball in some third-down situations against the Patriots' sub package, something they had success doing in Week Two. Converting third downs through the air would also give Mark Sanchez confidence, whereas stopping the Jets on third down would allow the Patriots better field position for their high-powered offense.