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Key matchup: Patriots RB Stevan Ridley vs. Jets run defense

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By Kevin Fishbain

Patriots RB Stevan Ridley vs. Jets run defense

This year’s Patriots team has been at its best when running the ball with success, balancing a strong run game with an up-tempo offense, opening things up for Tom Brady. It’s different than what we’ve seen the past three seasons, but that’s what has worked. 

In the Patriots’ three wins, they have gained 5.1 yards a carry. In their three losses — just 2.9 yards per carry. Teams, like the Seahawks, Cardinals and Ravens, who can bottle up the run, have found a way to best New England.

Coming off another upset loss in which New England blew a late lead, the Patriots will be out to make a statement, especially against their rival Jets, a team that has shown susceptibility against the run this season.

Gang Green stepped up against the Colts last week in its best defensive performance, but that was against a shoddy Indianapolis O-line and a rookie running back in his first start. This week, it’s a Patriots rushing attack that rushed for 498 yards in Weeks Four and Five combined.

When the Patriots and Jets met last season on Oct. 9, the Patriots used BenJarvus Green-Ellis to seal their win. With a six-point lead in the fourth quarter, the Patriots had a 13-play, 69-yard drive that lasted 6:12, resulting in a Stephen Gostkowski field goal to give the Pats a 30-21 lead. Green-Ellis rushed the ball 10 times on the drive for 59 yards. The Patriots showed they could beat the Jets at their own game — being physical, running the football, and they likely will want to do that again on Sunday with Ridley.

The second-year back has been dominant in New England’s three wins, averaging 127.3 rushing yards and a 5.4 yards per carry. In the three losses, Ridley has gained 47.3 yards and 3.0 yards per carry.

This year’s Jets run defense has struggled without Sione Po’uha at the nose. Po’uha helps occupy blockers, allowing ILBs Bart Scott and David Harris to make plays. On the season, opponents are averaging 150.5 rushing yards and gaining 4.7 yards per carry.

Assuming Po’uha is out again, veteran DT Mike DeVito and newcomer Daniel Muir will be key on the Jets' interior to set up plays for the linebackers. The Patriots’ interior of Dan Connolly, Ryan Wendell and Logan Mankins has done a good job in the Patriots’ wins of winning one-on-one battles and getting to the second level. They will look to keep Harris and Scott from making plays.

With TE Aaron Hernandez back, TE Rob Gronkowski might be used more as a blocker, and he is one of the best run-blocking tight ends on the edge, as Hernandez can be used as a receiver.

The Jets can’t afford to stuff the box, as they know full well what Brady is capable of, especially against a secondary without star CB Darrelle Revis. The Patriots love to attack a weakness, so Brady likely will go after CBs Kyle Wilson and Ellis Lankster and test the safeties not known for their pass coverage, but the formula for winning games this season has been the run, and that’s where Ridley comes in.

If Ridley, along with Brandon Bolden, Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen, finds success on the ground against the Jets, it will be a long day for Rex Ryan’s crew. If the Jets’ run defense plays like we’re used to in recent years, and the way they played vs. Indy, that could put the Patriots in 3rd-and-long situations, allowing for Antonio Cromartie and LaRon Landry to make some plays.

The Patriots have gone as Ridley has gone. He works well between the tackles and has the speed to bust one outside. The Jets need to contain him to be in position for an upset win. 

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