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Ten things you have to know about Patriots-Jets

Here’€™s everything you need to know about Thursday’€™s Patriots-Jets game:

Our three favorite matchups on the evening:

1. Cornerback Aqib Talib [1] against wide receiver Stephen Hill [2]: Talib was admittedly rocky at times in his Patriots’€™ debut last week [3] against the Colts, but still managed to come away with a game-changing pick which was returned for a touchdown. Regardless of your assessment of his performance, it’€™s clear that Talib has the skills to play man coverage, and he should get more playing time as he grows more comfortable he gets in the New England system. (One of the byproducts of Talib’€™s emergence — and the growing confidence the Patriots’€™ coaching staff has in its secondary — could be more blitzes in the coming weeks.) The new corner had 67 snaps last week against the Colts, and barring something crazy, his playing time should receive a spike this week against the Jets. With the injury to Santonio Holmes [4], Jeremy Kerley (38 catches, 62 targets, 578 yards, two TDs) has become the Jets primary option in the passing game out of the slot, but the Patriots figure to use Talib on Hill (14 catches, 36 targets, 196 yards, three TDs) for a couple of reasons, but primarily because the rookie — who dropped a key pass late against New England the first time around — will be on the outside.

2: Wide receiver Wes Welker [5] against the Jets secondary: It remains to be seen how the Jets are going to defend Welker — Darrelle Revis [6] is on IR, as is Isaiah Trufant, two corners who have been competitive in the past when it comes to slowing the slot receiver. While Kyle Wilson [7] has been bumped up the depth chart from working in the slot to the outside, it wouldn’€™t be a surprise to see Wilson and/or Ellis Lankster line up in the slot against Welker for the bulk of the game. (My guess is that the Jets will feel comfortable using Antonio Cromartie [8] in single man coverage on Brandon Lloyd [9] on the outside, more of Cromatie’€™s natural spot.)

3: Linebacker Brandon Spikes [10] against running back Shonn Greene: Spikes remains New England’€™s best run defender, and provided he stays healthy, should provide the Patriots with a sturdy enough presence through the rest of the regular season and into the playoffs. (For what it’€™s worth, Spikes showed up consistently as a blitzer the last two weeks, frequently blitzing in the A-gap against Indianapolis.) Greene is the Jets’€™ only consistent presence when it comes to running the ball, and will get most of the carries.

4. Under-the-radar opponent who Patriots’€™ fans need to know: Dustin Keller [11]. The 28-year-old is as under-the-radar as you can be when it comes to playing in New York, but on a team with much bigger names, he’€™s been deadly against New England over the years. The 6-foot-2, 250-pounder caught seven passes (on seven targets) for a season-high 93 yards and a touchdown the first time these two teams met earlier this season. In nine career games against the Patriots, he has 35 catches for 445 yards, the most against any opponent he’€™s faced. He’s a consistently tough matchup for New England, and this game should be no exception.

5. By the numbers: Per Nuggetpalooza [12], since the start of the 2010 season, the Jets have completed 68 percent against Patriots blitzes (23-of-34), their highest such completion percentage against any of their 15 opponents where they’€™ve attempted at least 10 such passes in that span. (However, it’€™s also worth noting that New York’€™s passing offense is on track for one of its worst seasons since 1991 against blitzes. The Jets have completed just 47.9 percent of their passes when their opponent brings extra rushers, which would be their second-lowest/worst percentage since the stat has been tracked.)

6. Quote from an opposing scout regarding this Sunday: ‘€œThe pass rush of the Jets has to try and manufacture pressure on Tom Brady [13]. They don’€™t get pressure from their outside linebackers, and so they have to scheme it up and trick it up and try and do different things to try and generate pressure. They bring it in volumes, which should open up some opportunities for Brady. They don’€™t get a traditional pass rush — one that you would hope to get from a 3-4 front. They have some promising young players in Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples, but when you lose your best defensive player in Darrelle Revis — who also happens to be the best defensive player in the league — it really changes what you can do defensively.’€ — one AFC scout on the New York pass defense. [14]

7. Patriots fans should be worried about’€¦.. the Jets ability to run the ball, even though it’€™s not all that impressive. New York rushed for 106 yards against the Patriots. It was only at a 3.2 yards per carry clip (tied for second-worst performance against New England this year), but the Jets started a four-game stretch where teams were able to break the 100-yard rushing barrier on New England. Greene doesn’€™t quite reach the same old levels of the ‘€œground-and-pound’€ Jets of year’€™s past, but given the nature of the occasionally erratic New York offense, he’€™s one of their primary offensive options.

8. Jets fans should be worried about’€¦. Rob Ninkovich [15]. The guy Bill Belichick [16] referred to as ‘€œJet killer’€ in the wake of their first meeting this season has made a habit of getting after the Jets over the last two years. Last November, he keyed the Patriots defense [17] in a win against the Jets with five tackles and two second-half interceptions, the latter of which led to his first career touchdown. And in their October showdown, Ninkovich came away with a sack and forced fumble on Sanchez that ended the overtime contest.

9. One more thing: We detailed how the Patriots’€™ offense — and specifically, the passing game — will change with Rob Gronkowski on the shelf [18], but it bears repeating that a large portion of the responsibility will fall on the shoulders of the running game, a group that includes Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen [19] and Danny Woodhead [20]. While Vereen has done well with the opportunities that have been afforded to him over the course of the 2012 season, the two key elements here are Ridley and Woodhead. While he has certainly done enough to become one of the best young backs in the NFL, Ridley must continue to deliver consistent performances — specifically, between four and five yards a carry — in all four quarters. Meanwhile, Woodhead’€™s reliability and dependability is a tremendous asset to the New England offense. His target rate of 82 percent (23 receptions on 28 targets) is the highest among any New England skill position player with at least 10 targets. Look for the Patriots to try and get him in favorable matchups in the passing game Thursday — Woodhead against a linebacker in space is almost unfair.

10. Prediction: The Jets will be up for this one — they are fundamentally playing for their postseason lives. (If they lose, they’€™ll fall to 4-7 and the outer fringes of the playoff picture, and it would take a lot of help for them to even dream about making the postseason.) But with the losses of Holmes and Revis are just too much for them to overcome. The loss of Gronkowski and the uncertainty around Aaron Hernandez [21]‘€™s health (he was listed as questionable on Wednesday’€™s injury report) will provide a challenge to the New England passing game, but the Patriots still have enough on offense to put up their usual 30 points, and the Jets won’€™t be able to match them. New England, 34-24.