Hi Gang Green Nation-ers, we are only 3 days away from football Sunday, so its about time that we checked out the keys to the Jets' next contest. This week, the (4-1) San Diego Chargers invade the Meadowlands, playing a (3-3) New York team that is coming off a 24-6 drubbing of the Miami Dolphins. It is obviously a pivotal game for the Jets, as a victory will give them a winning record going into a vital stretch against Buffalo and New England. Jump with me for the key players and matchups this Sunday.
For the past few years, the San Diego Chargers have been an elite regular season team. Last season, they paired the best offense in the league with the best defense in the league (at least statistically), but couldn't even make the playoffs. This year, they have once again fielded a team that is top ten in both total offense and total defense (6th in offense, 4th in defense). They have a great quarterback, a promising young running back, and a talented WR. They have playmakers all over the field on defense. Despite all of that, I believe that the Jets match up extremely well against the 2011 Bolts. Recently, teams have been running all over the Jets (NYJ gives up 132 yards per game on the ground this year, compared to 90.9 yards per game last year). This will only get worse with Bryan Thomas out for the year, replaced by two players in Jamaal Westerman and Aaron Maybin that have proven to be dreadful against the run. On top of that, Philip Rivers has struggled this year, so the natural thing for the Chargers to do would be to pound it on the ground. This leads into the first key of the game:
Sione Pouha: Last week, Kenrick Ellis got his first game action and produced like all of GGN seemed to predict he would. Simply put, he showed flashes of being a monster, with 3 tackles (one behind the line), and 4 runs blown up. However, he also showed that he is still very raw, getting driven back multiple times. Stopping the run is still mainly Pouha's responsibility, and he will need to step up against the Chargers' two headed running attack of Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert. They are averaging 4.3 YPC (with Mathews already accumulating 413 yards on only 85 carries). They are certainly a threat to pound it up the gut, making Pouha (as well as the rest of the D-Line) critical players this week. However, when talking about the Chargers' running backs, it is the Jets linebackers that have even more to worry about...
Bart Scott & David Harris: Even the biggest Jamaal Westerman or Aaron Maybin fan will admit that these two explosive pass rushers are simply lacking against the running game. In fact, the Jets linebacker corps as a whole has been slacking in that department, which is the main reason for their opponents' success on the ground. Interestingly, the Jets D-Line usually wins at the point of attack, only to see the runner cut it back outside and evade a flailing linebacker. This needs to stop this week, as Ryan Mathews is very adept at running outside. The linebackers also need to focus on screen passes and short throws, as the Mathews-Tolbert tandem is actually on pace to break a record for RB receiving yards. Antonio Gates will be limited come Sunday, and Vincent Jackson will be blanketed by Darrelle Revis, so I don't anticipate either of them being much of a threat this week. We will still need to pay attention to Gates in the Red Zone, but I believe that the Chargers will run most of their offense through the running backs, so stopping them will silence the dynamic San Diego attack.
LaDainian Tomlinson: In his first match-up with his former team, LT will reportedly get the start. While this is just a sign of respect from Rex Ryan, Tomlinson has a real chance to have a great game. The Chargers defense has put up above average statistics against the pass (more on that later), but has given up 4.6 yards per rush attempt. That is the 9th worst total in the NFL, so the Jets will finally have an opportunity to get back to the "ground and pound" approach. LT will be playing with something to prove, so I'd love to see a big day out of him. The Jets haven't gotten anything out of their RB's this season, and its about time for Greene and Tomlinson to break out of their slumps.
Quarterback play: On the surface, a Rivers vs Sanchez match-up heavily favors the Chargers. However, the Chargers passing game has been struggling, and are facing a Jets team that is lethal against the pass (the 62.1 opposing QB rating that the Jets have accumulated is the best in the league). The Chargers have had problems protecting Rivers, giving up 13 sacks (only 2 less than the Jets), and are facing a Jets defense that has racked up 17 sacks, good for 3rd best in the league. I anticipate Rivers to be on his butt all day. On the other side, Sanchez is going up against a Chargers defense that has allowed the 2nd least passing yards per game, but only has 8 sacks (3rd least in the NFL). Furthermore, the Jets O-Line has been playing much better since Mangold's return. I recently posted this link, highlighting Sanchez' struggles when pressured. He was literally the worst QB in the league last year when he was pressured, but was above average when he got time. Also, despite the criticism that he has received this year, he is on pace for 3659 yards passing, 24 TD, and a 56.1 completion percentage (all career bests). He is also on pace for just 13 INT, a career low, and a solid 2:1 TD to interception ratio. If we could magically forget the disaster against the Ravens, Sanchez' stats would look downright outstanding. Give him some time to throw this week, and he can gut the San Diego secondary.
Rex Ryan & Brian Schottenheimer: The Jets have been notoriously slow starters, and the most recent news is that Schotty gives the Jets offense their first 10 plays before the game (per Connor Orr):
"We still do that, it’s 10 plays" Schottenheimer said. "It’s the first couple third-down calls, things like that. Again, I don’t think that our guys aren’t prepared.
To me, it looks more like Scotty gives the opposing team the Jets' first 10 plays, given how badly the Jets have struggled. In all seriousness, the Jets might want to scrap this method, because it appears as if they stick to the script no matter what, regardless of how the defense is playing them. They will need to adjust and score quickly, because coming out flat against the Chargers would be disastrous, given the play-makers that the Chargers posses on offense.
Prediction: I missed the 1st quarter of the Jets' game against the Dolphins, so I guess was spared in that aspect. When I did tune in, I saw a Jets team that was playing hungry, and looked very crisp on both sides of the ball. The pass rush looked ferocious to the point that I felt bad for Matt Moore in the 4th quarter, after he was pummeled repeatedly by David Harris, Aaron Maybin and Jamaal Westerman. I hope that the Jets turned a corner that day, and have it in them to exploit the favorable match-ups which will definitely present themselves this Sunday. It'll be a close game, with the Jets pulling out a victory in the 4th quarter.