With only four games remaining, the (7-5) New York Jets remain in the thick of a muddled AFC playoff picture. To take another step forward, they must overcome the (5-7) Kansas City Chiefs, whose record is perhaps slightly better than the team that will take the field this Sunday. They will be missing their star running back and starting quarterback, not to mention supremely talented safety Eric Berry and standout tight end Tony Moeaki. These are the types of games that the Jets are supposed to win, and a loss against a wounded Kansas City team would be an inexcusable way to shatter our playoff hopes. For the key match ups, jump!
Luckily for Gang Green, the Chiefs' season was lost very early on, when the injury bug hit hard. Jamaal Charles was among the NFL's brightest stars at the running back position, but his torn ACL left 33 year old Thomas Jones and untested third stringer Jackie Battle as the primary runners. Quarterback Matt Cassel lost one of his favorite targets in Tony Moeaki, but managed to pull the team to a (4-5) record before his own season-ending injury. To put it lightly, it has not gone well for them since then. They are (1-2) without Cassel, somehow backing into a 10-3 victory against the Chicago Bears last week, but their offense has become even more anemic than it was earlier in the season. In fact, the Chiefs rank among the bottom five in most passing categories, and are the seventh worst rushing team in the NFL (judging by yards per carry). Despite the ineffectiveness of Thomas Jones and Jackie Battle, the Chiefs continue to pound the rock (their 367 attempts are the 5th most in the NFL). The Jets vaunted defense should neutralize the Kansas City offense with relative ease, which leads me into the first key...
Tamba Hali vs. Jets' offensive line: Despite having a defense that can't be considered anything better than average, the Kansas City Chiefs have playmakers all over the field. Tamba Hali is perhaps their most dangerous defender, as detailed here by John B. He racked up 15 sacks last season and already has eight this year, but the Chiefs have an absolutely putrid pass rush outside of him (29th in the NFL). In fact, rookie Justin Houston had 0 sacks until the game last week, but now has the second most on the team (after Hali) following a 3 sack outing. Houston is certainly a threat to get to Sanchez, but he is extremely unpolished and the Jets can take him out of the game completely, as long as they pay him any sort of attention. Hali is the guy that can change this game around, so every effort must be made to equalize him. He should be double teamed on every single pass rush, even if he lines up on D'Brickashaw Ferguson's side. Considering the Chiefs' lack of a pass rush outside of Hali, stopping him will go a long way to getting into the end zone.
Note: Hali was reportedly injured. His absence would create a huge advantage for the Jets.
Brandon Flowers vs. Mark Sanchez: While I disagree with people who perceive Brandon Flowers as a star, he has certainly become a play maker and a game changer for the Chiefs' secondary. In fact, Flowers has four interceptions and a 58 yard return for a TD. He will likely be matched up with Santonio Holmes, with a slightly taller Brandon Carr covering Plaxico Burress. If Tamba Hali manages to pressure Mark Sanchez, I cringe at the thought of a rushed throw into the hands of Flowers or Carr. The Chiefs are 2nd in the NFL with 17 interceptions, but have also given up 19 touchdowns (11th most in the NFL). The battle between Sanchez and the Chiefs' two cornerbacks can easily swing this game into either team's favor.
John Conner / Shonn Greene vs. Derrick Johnson: This former first round selection has become one of the best middle linebackers in the game. He is great in coverage and already has 100 tackles this season, after racking up 122 last year. The Jets had a very familiar game plan last week: let Sanchez manage the game while the running backs do the dirty work. If they go back to this game plan again, it will be essential for Shonn Greene to get off to a quick start. To do this, John Connor and the rest of the Jets' lead blockers will need to effectively account for Derrick Johnson. If Johnson wins this match up, it will be extremely difficult for the Jets to get anything going offensively.
Rex Ryan vs. himself: Last week, the Jets dusted off the Wildcat formation against the Redskins, and Shonn Greene took advantage of a direct snap to run in for a game-icing touchdown. It appears as if Rex Ryan was responsible for the tweak, as he took his idea to Brian Schottenheimer:
"I think it’s tough to defend some of that if you’re not really focused on it," Ryan said Tuesday, according to the Jets' official site. "This was a good team, really good against the run, and we thought we could challenge them by putting in some of those things. That was my feeling on it and (offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer) said, ‘Yeah, that sounds like a great idea, let’s go for it" and (offensive line coach) Bill Callahan did a good job putting in the blocking schemes for it. I thought it was successful."
- per Dan Hanzus, NFL.com
Before anyone crowns Rex Ryan an offensive genius, lets keep in mind that the Wildcat formation accounted for just 17 yards on 6 carries before the touchdown. Last season, I thought that the constant use of the Wildcat interrupted the flow of the offense and made it tougher for Mark Sanchez to get going. Rex is a great coach, but the Wildcat needs to be dumped once more. It was successful once last week, but I fear that it can impede our regular offense if it used again in the future.
Player to Watch: In 3 games since taking over as the starter, Tyler Palko has been sacked 6 times and has thrown 6 interceptions. Assuming that Palko will start again this week (Kyle Orton injured himself on his first play as a Chief and will probably not start this week), the Jets defense will come out hungry for blood. Aaron Maybin should be able to get pressure against an offensive line that is below average in pass protection (22nd in the NFL, according to Football Outsiders.com). If Palko has to rush his throws, I wouldn't be surprised if Darrelle Revis or Antonio Cromartie pick one off with room to run. Watch Aaron Maybin and the Jets' cornerbacks this week; they might just do something extraordinary.
Prediction: The Kansas City Chiefs have seen a promising season go south, largely due to injuries. Their offense will struggle regardless of whether Kyle Orton is under center, but their defense is talented enough to make this a close game. In fact, they battled the Pittsburgh Steelers for 60 minutes, eventually losing 13-9. It is in the Jets' best interest to not get into a close game, as anything can happen if you allow an inferior team to stick around until the end. It'll be a game eerily similar to last week, with a dormant offense waking up again in the second half to put the game away. Sanchez will be quiet but effective, throwing for around 200 yards and 1 TD. The running game will account for the majority of the yardage and scoring, and the defense will also have a big return for a touchdown. A Jets victory will push them to (8-5), only a game behind last year's pace. With the Bengals playing against Houston and the Raiders playing in Green Bay, this week might be a perfect opportunity for Gang Green to regain the second wild card spot.