"One heck of a matchup" ---- Rex Ryan's words regarding Sunday's AFC Divisional playoff game.
After the Jets proved doubters wrong by dominating the Bengals in Saturday's wildcard game, they now fly out to the west coast for some sunshine in Mark Sanchez's home state. But they're not here on vacation--- it's all business, as the Jets return to the very stadium which, before Saturday, was where their last win in a playoff game came five years ago.
Last week was a matchup of two teams that were very similar in styles of play, this game involves two teams that are antitheses of eachother.
The GangGreen defense has really stepped it up since the New England game, and has held opponents to only 9.7 points/game over the last 3 games. This will be their biggest test since week 4 in New Orleans and a huge gut-check for them. Phillip Rivers is actually the most efficient QB in the NFL in my opinion, as his TD/INT ratio this year was an incredible 3.1 (28 TD : 9 INT ). On offense, Gates, Sproles, and Vincent Jackson are as explosive as they come in their respective positions. This team has a lot of weapons.
For the Jets, Mark Sanchez returns to Cali after last week's game entailed him breaking the record for highest passer rating by a rookie QB since 1970. He also helped GangGreen to be the first team since the 1934 Giants to have a rookie throw for a touchdown and a rookie run for a touchdown in a playoff game (per Randy Lange/NewYorkJets.com). Impressive.
Home Field advantage is not as big as many think in the playoffs, and teams such as the Chargers, who are coming off a bye week in the AFC divisional round are only 5-4 since 2004. The Jets matchup with San Diego better then any remaining AFC team (sans Indianapolis), and they are a very live dog coming into Sunday's game. Let's discuss how they can win this game after the jump:
Jets are 9-0 when having a positive turnover margin.
- Super Bowl 44 will take place on February 7 in Miami, FL -- just under 15,000 days to the minute that the Jets won Super Bowl 3 in Miami.
Question of the week:
"To beat the Jets and stop their rushing attack all we have to do is stack the box, right? Simple as that???"
WRONG. Initially, that was what teams thought was the simple solution in how to beat the Jets. That's what our opposition has been trying to do, yet we've still averaged an amazing 4.5 ypc on the ground this season. Now that Sanchez is getting comfortable and his knee allows him to be mobile again, we can utilize his athleticism with bootlegs and play-fakes to keep defenses honest.
Teams have tried bringing safeties up to help stop the run via stacking the box for weeks now, but Schotty is dialed in and the Jets have found a way to make teams pay for cheating up. Misdirections/Counters with Shonn Greene, Bootlegs/Play-fakes/play-action passes to Keller and Braylon, End-arounds, or Brad Smith out of the Tiger-Cat Formation --- Schotty is loaded.
Opponents can stack the box all they want, but the Jets will just counter it with a big play to make them pay for it.
Keys to a Jets Victory:
While the Jets come into this game rested, having the benefit of playing the first game of last week and now the last game this week --- San Diego runs the risk of coming out rusty due to the extra week of rest from their bye week.
Rex gave the Jets an extra day of rest this week following Saturday's game, as they practiced from Tuesday through today and will fly to San Diego on Friday (per Dennis Waszak). While many are saying the Chargers ended the season as the hottest team in the NFL, the Jets actually played last week and come into Sunday's game as arguably the hottest team in the AFC.
The Jets need the rest, as LB David Harris, LB Bart Scott, DE Shaun Ellis, CB Donald Strickland, and LB Ryan Fowler all are ailing a bit but will play on Sunday. Harris will even return to his "every-down" role to be a consistent force in the middle with Scott. John mentioned how tough Sproles is to bring down when in space, and the Jets need to be quick on their feet when tackling him in the open-field. Offensively, the long season is starting to take a toll on RB Thomas Jones who has had knee problems as the season has wound down. He is coming off a15-carry performance where he wore a knee brace (his lowest since week 5), but fully-practiced on Thursday and will be ready to go Sunday.
*Get Out to a Quick Start:
The Chargers have outscored opponents by an average of 5.2 points in the first quarter in games they have played at home this season (7.3 : 2.1).
The Jets need to make sure SD doesn't get out to an early lead, which is obviously what they will be trying to do. They will looking to put the Jets in a position where they have to play "catch up" --- forcing them to get away from their run-game and making Sanchez attempt to beat them w/ his arm.
*Not the Same Bolts Rushing Attack As in Years Past
The Chargers rank 31st in the NFL in rush offense (only 88 ypg), and LT is a big reason as he has averaged only 3.5 yards per carry this year. The Jets will look to bottle him up early and force the Chargers into 3rd and long situations.
LT is feeling the effects of being an every-down back in previous years. He comes from the old-school style of football, where RB's did not have long careers. Nowadays, it's not uncommon to see teams like the Jets with two and three running backs to split carries. LT didn't have that, as he touched the ball 390+ times in his first 6 seasons. That really takes a toll on you, and he's not the same LT we remember from ‘03.
On the other hand RB Darren Sproles is very explosive, and dangerous when in space. His drawback is that he is used in small doses. He's only 5'6, and while he is quick as lightning, he has been used sparingly in the second half of the season because of his inability to pass-block. The Jets are a blitzing team and every single one of our eleven on defense could potentially flatten him. Being that they're a smart, veteran defense, and they were even calling out Palmer's audibles pre-snap last week, I do think they can limit his big play ability by being aware of when he is on or off the field, and making sure to have a spy keep an eye on him when he is in.
*The Effectiveness of Play-Action Passing
This was a big reason for the Jets success last week, as Sanchez was 5-of-6 for 108 yards on play-action passes (his only incompletion being the deep pass that Braylon dropped). Most teams that field run-balanced offenses like the Jets usually excel in this area, as you routinely find defenses that will cheat up one or two defensive backs to help stop the run. Play-action passing is all about timing, and that's where Schotty has been at his best.
Last week, the Jets did a great job of running the ball early and often, which made Cincy begin to sell out on the run, and then BOOM -- Sanchez used a play-action pass to find a wide-open Braylon in the end-zone which should have been a TD. Unfortunately he dropped the ball, but the timing and idea was there.
Dustin Keller has been huge in this area also. Last week Schotty did a great job of finding him wide-open via play-fakes and bootlegs, as the Bengals bit on the fake and thought he was just a low-ly blocker on the opposite side of the field. If the Chargers blitz a LB or safety too much, Schotty will make them pay with the big play to Keller to counter it. Don't sleep on Dustin Keller! (Cincy learned the hard way)
*K-I-S-S (Keep It Simple Schotty!)
Another point we hit on last week, and another area the Jets really excelled in on Saturday. Schotty's simple playcalling allowed Sanchez to be an excellent game manager as he completed 80% of his passes. He came out of the gate poised, yet confident, and also showed a level of leadership that we haven't seen from him in his rookie season. A great sign for Jets fans, as there is a strong possibility we are watching him mature in front of our very eyes.
The best thing Schotty did for him was rolling him out and utilizing the bootleg which requires Sanchez to only read half of the field. Also, 3- step drops allowed him to get rid of the ball quickly and counteracted the aforementioned double-A gaps blitz that Mike Zimmer was throwing at him. Schotty made sure to put him in situations where the rookie wouldn't over-think things.
Sanchez has not thrown an interception in eight games this season, and the Jets are 6-2 in those games-and are also 4-0 in the last four games when he hasn't turned it over.
*Are we Playing Basketball?
San Diego has more height in their WR corps than any team in the NFL. This presents the biggest mismatch the Chargers have over the Jets. WR's Malcolm Floyd and Vincent Jackson are both 6'5, WR3 Naanee is 6'2, and TE Antonio Gates is 6'4 (the 6'3 Kerry Rhodes will be on him). All of the Jets starting DB's are under six-feet-tall, and the only DB taller is Ihedigbo as he is 6'1. S Jim Leonard is barely 5'8, and other S Eric Smith is 6'1. We will likely see a lot of the Jets "nickel" package this week against this potent passing attack.
Revis should be able to hold his own against Jackson, as he is certainly no stranger to press coverage and loves playing oppossing WR1's physical. The height advantage shouldn't be an issue, as he shutdown the 6'4 Colston and 6'3 Johnson earlier this year.
All this magnifies the 5"10 Lito Sheppard's role this week, and that's why I labeled this matchup as one of the ones to watch. Sheppard was released from Philly last year for being too small, as he couldn't defend against tall, west-coast offense wideouts. On Sunday he goes up against the 6'5 Floyd, who has really become more involved in the offense in the second half of the season. Floyd has caught 45 balls this season for an average of 17.2 ypc. Lito will have to play him physical to help downplay the size mismatch.
Rivers likes to lob the ball up and allow his receivers to out-jump the opposing defensive back and bring the ball down. The Jets secondary will be forced to play physical on Sunday to counter this height advantage. They need to watch the fade-routes to the corner of the endzone when San Diego gets within scoring range.
*Run the Ball/Create "Third and Manageable" Situations
The Chargers rank 20th against the run (118 ypg) giving up an atriocious 4.5 yards/carry, and its safe to say the Jets will look to run the football at will again this week. In their last 3 games, the Jets have nearly a 3:1 run/pass ratio (142 runs, 50 pass plays).
If they can consistently pick up 4-5 yards on each carry, they will be able to take the pressure off of Sanchez and put him in situation where he has to be a game-manager, not a game-winner. It will also allow give Schotty flexibility in his play-calling and allow us to have more balance on offense.
Last week the Jets ran the football at will, and Center Nick Mangold was pitted up against a very tough opponent in Domata Peko - yet he still dominated the matchup. This week, he gets the benefit of going up against the Chargers fourth-string nose tackle, Ian Scott. The Jets inside-run game starts and ends with Mangold, and I think he will really open it up for them this week.
*Can we get some kick coverage?
For the third consecutive week we must be aware of a now-recurring theme --the Jets special teams unit has given up 351 return yards in their last two games. That is unacceptable, and this week will be the real test against the explosive Sproles, who is capable to break a big one every time the ball touches his hands.
I don't know what it is, maybe it's Gholston's presence out there: if so, get him off the field! We can't find a place for that guy anywhere...
*SMASH-MOUTH FOOTBALL, BABY
In last week's preview we touched on how effective smash-mouth football is come playoffs time. The results speak for themselves, and teams that play this style of football went 3-0 in WildCard play last week (Dallas, NYJ, Baltimore)
Smash-mouth football is the only way to stop these prolific spread-based passing attacks --- as it effectively shortens the game, controls the time of possession, and keeps your opponent's offense off the field. Just look at the '07 Giants or '08 Steelers who were the last two Super Bowl champions and employed a gameplan centered around smash-mouth football.
Nothing will change this week, as the Jets will look to keep one of the NFL's top offenses off the field by running the football and controlling the clock.
Offensively, if the Jets can keep the Bolts off-balance with the ground-and-pound duo of Greene and Jones, and Cotchery continues to be a consistent target for Sanchez, I think the Jets will have success moving the football. We also need Braylon and Keller (mainly Braylon) to catch the football and provide some big plays for us. Brad Smith keeps defenses on their toes out of the option and the Jets looked more balanced last week then we've seen all year.
On defense I think the Jets have the tools to stop San Diego's vertical passing game and make them one-dimensional, and will look to their #1 pass defense to once again come up big if they can stop the run and force San Diego into some strictly passing downs.
Remember, the Jets have given up only eight TD's through the air all season.
It's a tall order, but If the Jets can contain Jackson + Gates + Floyd, I think they can limit Rivers and keep this explosive offense at bay (and when I say at bay, I mean 3 scores or less). Gates is one of the two best receiving TE's in the NFL and Kerry Rhodes will have his hands full covering him, but he will have the benefit of bracket coverage which will allow the Jets to double-team him before the snap and roll coverage to wherever is necessary (per Star-Ledger's Manish Mehta). To make this work, we will probably see the Jets in their nickel package often.
There are some themes we talk about here every week and I can't stress enough -- the Jets #1 defense. the Jets ProBowl-OLine, and the play-calling masterminds known as Schottenheimer and Pettine who are always keeping opponents on their toes and are alot of the reasons for the Jets success.
DC Mike Pettine disguises his blitzes like the best of them, and will be throwing all sorts of looks at Rivers to keep him off balance and prevent him from getting into any rhythm (as he's done to QB's frequently this year).
When you can run the ball effectively, good things happen. The jets will be able to do just that.The run-game opens up the play-action passing game, and play-action stretches defenses to keep them honest. It's a cycle.
The Jets are flying high and free-rolling at this point, while the Chargers have a lot of pressure on them to win -- for Norv Turner's reputation and also for fear of being compared to the Bills teams of the ‘90's that always went deep in the postseason but never won a Super Bowl.
And let's face it -- who has stopped our rushing attack this year? Even some garbage AFC West RB's running behind weak OL's have rushed on the Chargers this year (KC, Cleveland, Oakland)
We run from everywhere--- inside the tackles, outside, and out of the Tiger-Cat Formation behind what I think is the #1 run-blocking OLine in the NFL. GOOD LUCK STOPPING IT
This team is suddenly energized and has been playing with a chip on its shoulder. I don't know if its for Casey, I don't know if its Rex, but on Sunday you will hear "J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS!!!!!!" Jets 23, Bolts 21