We’re up to part eight of this 11-part series for the NFL Playoff previews. It’s hard to believe there will only be three more games (after this one) in the NFL season.
I believe this will be a much better game than most people expect it to be. This New York Jets team is fired up and they have a great defense, a great running game and a rookie quarterback with a ton of potential. I also believe that they have both a better offensive line and defensive line than the Chargers do. I also feel like the Chargers are a streaky team, they also always seem to start the season poorly then get hot and they haven’t won their first playoff game after a bye since 1994. So if people want to talk about rest vs rust for the Colts then they need to start taking a closer look at the Chargers. I’m not saying I’m predicting the Jets to win just yet, but I’m also not ruling it out. I always make these predictions after I’ve written the entire post, so that I have all the research fresh in my head when I decide so we’ll see where my thoughts take me then. I just simply wanted to point out that everyone seems to be writing off the Jets, thinking they’ll get blown out of the water by the Chargers. So let’s pump the breaks and see what we can expect out of this game.
The Jets offensive approach should be similar to the one they used last week. They’ll come out running the ball early on, and using a lot of screens, dump offs and underneath routes to get Mark Sanchez into a rhythm then they’ll look deep to stretch the field, keep the Chargers defense honest and set the run game back up. Sanchez played a great game last week, especially considering he was a rookie in his first playoff game. He went 12 of 15 (two of the incompletions were drops that should’ve been easy catches) but this week will be different. Against the Bengals he was able to roll out and get some bootlegs and was very efficient on the move and outside of the pocket. I don’t think he’ll be able to do that this week. The Chargers bring a lot of pressure off the edge which will contain Sanchez. Look for the Jets to empliment a lot of three and five-step drops where Sanchez can stay in and step up into the pocket.
In the running game the Jets are very dangerous. Rookie Shonn Greene had a great game last week and Thomas Jones has been great all year so no matter which one is in the game, he will be giving the Chargers fits. The main benefit is that with both of them being hot it keeps them both fresh as well because they can split the carries more evenly. The Jets have a great offensive line which will make the job easier on whichever running back happens to be in the game at any given moment. The Chargers have a smaller/faster front seven so look for the Jets to attack between the tackles with their backs and will expect to break off some big runs by doing so.
Defensively the Jets just need to do what they do. The one thing that might change is just how much they blitz. They have been blitz-happy all year and it has worked well for them but the Chargers are a team that will make you pay with their big play potential if you blitz too much. So look for the Jets to blitz a little more sparingly and otherwise drop all but three or four players into coverage, which would make Philip Rivers to hold on to the ball longer, giving the pass rushers the opportunity to get to him for the sack. In the secondary look for the matchup between Kerry Rhodes on Antonio Gates. This could be a game changer. In all likelihood Darrelle Revis will shut down Vincent Jackson, and the Chargers running game has been disappointing all year, so if Rhodes, who is great in coverage, can win his battles against Gates that will be huge for the Jets.
If this happens then all the weight will fall onto Malcolm Floyd and Legedu Naanee. Those two must step it up in this game if the Chargers want to win. These two are going to have height advantages over the Jets defensive backs which will help immensely. Philip Rivers is going to need to identify the one-on-one coverages and get the ball to that receiver. Rivers is good at recognizing blitzes and is also good at avoiding them while staying in the pocket. When the Jets blitz he’ll look to attack down field, when they don’t he’ll look to pick them apart. Either way he is going to need to spread the ball around more in this game than he has all year. After Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates, no other Chargers player had more than 45 receptions this season, to give you a perspective on that, the Colts had FIVE players with more than 45 receptions this year.
In the running game, the Chargers have a great opportunity to reestablish themselves as a good running team. Last week the Bengals ate up the Jets on the ground (22 attempts for 171 yards) and the Chargers have a similar run offense. Look for San Diego to use draws, quick handoffs, and plays to get the Jets defense to over pursue. The Jets like to get up field quickly which will get them wrapped in behind the line, leaving clear paths for the Chargers backs. To also use this up field attacking mindset against the Jets even further the Chargers will also utilize the screen plays that they are so great at. Rivers is good at drawing the defenders in toward him and then slinging it to Darren Sproles, who is one of the best backs in the NFL in the screen game.
Look for the Jets to try and get around 200 passing yards out of Mark Sanchez and a touchdown as well. They will also hope that he can limit himself to just one interception. They will be looking to get most of their productivity out of their running game, shooting for over 150 yards on the ground. They should be able to accomplish this with Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene and don’t forget about Brad Smith. I’m also expecting Dustin Keller to have an under the radar impact on this game. On the other side, I see Rivers with about 250 yards, two touchdowns and a pick while the Chargers running game combines for around 100 yards and a touchdown. Both teams will likely get multiple sacks, and I see the Jets winning the turnover battle two to one.
Jets win it 24 to 21.
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