Part 3 (see Part 2 for coverage of Sunday's Cowboys-Vikings game)
The New York Jets land in San Diego full of confidence that they can leave with a win and advance further in the postseason. First year head coach Rex Ryan has players believing that they have peaked at the right time and a winning combination capable of taking down any of its potential opponents.
In a twist of irony, the Jets do most of their best work on the ground and thwart the opposition's attempts at moving through the air with the best cover corner in the business. With a rookie quarterback guiding the offense, Ryan's game plan is devised around its strong running game and top ranked defensive unit, which has long been a winning formula in the NFL postseason.
Darrelle Revis has rapidly gained well deserved recognition throughout the league one game at a time as he has unfailingly shut down the best wide receivers on each opponent. He is indiscriminate in his work, sending home upstarts, Pro Bowlers and All-Pro's alike with the same frustration and similar dismal numbers.
Revis' focus today will likely be on San Diego's Vincent Jackson, who has been quarterback Philip Rivers' favorite target amongst his wide receivers. A bit of encouraging news for the Chargers, though, is that Rivers spreads the ball around and their passing game is not predicated on one star receiver.
Tight end Antonio Gates was San Diego's leading pass catcher, accumulating 79 receptions and 1,157 yards. With Revis hawking Jackson, expect Rivers to set his sights on Gates all day long. He will also likely look to get the ball to running backs Ladainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles in space to take advantage of their explosiveness. Rivers has been an under-rated star performer who demonstrates great resourcefulness, so he will likely find a way to move the ball and get some points on the board.
While the Jets finished first in pass defense by a wide margin, they were somewhat mortal in terms of run defense. Their #8 ranking could be a bit of an illusion, though, as teams often chose to keep the ball on the ground due to their inability to get anything going through the air. Regardless, gone are the days of running the football being a Chargers strength. Tomlinson rushed for less than 800 yards and averaged but 3.3 yards per carry.
When the Jets have the ball, they will rely on their top ranked running game and keep the reigns on QB Mark Sanchez. Thomas Jones, who has been battling a bruised knee, is their veteran stalwart having rushed for more than 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns during the regular season. With Jones slowed by injury last week, rookie Shonn Greene amassed 135 yards on the ground to lead the Jets to victory over the Bengals in the Wild Card game.
This is a great match-up for New York as the Chargers struggle mightily to defend the run, yielding 4.5 yards per carry. It could be a long day for San Diego if their offense can not keep their defense off the field, because Ryan will surely be looking to exploit this mismatch. The Chargers will undoubtedly stack defenders in the box to stop the run and force Sanchez to beat them through the air. The Bolts could conceivably benefit, though, from a week of rest and have an edge over a Jets offensive line that played last week and had to travel cross country.
New York was almost dead last in passing, but that largely relates to frequency. As he did a week ago, Sanchez has proven that he can be the good steward that Ryan desires by protecting the ball and making big throws when called upon.
This game will be closer than many expect considering that San Diego enters the postseason as the hottest team in football. The match-ups and a Jets team believing in themselves will take this to the wire, but Philip Rivers will find a way to pull this one out.
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