Jets May Have a Fighter's Chance Against Bolts

former writerCorrespondent IJanuary 11, 2010

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - JANUARY 03:  Quarterback  Mark Sanchez #6 and head coach Rex Ryan  of the New York Jets celebrate their 37-0 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals at Giants Stadium on January 3, 2010 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  This game was the last regular season game to be played in Giants Stadium.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

The surprising New York Jets walked the walk after rookie head coach Rex Ryan talked the talk prior to Saturday's wild card rematch with the AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals.

Most NFL coaches are diplomatic and vague when speaking to the media. In New York, where the media in various sports can, and has, eaten people alive, Ryan has not been in shy to show supreme confidence in his football team.

"This wasn't our goal to make the playoffs. Our goals are much higher [than that]," Ryan said after critics wondered if the Jets, current winners of six of their last seven, were deserving of a playoff spot after a 4-6 start that ended with consecutive wins against division champions, after the Colts and Bengals chose to rest their starters in the second half of each game.

The 2009 season will be remembered for many things, perhaps most notably the birth of a new era of pro football, an evolution into a passing league. Ten different quarterbacks threw for 4,000 passing yards this season, by far the most in NFL history. With quarterbacks like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Drew Brees, Brett Favre, Kurt Warner, Tony Romo, Donovan McNabb, and newcomer Aaron Rodgers in the postseason, it appeared the key to a Super Bowl run would be through the air.

For most teams, that may be the case. While Manning, Rivers, Brees and Favre rested up for next week, Tony Romo exorcised his team's playoff demons, while Kurt Warner threw more touchdown passes against Green Bay's supposed No. 1-ranked defense than incomplete passes, preventing future MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers from a faceoff with Drew Brees at the Superdome.

Meanwhile in New England, a flustered Tom Brady and the Patriots showed mortality without NFL receptions leader Wes Welker. Despite an impressive Welker imitation from rookie seventh-rounder Julian Edelman, (who is attempting to follow the footsteps of Joshua Cribbs, another Kent State quarterback who switched positions in the NFL) the Ravens defense and running game simply dominated the Patriots from start to finish.

So, is a high octane passing attack the only way to a championship? Not so fast. Before Saturday's game in Cincinnati, Ryan held firm to his belief that a Super Bowl run can still be run the old-fashioned way: with a suffocating defense and a clock-killing running game.

"I think we have the best defense; I know we do. I think we have the best rushing attack," Ryan said during the week."You've got to run the ball in this weather and play defense, and we do that better than anyone."

As for the rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez, well, all he had to was manage the game and not make mistakes. Instead, he played perhaps the finest game of his rookie season, in his 16th start of the season; as many as he had in college at USC.

Next week, back in southern California, local boy Sanchez will look to follow the same blueprint against the hottest team in football, the San Diego Super Chargers.

The Chargers boast a powerful passing attack, led by MVP candidate Philip Rivers and Pro Bowlers Antonio Gates and Vincent Jackson. However, they rank near dead last in rushing the football, despite the presence of future hall of famer LaDainian Tomlinson and the speedy special teams star Darren Sproles. The Jets defense will try to counter this by forcing the Chargers to become predictable.

The Jets boast the best passing defense in football, led by my personal choice for Defensive Player of the Year, CB Darrelle Revis. Revis will likely stalk Vincent Jackson around the field in an attempt to add the Pro Bowl WR to the list of failed escapees of "Revis Island."

How Rex Ryan and his defensive coaching staff decide to attack Antonio Gates, Malcolm Floyd, and the rest of the Chargers passing attack will be one of the keys to the game. Another will be the Jets' ability to run the football on offense.

The Jets' offense is a gritty bunch led by three Pro Bowl offensive lineman in LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson, LG Alan Faneca, and C Nick Mangold. Unheralded RG Brandon Moore, a former undrafted player who is the only starting lineman who was not a former first-round draft pick, helps anchor one of the best offensive lines in football.

Rex Ryan defers his offensive game-planning to assistant head coach/running game coordinator Bill Callahan and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Callahan's zone blocking schemes have elevated the Jets rushing attack to a franchise record season that saw them lead the NFL in rushing yardage during the regular season despite losing electric playmaker Leon Washington to a gruesome leg injury mid-season.

Schottenheimer is the one who tinkers with complex formations, personnel groupings, and a creative passing game. The key has been reigning in the rookie Sanchez.

So far, so good.

If the Jets can continue to run the football against a Chargers defense which isn't particularly well equipped to stop it, the running game and defense has a chance to match up quite well with the surging Chargers, whose bye week may have been their own worst enemy for a team that has won 11 games in a row.

The Chargers will be nine-point favorites at home in the early line. If the Jets coaching staff can develop a good gameplan, and the Jets players can execute it, this will be an entertaining football game.

Until then, let the debate begin in the comments, and tell me what you think.


(For more Mets, Jets and Nets analysis, visit my personal blog, MetsJetsNetsBlog)