Jets-Chargers: Inside the Numbers, New York Has a Shot Against San Diego
The playoffs are all about cashing in on opportunities.
After a thrilling 24-14 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Saturday, the New York Jets will have to prepare extremely well for, arguably, the toughest test of their 2009 season, the 13-3 San Diego Chargers.
The turning point in the season for San Diego came in Week Nine when the Bolts stormed back late in the fourth quarter from a six-point deficit to beat the New York Giants 21-20 at the Meadowlands. Philip Rivers hit Vincent Jackson in the corner of the end zone with 21 seconds remaining, shocking the Giants. At that moment, the Chargers graduated from a good team that could never seem to put it together into a juggernaut.
The Chargers never looked back after that day, and the once 6-0 Denver Broncos fell apart at the top of the AFC West, opening the door for the dominant Chargers to take the West and the No. 2 seed in the AFC.
Philip Rivers has gone on to have his best season yet, and one could make the argument that Rivers should have been named league MVP.
He threw for 4,254 yards, 28 touchdowns, nine interceptions, and a quarterback rating of 104.9. With the Chargers struggling to run the ball this year, Rivers stepped up and delivered big time for San Diego. He and his receivers, Vincent Jackson (1,167 yards receiving) and Malcolm Floyd, as well as tight end Antonio Gates (1,157 yards receiving), have proven to be a lethal combination all year long.
On the surface of this matchup, the Jets look like a team the Bolts should dispose of quite easily, and maybe they still will; but the statistics tell a different story.
Statistically, the Chargers better be ready for Rex Ryan's New York Jets, because the Jets have something that the likes of the Giants, Cleveland Browns, Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, Tennessee Titans, and Washington Redskins didn't have when the Chargers beat those teams.
The Jets have a defense that ranked No. 1 against the pass and No. 8 against the run, as well as the No. 1 running offense, which are numbers that don't favor San Diego.
Here are some statistics that some of you might find quite surprising:
San Diego owns the 10th best offense and the fifth best passing attack in the league, but they are 31st in running the ball.
The Chargers average only 3.3 yards per carry, and their longest run of the year went 36 yards. It seems surprising considering the Chargers have LaDainian Tomlinson, once a perennial Pro Bowler, and the speedy Darren Sproles, but Tomlinson's skills have decreased considerably over the last three seasons. This year, Tomlinson has 730 yards rushing, while Sproles has 343 yards.
Sproles, who stands at 5'6", has game-breaking ability; i.e., his two huge touchdown returns against the Indianapolis Colts last season. Considering the Jets had a hard time tackling another 5'6" back in Maurice Jones-Drew earlier this season, expect San Diego to pound the Jets with a heavy dose of Sproles.
However, the fact that San Diego has trouble running the football should bode well for the Jets defense. Keep in mind that Gang Green allows only 98.6 yards per game on the ground and has given up only two 100 yard games this year: 123 yards to Jones-Drew in mid-November and 169 yards to Cedric Benson a week ago.
Overall, the Jets have surrendered an average of 253 yards per game, have allowed their opponents to convert only 32 percent of their third downs, and 37 percent of fourth downs.
The Jets yielded only 153.7 yards per game through the air and have given up only eight touchdown passes, while intercepting 17 balls, allowing passers to complete only 52 percent of their passes, and compiling a rating of 58.8.
Consequently, the Chargers' passing game will be key to the matchup as the Jets' secondary and linebackers will be up against the height and speed of the Chargers' receivers.
Darrelle Revis is arguably the best corner back in the NFL, having shut down top receivers Randy Moss, Reggie Wayne, Chad Ochocinco, Steve Smith, and Andre Johnson. All of those receivers have either terrific size or speed, or both. Revis has kept pace with all of them, and how he fares against Rivers' favorite target in Jackson will go a long way in determining the winner here.
Even if Revis does a nice job against Jackson, it still means that San Diego could rely heavily on Antonio Gates, who will match up against Kerry Rhodes and Jim Leonhard. Leonhard, despite his small 5'8" frame, is a very hard hitter; however, Rhodes has developed the reputation as a soft player.
Many times this year, Rhodes has failed to make key tackles late in games on opposing tight ends and slot receivers; for example, in Week 10 in November, a huge conversion for a first down by Marcedes Lewis of the Jacksonville Jaguars that helped set up the game winning field goal.
The Jets will need a heavy pass rush in this game. Even though it is not easy to bring a big, physical, and accurate guy like Rivers down to the ground, the Jets have to get Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas open in space on the outside to close the pocket around Rivers and force him to make some uncomfortable throws.
If they can force a few turnovers, then the Jets have a shot; otherwise, Rivers will pick them apart.
Another interesting statistic involves the Jets' offense against the San Diego D. The Chargers are 20th in run defense, allowing 118 yards per game and 4.5 yards per carry. The Jets led the NFL in rushing this year with 172 yards per game and totaled 171 yards last week in Cincinnati.
All year, opposing defenses have put eight in the box on the Jets offense; many thought that would prevent the Jets from having any offense at all this year, but that hasn't been the case. Thomas Jones ran for 1,402 yards and a career high 14 touchdowns. Shonn Greene, who stepped in for the injured Leon Washington, ripped up the Bengals for 135 yards and a touchdown. If these two should go off on Sunday, it could make things very interesting.
Now for the big question mark for the Jets.
Yes, Mark Sanchez looked like a veteran last week in Cincinnati. He showed great poise and put some extra zip on his passes, but the Chargers' pass defense has a better track record than Cincinnati's.
Two years ago, the Chargers were one of the better defenses in football, having recorded 30 interceptions and 46 sacks; however, over the last two years, things have not gone as well for the Chargers' pass rush.
This year alone, the Chargers have 35 sacks in total. Shaun Phillips has had a wonderful year, leading the team with seven sacks, but former Pro Bowler Shawn Merriman is a shell of his former self, recording only four sacks this season. Luis Castillo, the once feared defensive end from Garfield, NJ, has only two sacks this year and 25 tackles.
Even the secondary has struggled some for San Diego. The multi-talented Antonio Cromartie and Quentin Jammer each have three interceptions, a huge tail off for both. Two years ago, Cromartie had 10 interceptions, and last year had 64 tackles. This year he has only 33 tackles. Jammer had 88 tackles in 2008, but he has only 58 this year.
The reason for the drop-off has to do with the lack of pressure up front from the Chargers' defense. As a team, the San Diego has surrendered 23 touchdown passes, compared to 14 interceptions. If they are to win this game and the Super Bowl, the Chargers' defense from 2007 and 2008 has to show up.
Nevertheless, this is not to make the Jets' passing attack appear like world beaters. By no means do I expect Mark Sanchez to light it up on Sunday. The Jets were 31st in passing offense this year, and, before last week's game, you couldn't find tight end Dustin Keller with a magnifying glass.
Braylon Edwards has been a total bust for Gang Green. He dropped a possible touchdown last week in Cincinnati, and has dropped huge passes all year long for the Jets, catches that would have given the team leads in several games this season.
Before last week, Sanchez had been a walking disaster.
He threw 20 interceptions this season and has had games where he has thrown five and three interceptions, killing the Jets. His inability to adjust to the speed of the NFL game forced the Jets to change the playbook to a color-coded system by Week 11 to help him learn the game quicker.
He has slowly gotten better, completing short, precision passes, but even with last week's near perfect performance, there has to be concern about how he will handle the blitzes of the Chargers' defensive schemes; expect guys like Cromartie and Jammer to lick their chops at the opportunity to pick the kid off.
This will not be an easy game for either team. The fact that the Chargers are 8.5-point favorites may not be doing this game much justice. Expect a very close game that could come down to the wire. If the Jets have to come from behind at any point in this contest, it could turn ugly fast for Gang Green. The Chargers have way too much talent to blow a lead of any kind. If the Jets take the lead late, it will be must see TV, when the Chargers have the ball late needing to score to either tie or win the game.
PREDICTION: CHARGERS 24, JETS 20.
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