These matchups, of course, consist of Darrelle Revis vs. Vincent Jackson and Shonn Greene/Thomas Jones vs. the San Diego front seven. While indeed the most prevalent matchups to watch for this upcoming matchup, the battle does not end here.
Also gaining some media attention are Antonio Gates vs Kerry Rhodes, LaDainian Tomlinson vs the Jets front seven, Mark Sanchez vs the San Diego crowd and Philip Rivers vs the impressive Jets pass rush. Lets look past those as well. Let us pay more attention to the smaller battles, the individual battles glossed over by the national, and local, presses.
Dustin Keller vs Kevin Ellison
It is obvious to anyone following football this year that the Chargers struggle against the run; starting a fourth string nose tackle does not help. It is also obvious that the Jets are a run first organization with a dangerous RB tandem. All this considered, you must expect to see the Chargers are going to need a safety in the box most of the time.
Enter Eric Weddle, the best open field tackler in the NFL, by technique, according to USA Football. This forces rookie safety Kevin Ellison to cover the most consistent receiving threat on the Jets, Dustin Keller.
Any Charger fan will tell you, over the past three years, there has been nothing scarier than a good tight end matching up against the boys in blue. Even mediocre TEs can shred the perennially weak TE coverage.
For proof, look at week 13's narrow victory over the Cleveland Browns. Just-signed-from-the-practise-squad tight end Eric Moore gashed the Chargers for 80 yards on six catches, including multiple key third and long situations.
Now, all TE v Safety matchups are important, but what makes this one especially important is the way the Jets pass the ball. Mark Sanchez excels when the running game has been established and is able to pass almost exclusively out of play action and rollouts.
On play action, the first target is always the deep threat. Likely to be the job of Braylon Edwards, he will not get much separation against the vastly underrated Quentin Jammer. The next look will be rushed by the blitz has to be the safety valve, the running back out of the backfield, or more commonly the tight end.
All of this factored together means Dustin Keller must be able to beat Kevin Ellison, and Kevin Ellison must be able to make some plays to keep the Sanchize from throwing his way.
Malcolm Floyd vs Lito Shephard
This one gets a little press, but not enough for how important it really is. While we can assume Revis will be covering Jackson the entire game, Kerry Rhodes will be given the task of Antonio Gates. If the Jets think anyone other than Rhodes is appropriate for Gates, then no other matchup will matter, as Gates will be prime for a Kellen Winslow-esque performance. This leaves Shephard and Jim Leonhard to cover Floyd.
On the surface, this seems to be favorable for the Jets, but I find it very doubtful the Jets will feel 100% comfortable allowing 6'5" Jackson on the 5'11" Revis all night, alone. NFL Defensive MVP Charles Woodson explained the common misconception that Vincent Jackson wins the battle for a the football in continuous jump ball situations. Woodson says this simply is not true, and he is correct.
Jackson does not try to out jump you for the ball; rather he uses his strength to push off, but without pushing off. Its a tough concept to explain without the assistance of video, but the key is to recognize that the WR can make contact on these situations, as the refs will usually not call offensive pass interference, unless the receiver fully extends his arm in the push off.
It is for that reason you can expect Leonhard to be shadowing Jackson, as well as helping Rhodes contain Gates, just enough to give Floyd plenty of one-on-one opportunities against Shephard.
And this is where Floyd can hurt you. Floyd has sneaky speed and can burn you. He can also use his size in short routes, shielding the ball with his massive frame.
Finally, unlike Jackson, Floyd does go for the jump ball, and he will catch the ball at its highest point. Lito Shephard is no push over, but he will have his hands full against the emerging No. 2 receiver in Malcolm Floyd.
Mark Sanchez vs Shaun Phillips
This is less of a conventional matchup than previous ones, but Sanchez has to know where Phillips is, in relation to him, at all times.
Like any quarterback, the Sanchize exhibits some occasional lapses of judgement; like any rookie quarterback, he lacks consistent NFL-necessary tendencies. Specifically, Sanchez often has the ball high in his chest while he is in the pocket, and has a moderately fast throwing motion, but too often he will drop the ball closer to his waist and exhibit a long armed throw. Both of these lead to fumbles in the NFL, and there is no better fumble producer this year than Shaun Phillips.
No longer "the other Shaun", Phillips has come into his own these last two years, as Shawne Merriman has been injured or ineffective. Leading the league with nine regular season forced fumbles, Shaun Phillips is a defensive force. For the Jets to have a successful passing attack, they must refrain with turnovers, and that starts with Sanchez being able to throw the ball without fumbling.
Mike Scifres vs his injured groin
A punter will rarely become a key matchup in any game, much less a playoff game, but Mike Scifres is a different story. Recall the wild card round last year, Scifres punted six times for an average of about 53 yards. In itself, that is a very good statistic.
Looking past that number alone, and you see that Scifres did not have a punt outside the twenty, and only two outside the ten, including two inside the five, one being at the one yard line, allowing San Diego to easily get the ball back from Indianapolis.
That game, where Scifres also punted a net average of 51.7 yards, one of multiple playoff records, was the single greatest punting performance you will ever see. With any defense unable to stop a punter, logic would have it that Scifres will be primed for another post-season masterpiece.
This may not be the case this year. Struggling with a groin injury all year, Scifres has lost a significant amount of leg strength. Gone are his 60+ yard punts when the Chargers have been pinned deep in their zone, and partially gone are his legendary > 5.5 second hangtimes. Scifres still has the amazing ability to avoid touchbacks, only two this year, tops in the NFL, but more often than previously, Scifres will get the ball fair caught at the 15, rather than pinned down inside the five.
Simply put, if Scifres can have a game anywhere reminiscent of last year, the run-first Jets offense will have a very tough time completing drives of 90+ yards on a consistent basis.
For a good reason, we have heard so much about Darrelle Revis and Vincent Jackson, Shonn Greene and Ian Scott, Antonio Gates and Kerry Rhodes, but we must remember, any play is about 11 guys on each side, working together to gain a few yards, or prevent a few yards. The results of these previous matchups will help us understand why the winning team left on top.
On that note, I suppose a prediction is in order. The game will likely be decided on the final drive, or else you can expect a Chargers blowout. Which will occur depends heavily on how well New York can hold off the explosive San Diego offense in the first half. If San Diego forces New York to give up on the run and focus on quick scores by the air, the Jets cannot win, and San Diego will run away with it.
Ultimately the blowout route is what I believe to occur, with Gates chewing away at the Jets defense, while Floyd makes a few deep completions early on.
San Diego 34
New York 16