A lot of you don’t have time to obsess over every aspect of the Jets’ divisional playoff game against the Chargers on Sunday, though we can’t imagine what you’re doing that could possibly be more important (tweeting about Conan, we suppose). But maybe you’ll be at some sort of social occasion, required to talk about it anyway. Worry not! Here’s your quick and easy guide to the five major story lines in the game. Memorize this, and you’ll no longer fear looking like a fool when talking to three men who have painted their faces and are wearing firemens’ hats and carrying axes.
The Jets have two excellent running backs, and they’ll need them. The whole point of everything the Jets do is to keep possession of the ball and to keep the score low. Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene are the linchpins of this plan. Jones had the terrific season, but the rested Greene has been the battering ram/cannonball/heavy blunt object/hammerhead titanothere in the playoffs. The more carries each of these fellows get, the better chance the Jets have of winning. Oh, and they better not fumble: The Jets have enough trouble with the turnover business when the ball’s in the air.
Darrelle Revis, unfortunately, is incapable of human replication. The All-Pro cornerback is expected to shut down Chargers wide receiver Vincent Jackson, but, alas, Jackson is not the only chap able to catch a moving object. San Diego’s wide receivers are extremely tall, Lord of the Ring ents: Malcolm Floyd is six-foot-five, as is Jackson, and tight end Antonio Gates is six-foot-four, both in height and width. Kerry Rhodes and Lito Sheppard are talented guys, but the Chargers are stacked at receiver. It’s going to be a major chore, especially considering how hot Philip Rivers has been of late.
The Jets love to blitz like crazy people, but this might not be the best time for it. Joe summed all this up right well good yesterday: The Jets have the best blitzing defense in the NFL, but the Chargers handle that blitzing better than anyone else. Considering the Jets’ disadvantages in the secondary — much of the Jets’ blitzing success revolves around the fact that they usually have an advantage they won’t Sunday — the usual strategy of blitzing at every opportunity puts them in a tough spot for quick throws downfield, which Rivers has proven he can make.
Rex Ryan is still convinced his team is the best in the playoffs. Heavens, it sure is fun having him around. If the Jets were to somehow win this game — you can probably tell that we are skeptical — Ryan’s going to be crowned hot-tamale genius, because he won’t stop claiming that the Jets should be the Super Bowl favorites. This might stretch the bounds of logic, reason, science, and sanity, but damn it, that’s what makes Rex Ryan who he is. The Jets need every edge they can get, and having Ryan screaming in their face how great they are certainly can’t hurt, unless there is excess spittle.
As always, it’s about Mark Sanchez. You’ve heard it a million times, but it’s true: Sanchez is a rookie quarterback playing on a huge stage, on the road, against one of the best teams in football. He has avoided interceptions the last few weeks, all wins: If he does that again Sunday, he gives the Jets their best hope. That still might not be enough: This is a passer’s league, and even teams with star running backs need the ability to score lots of points quickly. (Look how much Adrian Peterson’s Vikings benefitted from the addition of Brett Farve and Percy Harvin.) If the game turns into an arms race, the Jets are toast, and Sanchez will embarrass himself. Ryan believes Sanchez won’t need to throw much. If he’s right, he’ll have turned the NFL on its collective ear.