Three pressing questions surrounding the Jets-Chargers divisional matchup on Sunday:
1. Can the Jets run on the Chargers?
The Jets won an 'old school' game last week when they just ran the ball and played defense. It's a great formula for a northeast team with a rookie quarterback. New York ran the ball more than any team in the NFL this year with 607 attempts. They went into the playoffs and ran it 41 times for 171 yards on the road against a solid Bengals defense. This week, the No. 1 run team now faces the Chargers' 20th ranked run defense. When you really study the Jets' ground attack it becomes obvious that the offensive line is a tremendous group. LG Alan Faneca is so tough to stop on the power running plays in which he pulls to his right. Then they have a zone play to the left behind athletic LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson. San Diego will see close to 40 runs, including on third-and-5 or longer situations. Keep in mind the Chargers lost All-Pro NT Jamal Williams early in the year and have covered up the loss well. But Jets All-Pro C Nick Mangold will open up inside holes. Shonn Greene got more runs than Thomas Jones last week, and it should be the same this week, especially on the inside power play.
2. Can the Jets blitz effectively against Rivers?
No one blitzes more than the Jets on third down, with 130 regular-season pressure calls. So often the Jets' blitz looks are designed to prevent the running back from going out into the passing game with a snatch blitz and a trail blitzer to go after the quarterback. The Jets only recorded 17 sacks in their close to 300 blitz calls this year, but they affect the time the QB has to read coverage and find a receiver. They can use this aggressive scheme because Darrelle Revis will lock on to the top receiver in man coverage, who, in this game, is Vincent Jackson. Keep in mind that Philip Rivers threw 15 touchdown passes against the blitz this year. The real question for the Jets is how to handle Antonio Gates and Malcom Floyd vertically. Safety Kerry Rhodes probably gets Gates and Lito Sheppard will cover Floyd. I like Rivers to still get the passing game going because this attack has more options than the Bengals had last week. The Chargers running backs have 82 receptions and seven touchdowns, which could be a big factor.
3. Can Mark Sanchez win this game if he has to?
Sanchez is 0-5 when he throws more than one interception in a game. If he gets to throw just 15 times like last week, he'll probably go without a pick once again. The Jets running game will be effective, but will they stick with it if down by two touchdowns? The Chargers have averaged 30 points per game during their 11-game win streak, and it may come down to Sanchez operating a two-minute drill at the end to win this game. Sanchez has not led his team on a winning drive in his rookie season, but he may have to against the Chargers. Shawne Merriman will lead the pressure if Sanchez gets into this situation. During the Chargers' win streak, Eli Manning, Donovan McNabb and Tony Romo all had a shot to win late and couldn't get it done.