Saturday, January 16, 2010

2010 NFL Divisional Playoff Preview, Part 4: New York Jets at San Diego Chargers

New York Jets at San Diego Chargers
Favorite: Chargers (50.6%)

Team Efficiency (Using Football Outsiders' Weighted Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA)):

Jets: 10.6% (15th)... Offense DVOA: -10.4% (23rd)... Defense: -19.7% (1st)... Special: 3.4% (6th)
Chargers: 13.4% (11th)... Offense DVOA: 21.8% (5th)... Defense: 8.8% (23rd)... Special: 0.4% (16th)

So you think the Cowboys-Vikings game is too close to call? This game in San Diego is about as close to call as we'll see this weekend, as an aggressive Jets team and their #1 defense, fresh off a comfortable wildcard win over the Bengals, gets a talented offense from San Diego.

The Jets' not so talented offense, meanwhile, gets a break against a not-too-efficient San Diego defense. The Jets have better special teams, but the Chargers are at home and the Jets have to fly cross country for this game. This is basically a coin flip.

Jets Offense (with grade):

Points Per Drive: 1.56 (C-)
Drive Success Rate: .629 (C-)
Turnovers per: .165 (D+)

Offense Line Run Blocking: C+
Left End: D-
LT: C+
Interior: C
Right End: D
Pass Protection: D+

The good news for the Jets is that San Diego's front seven blows: Their front seven is near the bottom of the league in adjusted line yards vs the run, and they're 22nd in adjusted sacks. The Jets didn't get much of a challenge from the Bengals' front seven, and they won't get much of a challenge here unless Shawne Merriman can get the front seven a shipment of Latin America's finest performance enhancers before kickoff.

Jets backfield:

QB: Mark Sanchez: F (Rushing: B-)
RB: Thomas Jones: C
RB: Shonn Greene: C

No, Mark Sanchez didn't get any better. Jets coach Rex Ryan protected him in the wildcard game with a run-centric gameplan that minimized the need for Sanchez to perform (41 of their 56 plays from scrimmage vs the Bengals were running plays, and they ran up 353 yards in 33+ minutes of possession). This week's gameplan will likely do the same. As the Chargers are a banged-up 3-4 team, the Jets can likely get by with the same gameplan.

Jets receivers:

WR: Jerricho Cotchery: C+
WR: Braylon Edwards: C
WR: David Clowney: F
WR: Brad Smith: F (Rushing: A)
TE: Dustin Keller: D

Again, the good news is that the Jets probably aren't going to need too much from this mediocre group of receivers. Just block for the tailbacks, catch some third down passes and get first downs, and maybe get a good wildcat run or three from Brad Smith.

Jets defense (Base 3-4):

Overall: A (Momentum Weighted*: A+)
Points per drive: 1.04 (A+)
Drive Success Rate: .591 (A+)
Turnovers per drive: .148 (C)

* - Weighed to emphasize late season performances over early season performances

Run Defense: B
vs left end sweeps: B
Right DE: C
Interior run defense: A
Left DE: B+
vs right end sweeps: D+

The Chargers don't do their damage with the running game, so that the Jets do a decent job of stopping it isn't a huge concern. A change-of-pace approach to running the ball could open up holes against this defense, especially to the strong side or off left tackle. But in all likelihood the Jets can contain LT and Darren Sproles.

Pass Defense: A+
Defensive line vs rush: A
Pass rush: C
vs #1 WR: A+
vs #2 WR: A
vs Other WR: A+
vs TE: A
vs RB: A

And the good news is that the Jets' strength is their ability to just shut down every aspect of the passing game. We're going to find out how good Philip Rivers really is, because he'll have to make throws and string together drives against an airtight Jets pass defense.

Jets Special Teams:

Kicker: C (Kickoffs: C)
Kick returns: B
Punting: C+
Punt returns: C+

Pedestrian group, though big kick returns from a varied cast of kick returners would help immensely with gaining whatever edge the Jets can through field position.

(Image c/o Sports by Brooks and who knows where it originated)

Chargers Offense (with grade):

Points Per Drive: 2.60 (A+)
Drive Success Rate: .742 (B+)
Turnovers per: .099 (B+)

Offense Line Run Blocking: C
Left End: D
LT: C+
Interior: D+
Right End: C
Pass Protection: B

No offense scored more points per drive than the Chargers, while their drives ended in success more than all but three NFL teams.

It wasn't because of the run, however. The run blocking was average and, because of the scatback-size of their tailbacks, only worked when the backs ran in open space. It wasn't the line's fault, however: They're actually a solid group and helped keep a lot of pressure off Philip Rivers.

Chargers backfield:

QB: Philip Rivers: A+ (Rushing: D)
QB: Billy Volek: A-
RB: LaDanian Tomlinson: D (Receiving: Just don't)
RB: Mike Tolbert: A (Receiving: A)
RB: Darren Sproles: D (Receiving: A)
RB: Michael Bennett: F
RB: Jacob Hester: F (Receiving: Disgusting)

A host of backs couldn't manage more than garbage-time and low-leverage production on the ground. Mike Tolbert is the only one who showed an ability to grind out high leverage yards as a rusher when needed.

When it came to key yards, the group came up short on the ground, but Tolbert and Sproles did make plays on passes out of the backfield. And while Rivers is fairly durable, it's good to know that if the Chargers have to turn to backup QB Billy Volek, he can still get the job done.

Chargers receivers:

WR: Vincent Jackson: A+
WR: Malcolm Floyd: A
WR: Legedu Naanee: A
TE: Antonio Gates: A+

Well, good thing the Jets are so good at covering receivers, because the Chargers have the most talented receiving corps in the NFL. Any of these three receivers could be #1's on any team, and Antonio Gates is of course probably the best receiving tight end in the NFL. When the proverbial immovable force (Jets pass defense) meets the immovable object (Chargers pass offense), who's going to give?

(Photo c/o The Sporting Blog)

Chargers defense (Base 3-4):

Overall: D+ (Momentum Weighted*: C-)
Points Per Drive: 1.89 (C)
Drive Success Rate: .705 (D-)
Turnovers per drive: .148 (C+)

* - Weighed to emphasize late season performances over early season performances

Run Defense: C
vs left end sweeps: C-
Right DE: D
Interior run defense: D-
Left DE: B
vs right end sweeps: D-

Pass Defense: D
Defensive line vs rush: F
Pass rush: C-
vs #1 WR: C
vs #2 WR: B
vs Other WR: D
vs TE: B-
vs RB: F

If Thomas Jones was a good pass catcher, the Jets could abuse the pass-coverage-inept Chargers linebackers all day, but alas, he isn't really.

But he can easily abuse this run defense, which is quite vulnerable up the middle and to outside sweeps and... well, in general. Not sure why this front seven has such a hard time with the run, but they do. The secondary makes up for it with better convergence and gets the unit overall to at least average.

The pass defense is rather weak, which would hurt more if Rex Ryan was going to take the bubble wrap off Mark Sanchez's passing game, which he won't unless the Jets fall way behind and have to pass their way back into it, which honestly isn't likely if the Jets defense holds serve. But if he does, and Sanchez can avoid his specialty (i.e. the retarded turnover), the Jets can hope that Jerricho Crotchery can outplay the coverage. Or at least dump the ball to Thomas Jones and pray.

Chargers special teams:

Kicking: B (Kickoffs: D)
Kick returns: C
Punting: C
Punt returns: C

Nate Kaeding is a productive, reliable field goal kicker but otherwise, this is not a spectacular unit. It may come down to Kaeding's leg, though, so don't sell this advantage short.


So who has the edge? Does anyone?

There are X Factors all over the field in this game. The top-shelf Chargers passing game vs the top-shelf Jets pass defense. The underachieving Chargers running game against the more beatable Jets run defense. The low-grade Jets offense and their suspect rookie QB against a bad Chargers defense. The Chargers being at home but the Jets being in relatively favorable warm-weather conditions and having more personnel edges than the Chargers. The Jets' likely run-heavy game plan running right into the strongest aspect of the Chargers' weak defense. And if the Jets do have to throw, their INT-prone QB will throw into a bad Chargers pass defense and hope their decent ability to net turnovers doesn't come into play.

This is one game where I have no idea whatsoever who is going to win.

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