I remember a conversation I had with Gary Horton of Scouts Inc. in November.
He said he really liked the San Diego Chargers. However, he said there was one clear way of beating the Chargers --- by running the ball all game long. Expect that to be the New York Jets’ top priority Sunday when they visit San Diego in an AFC divisional playoff game.
The Jets had the No. 1-ranked run offense in the NFL in the regular season. The Jets ran for 171 yards in a 24-14 win at Cincinnati in a wild-card game Saturday. If there is a hole in the résumé of the Chargers -- who have won 11 straight games -- it is that the run defense has been susceptible at times this season. San Diego finished 20th in run defense, allowing 117.6 yards per game.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, the Chargers allowed about 5 yards per carry when teams attacked the edges of the defense. San Diego allowed 4.9 yards per carry on the left edge and 5.4 yards per carry on the right edge. The Jets averaged 4.5 yards per carry going to the left edge and 5.3 yards per carry going to the right edge of the field.
It is clear if the Jets have a chance to win Sunday, it will be on the ground.
“You know that’s going to be their game plan,” said Horton’s Scouts Inc. colleague Matt Williamson. “It has to be. I think it could work. This is a bad matchup for San Diego. I could see the Jets winning this game.”
New York is featuring rookie Shonn Greene and veteran Thomas Jones. Greene had 135 yards against the Bengals. Expect New York to unleash both Greene and Thomas on San Diego. Williamson said the Jets should run at San Diego relentlessly.
“It starts with center Nick Mangold, who I think is the best center in the NFL,” Williamson said. “I don’t think San Diego’s front three is going to be able to handle the push that the Jets’ offensive line is going to create. The Jets are very dedicated to their run game. They are going to keep at it all game. I don’t know if the Chargers will be able to handle it.”
If the Jets can control the game on the ground, it will be devastating to San Diego’s entire game plan. The Chargers have one of the most potent offenses in the NFL. Quarterback Philip Rivers is using his weapons as well as any quarterback in the league. But if the Jets eat the clock, Rivers won’t have much time to attack New York.
The Chargers know the importance of stopping the Jets on the ground. New York rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez has been uneven this season. If he is forced to make plays in the air, it could be an advantage for San Diego. But the Jets have to be stopped on the ground before Sanchez starts throwing consistently.
San Diego’s run defense has improved during its 11-game win streak. San Diego has the 12th-ranked run defense during the streak. The Chargers faced four teams that finished the season in the top 10 in rushing -- Tennessee, Dallas, Cleveland and Cincinnati -- during their win streak. So San Diego shouldn't be intimidated by the Jets’ run attack.
Give credit to San Diego. It has suffered many injuries on the defensive front -- starting with a season-ending triceps injury to premier run-stuffer Jamal Williams in Week 1. But it has worked hard at stopping the run. The Chargers use a six-man rotation on the line that has helped keep the unit competitive against the run. The team’s linebackers also have been solid against the run.
San Diego has focused on stopping the run during its win streak. That need to continue Sunday. If not, the streak -- and this promising season -- could come to a sudden end.