FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- If the New York Jets don't beat the New England Patriots Sunday night, a defeat that would cripple their chances of winning the AFC East, Brian Schottenheimer is going to get hammered.
Fair or not, it's setting up as a Bash-Brian game because of the way the X's and O's are aligned. The Jets are facing the 32nd-ranked pass defense, a once-proud unit destroyed by years of bad personnel decisions, but the game plan is to stick with their Ground & Pound approach.
It's a conundrum. A good coach is supposed to attack the opponents' weakness -- and everybody is throwing against the Patriots -- but a good coach also must play to his team's strength. For the Jets, that means running and play-action passing.
"It is a balancing act, there's no question," Jets coach Rex Ryan said. "If you win, you balanced it correctly. If you don't, then you were wrong. I'm OK with that. I can accept that."
Sure, easy for him to say, because if the Jets fall for the second time in five weeks to beat the Patriots, Ryan won't take nearly as much heat as his offensive coordinator. Heck, Schottenheimer hears it sometimes when they win, so imagine if they blow a shot to take control of the division.
Fact is, the Patriots are allowing 314 passing yards per game. You could suit up Joe Namath and he'd probably throw for a couple hundred yards -- and he's 68 years old. Every starting quarterback they've faced has thrown for at least 250 yards, except one.
Ryan Fitzpatrick beat the Patriots with a 369-yard game, and Ben Roethlisberger beat them by throwing it 50 times for 365 yards. Eli Manning got his turn last week, orchestrating a last-minute touchdown drive reminiscent of Super Bowl XLII -- déjà victory.
"Awesome," said Sanchez, complimenting his New York counterpart.
Can Sanchez upstage Manning?
Even though Sanchez said "It's always going to take a good game out of the quarterback to beat that team and that defense," the Jets aren't approaching the Patriots with that mentality.
They finally found a comfort zone with their run-first offense and they have no intention with messing with the formula.
Schottenheimer, whose offenses have topped the 21-point mark only three times in 13 tries against the Patriots, said they're "not going to air it out 50 times." Sure, he likes the pass plays they have in this week's game plan, but he doesn't want to stray from being a balanced offense. They want to be patient, playing keep-away from Tom Brady.
It will be tempting for them to cut loose against the Patriots' underwhelming secondary, but they don't want to do become the Cybil Jets and undergo another personality change.
"I don't think we need to get away from what wins us games," guard Brandon Moore said.
The Jets are at their best when throwing off play-action. In last week's win over the Buffalo Bills, Sanchez completed 11 of 12 passes on play-action, including an 8-yard touchdown to Santonio Holmes. On the touchdown, running back Shonn Greene executed the wrong run-action (his footwork was off), but Sanchez's fake still froze the linebackers and allowed Holmes to get open.
Sanchez has completed 61 percent of his play-action passes, compared to 56 percent on other passes, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The difference is yards-per-attempt is significant: 8.6 to 6.3.
He's productive because the play fakes create bubbles in the defense, making it easier for him to locate and connect with his receivers. Against the Bills, he was 5-for-5 on passes to Plaxico Burress, the first time in Sanchez's career he had a perfect day with a wide receiver (minimum five targets).
"Early in the year, we were doing a lot of run action, [but] it just wasn't getting the sell we wanted because we weren't running the ball as well," Sanchez said.
The Jets are 4-0 when they rush at least 26 times, so you don't have to be a genius in a hoodie to recognize what works for them.
They run. They play defense. They win field position with special teams.
They don't want their quarterback slinging it all over the place, because-- let's face it -- he's still prone to the big mistake. Sanchez has 12 turnovers (seven interceptions, five lost fumbles), ahead of his rookie pace.
"We're in the winning business, and we've got to win, so whatever it takes," he said.
The Patriots are a zone-oriented team, so Sanchez probably will be reluctant to take shots downfield. But he has to try, if only to keep the Patriots honest. In the previous meeting, he didn't attempt any passes beyond 23 yards, playing into their hands.
It's hard to win on a 20-yard field.
In this game, the Jets (5-3) have to win or else they'd be one game behind the Patriots. In reality, it would be two games. The Patriots would own the head-to-head tiebreaker with a season sweep.
This means everything to the Jets, and they're approaching it like a playoff game. They're going to do it their way, resisting the urge to follow the trend.
As Ryan said, only one thing makes it a successful plan -- a W.