"You will be governed by the principle of calculated risk, which you shall interpret to mean the avoidance of exposure of your force to attack by superior enemy forces without good prospect of inflicting... greater damage on the enemy."
-Chester W. Nimitz, in a letter to his task force commanders prior to the Battle of Midway in 1942
Based on much of what I've read or heard this week, the Chargers should be in full panic mode over the having to play against the best defense in the NFL. There's no way the Chargers can throw on Jets' CB Darrelle Revis - he's so good that he'll take completely take away Vincent Jackson, while the Jets can shut down Antonio Gates, and Malcom Floyd without much trouble. The Jets' blitz is so overpowering, that Rivers will act like a high school JV QB seeing his first ever game action - throwing picks, and being unable to locate the blitzers.
On defense, we are going to get shredded by RBs Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene. Jets' QB Mark Sanchez will light our secondary up with huge plays to TE Dustin Keller and WR Braylon Edwards, because he's back playing in Southern California were he grew up. Our defense will get absolutely ground into mulch by the Jets (future Hall-of-Fame, apparently) Offensive Line.
Ugh! I'm ready to puke now, and the rest of Chargers' Nation should be ready to puke as well, after having to hear so much garbage.
Not to worry. Below the jump, I'm going to talk about how the Chargers should beat the Jets, based on The Principle of Calculated Risk that one of America's greatest military commanders used to defeat an opponent that (like the Jets, apparently) seems to have every advantage.
Again, the The Principle of Calculated Risk is merely another way of saying that you don't take unnecessary chances, and that you take full advantage of the opportunities you are given. Some of these may seem painfully obvious.
The Jets have been one of the most inconsistent teams in the NFL this season. According to Football Outsiders, they rank 26 out of 32 in terms of consistency. On the flip side, the Chargers are the most consistent team in the NFL. With the Chargers, what you see is what you get, week in and week out. With the Jets, what you see this week is not likey to reoccur the next week. Having said that, and knowing the Jets are coming off 2 and 1/3 good games in a row, what is the likelihood that they will continue to play at a sustained high level? The Chargers, knowing what they do well and what they don't do well, are in a better position to take advantage of Jets mistakes, simply because the Jets make mistakes more frequently.
Bottom Line: Stay patient, and don't make mistakes. The Jets are more likely to make mistakes than the Chargers.
To reinforce Point 1, the Jets have a -2 turnover ratio during the regular season. The Chargers have a +10 turnover ratio. Even more importantly, when playing the better QBs in the NFL (for the Jets, I counted Matt Schaub, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Peyton Manning - players with comparable stats to Rivers), the Jets forced a grand total of 2 INTs. If the Jets go into this game expecting to rattle Rivers with the blitz and force mistakes, they are picking on the wrong QB. Only 4 QBs in the league managed a 3-1 or better TD to INT ratio, and Rivers was one of them (the others were Aaron Rodgers, Brett Favre, and Brees). Further, despite the Jets' tendency to blitz, they got to the QB a total of 32 times - 3 less than the Chargers. The Chargers should be able to take advantage of the Jets' blitz, because Rivers will likely have time to throw, and will not be confused by what he's seeing.
Bottom Line: The Jets will give Rivers plenty of chances to make plays, and he has beaten blitzing teams all season. Furthermore, Rivers (and the Chargers) do not beat themselves with mistakes.
Darrelle Revis is an outstanding CB who will make life difficult, but not impossible for Vincent Jackson. Jackson has played against comparable corners this season (Nnamdi Asomugha twice, Champ Bailey twice, Asante Samuel, Terence Newman, and Leon Hall). His combined numbers against these players are 34 catches, 499 yards, and 5 TDs. Furthermore, Lito Sheppard will not be able to shut down Malcom Floyd. And regardless of who is covering him, Antonio Gates can be controlled by only 1 player in the NFL. His name is Troy Polamalu, and he doesn't play for the Jets. Otherwise, Gates will need to be bracketed by a LB and S (possibly Bart Scott and Kerry Rhodes). However, diverting this much attention to 2 players will open additional opportunities for other players, players such as Legedu Naanee, Buster Davis, Darren Sproles, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Mike Tolbert. Furthermore, the Chargers have scored at least 20 points in 22 consecutive games.
Bottom Line: The Chargers' offense has beaten both good and bad defenses all season long, regardless of who is catching the ball.
The Jets' offense features 2 very good running backs in Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene. And while the yardage numbers and average gain against the Chargers defense is high, not one team this season has beaten San Diego exclusively by running the ball. The Dallas Cowboys, a comparable running offense, managed to score only 10 points in the first 59 minutes of the game. This is because the Chargers do not allow many runs of over 20 yards, and play stout defense inside the red zone, forcing opponents to kick FGs instead of TDs. The Chargers should make a point of slowing down the run, with emphasis on not giving up runs of 25+ yards, and limiting the Jets' play action opportunities.
Bottom Line: The Chargers do not have to shut down Jones and Greene (or Brad Smith), merely keep them contained.
Early season losses against Baltimore and Pittsburgh caused problems because both of those teams have effective passing games that could make the Chargers pay for overplaying the run. However, Mark Sanchez is no Ben Roethlisberger, nor even a Joe Flacco. Even if Sanchez were a better QB at this point in his career, he doesn't have enough quality targets to make the Chargers pay for blitzes and overplaying a play action pass. WR Jerricho Cotchery is the most dangerous receiver the Jets have, but he is not a game breaker. Edwards is dangerous but inconsistent. Keller presents the biggest challenge for the Chargers secondary, but has been inconsistent - because of Mark Sanchez. Blitzing on 3rd and long, and mixing the blitzes against Sanchez is likely to be effective.
Bottom Line: If the Chargers play sound defense, and choose their blitzes wisely, the Jets will not make enough big plays to stay with the Chargers offense, and are far more likely to make mistakes.
Many observers (myself included) believe this game may come down to the 4th quarter. This is where the Chargers have their greatest advantage. 13 of the Chargers 22 starters are making their 4th consecutive trip to the Divisional Round of the playoffs. For the Jets, they have not advanced to this level of the postseason since 2004. Second, the Jets are a mixed bag in games decided by 8 points or less, with a 3-5 record. Their victories are against the Patriots, Titans, at Bills; their losses are the Dolphins (home and away), Bills, Jaguars, and Falcons. The Chargers record in games decided by 8 points or less is 8-1. Furthermore, if this game comes down to a 4th quarter game winning drive, which player is best suited to lead a game winning drive? Mark Sanchez, with a 10-7 record as a starter vs. Philip Rivers, a QB with a 49-21 record as a starter, with 13 game winning drives in the 4th quarter in 4+ seasons.
Bottom Line: If the game is close late, the Chargers have a much better chance of pulling out a win. By minimizing mistakes, the Chargers are almost guaranteed to have a chance to win the game late.
Don't get me wrong, the Jets are playing strong football, and are a worthy test for San Diego. Barring the Chargers playing their worst game of the season, the Jets' style of play gives them one real option: try and squeeze out a win late in the game by controlling the ball, forcing turnovers, and playing mistake free football.
I don't believe this will be a blowout (14+ points) victory for San Diego. However, all the things the Jets have to do to win this game relies on the Chargers doing things they haven't done all season. The Chargers, applying The Principle of Calculated Risk, must protect the football, play sound defense, take advantage of the opponent's blitz, trade FGs for TDs, and get clutch play from their QB.
This has been the Chargers' style all season. If the Chargers play their game, they will advance.