The Jets defense has been getting a little bit more air than the ball deserves. While the pass defense is stout, the run defense is third-worst in the league. It has helped that the Jets are normally trying to comeback from a deficit but the ability to consistently pound the ball puts the Chargers offense at an advantage.
LaDainian Tomlinson has not been a focal point of the gameplan over the last two weeks but the team has proved it can go a number of ways on the offensive side of the ball. That bodes well when the gameplan brings Tomlinson back in the fold, which it will do this week. And the Jets are keenly aware.
"Everybody knows that it goes to LT," defensive end John Abraham said. "If he's on point, then the whole team's on point. We know we have to stop LT to win the game."
The question in New York is can they stop the run. They allow 140.6 yards per game on the ground and the Chargers have gained 124.1 per.
With the best back in the league toting the ball, it seems a match made in heaven. The one guy they will have to keep an eye on is Jonathan Vilma.
"He is a good player," Tomlinson admitted. "He makes a lot of plays. He really reads the ball – the play well and gets to the ball."
When the game turns to the pass, the onus will be on the offensive line to hold off a tough defensive line. In particular, Leander Jordan can't become a turnstile.
"All the guys surrounding him, I feel like they play well together. I think he can do the job. He will be fine.
"He is going to have to block both of their defensive ends, which I am confident he can do."
Shaun Ellis and Abraham have been to a combined four Pro Bowls – one shy of the amount of starts Jordan has entering the game. It will be a challenge and a big component of the game.
The Chargers defense has been creating pressure every game and this week the pressure could result in plenty of turnovers. Vinny Testaverde has had a tough time holding onto the ball and isn't fleet of foot.
The Jets' offensive line has also lost its heart in Kevin Mawae. Only one player is in the same position that he began the year in.
"As a defensive lineman you always want to get to the quarterback and get the sacks," rookie defensive end Luis Castillo said.
Three sacks per game is the average for a Chargers team that ranks second in the league in the category. They have only five forced fumbles to show for it. Testaverde has fumbled five times in the last two games.
The Jets have not shown a vertical passing game with their longest pass traversing 37 yards. That doesn't figure to change and will put the rock in the hands of Curtis Martin.
Martin's average per carry is down this year but he has the ability to pound the defense into submission over the long haul. He is consistent and while he rarely breaks the big gainer, he can move through the gut or the outside with similar ease.
The future Hall of Famer has a unique way of finding the empty pockets vacated by the defense. It is why the Chargers are stressing the fundamentals.
"Discipline is important everyday," linebacker Stephen Cooper said. "It is the number one thing you need on defense."
The defense as a whole has stepped up its game and the younger players are at the heart of it.
"We are gradually coming together as a defense," rookie linebacker Shawne Merriman added. "We are starting to connect. Once you get a team playing like we are playing you get to come up big."
On Special Teams:
The Chargers gave punter Mike Scifres an extension to 2011 – and he has been the regular punter for just 25 games – not even two full years. It shows the confidence they have in his abilities. His stats are up over last year – when he was a first alternate for the Pro Bowl and he has been called a weapon on numerous occasions. His 39.1 net average is sixth best in the league. Only two other punters have booted the ball 35 times or more and have 15 or fewer kicks returned.
Nate Kaeding should return to kickoffs. He has built the consistency in that area of the game that Scifres lacks. With Justin Miller finally showing the signs that made him special in college on the return game, the team will have to be disciplined.
Ben Graham presents a problem for Darren Sproles. Graham's punts have an uncanny spin and have wreaked havoc on returns. He had a stretch of six straight games with an opposing player muffing one of his kicks. It would not surprise to see someone with more experience take over the punt return duties during the game.