AFC West: Nick Mangold

Final Word: AFC West

September, 23, 2011
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Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 3:

Tolbert not a force at the goal line: The San Diego Chargers would like to see bowling-ball running back Mike Tolbert regain his mojo at the goal line Sunday against visiting Kansas City. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Tolbert has scored on just one of six goal-to-go situations in two games. Last year, he was 10-of-21 in those situations. Tolbert was stopped on fourth-and-inches at the goal line at New England last week. It was one of the most crucial plays of the game.

[+] EnlargeSan Diego's Mike Tolbert
AP Photo/Charles KrupaThe Chargers need to get more production around the goal line from running back Mike Tolbert.
Raiders need to put hex on Rex: One of the reasons New York Jets coach Rex Ryan has been so effective as a head coach is his confidence. He is not afraid to play anywhere. He certainly won’t fret about entering the Black Hole on Sunday. Since he took over the Jets in 2009, Ryan’s team is 6-0 against non-divisional AFC competition on the road. It’s up to the Raiders to show Ryan the road can be a tough place.

Last trip to San Diego not good karma for Chiefs: The last thing the Kansas City Chiefs need right now is bad memories. The Chiefs are floundering at 0-2. They have been outscored 89-10 in two games, they have injury issues, and coach Todd Haley is reportedly on the hot seat. A win at San Diego would solve a lot of problems, but the Chiefs will not be hitting the field in San Diego with terrific memories. The Chargers hammered the Chiefs 31-0 in Week 14 of last season -- Kansas City's last visit. The Chiefs were without quarterback Matt Cassel, who had an appendectomy earlier that week.

Did the Titans pick the right QB? Before the end of the lockout, there was speculation the Tennessee Titans would pursue a veteran quarterback to help groom first-round pick Jake Locker. A lot of the speculation centered on Denver’s Kyle Orton. However, instead of trading for Orton, the Titans signed Seattle’s Matt Hasselbeck. In the end, Orton didn’t get dealt, and now the two veterans will face each other Sunday in Nashville. So far, Hasselbeck is enjoying a fast start for the Titans, so they probably don’t have any regrets going into this matchup.

Raiders defensive front could have a field day: New York star center Nick Mangold is out for Sunday’s game. Rookie free-agent Colin Baxter is expected to start in his place. Baxter was claimed off waivers from the Chargers after the Chargers cut him with the intent of stashing him on the practice squad earlier this month. Baxter has had nine practices with the Jets and will be in charge of protecting Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, who has a bruised arm. The Raiders’ defensive front, one of the best in the league, must take advantage of this. It has to attack the middle of the Jets’ line and try to make life as difficult as possible for Baxter. If Baxter fails, the Jets are prepared to use left guard Matt Slauson at center. That would put the Jets’ offensive line in even more upheaval.

Chargers' top task: stop the run

January, 12, 2010
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.