FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - There are two main reasons the Jets don't want rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez to try passing too many times against the Chargers' defense in Sunday's AFC divisional playoff game: Shaun Phillips and Shawne Merriman. No matter how you spell their first names, the two "Seans" spell trouble when San Diego's outside linebackers get into pass-rush situations.
Phillips and Merriman are the big playmakers for the Chargers' defense. Phillips this season had seven sacks, seven forced fumbles, 11 tackles for loss and 16 quarterback hits. Merriman sat out a couple of games with injuries but still managed four sacks and led the Chargers with 20 quarterback pressures in addition to seven hits.
"I've played San Diego four times in my career, so I understand the strengths of both of those guys," said Jets backup tight end Ben Hartsock, who often will face them when the Jets add extra blockers. "Merriman and Phillips are talented guys. I played them in a playoff game in '07 with Tennessee.
"Phillips is tremendously athletic, kind of a rangy guy. I think both of them do a really good job with their hands with swipe moves and power moves. Merriman has a reputation of being an explosive, powerful type of athlete. They're both effective."
As much as Phillips and Merriman want to rush the quarterback, their first responsibility will be to set a physical tone against the Jets' offensive line. They're very aware of the perception that they aren't strong against the run.
"I don't think we can take the stats from this season because now it's the playoffs and every stat gets thrown out the window," Phillips said. "Now, we get a chance to have our run defense where we want it. Obviously, they're a very dominant running team, but who knows, they may come out and pass the ball."
Call that wishful thinking. Sanchez had just 15 pass attempts in the Jets' wild-card win over Cincinnati. The key is to put the Jets in third-and-long situations, forcing them to put the ball in Sanchez's hands.
"When it's time for them to throw the ball, it's time to get after him and make him make some decisions that he doesn't want to make," Merriman said. "Going 12-for-15 last week means he can be pretty accurate, so, we have to change that up a bit."
How do the Chargers do that? First, they have to stop the run to force the pass. As one of their best run defenders, Merriman has to lead the charge. "They are a bunch of physical guys," Merriman said of the Jets' offensive line. "We have to come out and be physical. That's where the game will start and finish at."