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Jaworski breaks down video of the QBs, gives his take

ESPN Monday Night Football commentator team Mike Tirico,

ESPN Monday Night Football commentator team Mike Tirico, left, and Ron Jaworski. (August 13, 2007) Credit: AP

MOUNT LAUREL, N.J. - Ron Jaworski was sitting at a computer monitor reviewing every pass Mark Sanchez has thrown this postseason, noting the inevitable trials of a rookie quarterback.

This was Thursday at NFL Films' offices, where the staff of ESPN's "NFL Matchup'' gathers to break down coaches' tapes in greater detail than anywhere outside coaches' offices.

Eventually, a visitor jokingly asked if it was safe to say the Colts will have the more polished quarterback in the AFC Championship Game.

"Yeah, lefthanded,'' someone in the back of the room cracked.

Such is the understandable perception of the mismatch Sunday between four-time NFL MVP Peyton Manning and one-time All-Pac-10 pick Sanchez.

Can the Jets' top-ranked defense stop Manning, who plans to throw with his right arm? Can Sanchez make a few plays while avoiding mistakes against the Colts' speedy defense?

Jaworski and producer Greg Cosell offered their insights (and statistics).

Let's start with Sanchez.

"You can say they're hiding Sanchez if you want to be a cynic, but I think it's what you have to do,'' Jaworski said. "It's superannuated football - defense, run the football, mix in play action. In today's football, where everyone is throwing for 4,000 yards and it's a wide-open game, the Jets are going old school.''

The approach to passing is a byproduct of a powerful ground game that most often runs right, taking advantage of the pulling of left guard Alan Faneca. Of 39 pass plays in the first two rounds, only eight times has Sanchez thrown off a straight dropback. In contrast, there were 13 play-action passes and four bootlegs, most to the right.

The idea is both to protect Sanchez and to take advantage of opponents' commitment to stopping the run, which helps explain this unusual statistic: Sanchez has attempted more passes that traveled 40 yards in the air than any of the other quarterbacks still playing.

Why? Because opponents dare him to beat them deep, so the Jets take occasional shots.

Jaworski believes Sanchez will continue to develop and become a "10-year quarterback'' for the Jets; that process already is well under way.

On one hand, there still are plays on which he fails to react quickly to pressure. On the other, there are plays such as the one that preceded Shonn Greene's 53-yard scoring run against the Chargers.

On third-and-4 at the Jets' 40, Sanchez seemed to notice Antonio Cromartie leaning with the intention of jumping a route by Jerricho Cotchery. The ball might have been intercepted if Sanchez had thrown toward the sideline, but he slipped the ball to Cotchery toward the inside, away from Cromartie, for a 7-yard completion. "The way this game played out, this might be his best throw of the season,'' Jaworski said.

Of course, it helps that the Jets' line is "really, really good,'' according to Jaworski, who called center Nick Mangold their best offensive player.

The critical matchup is how those linemen handle the Colts' fast front seven.

"You have to stay patient and believe you're eventually going to hit a seam or crack, that eventually they're going to overrun a play because of that style,'' Jaworski said.

The sexy matchup is Manning against the Jets' blitz-heavy, forever-confusing defense. "I've looked at some of these blitzes 100 times and haven't figured it out,'' Jaworski said.

There were occasions in the Dec. 27 game when Manning had open receivers - including Reggie Wayne, who faced the Jets' Darrelle Revis the entire game - but seemed rushed.

Manning did have his moments, especially during the third-quarter drive on which the Colts took a 15-10 lead, when he completed two long, difficult throws under pressure.

The Colts will try to limit trouble by avoiding the third-and-long plays that Jaworski said Dolphins coordinator Dan Henning calls "disaster downs'' against the Jets.

That invites exotic schemes from a team that blitzed on 49 of 121 plays in the first two rounds, discombobulating Carson Palmer and Philip Rivers.

Rivers usually thrives under blitz pressure. "I don't know if he was Rex-orcised or what,'' Jaworski said, "but he started seeing ghosts or things that weren't there.''

Manning buys time by operating out of the shotgun - 410 times in the regular season compared with 127 for Sanchez - and with his peerless football smarts.

Jaworski noted the subtle footwork that bought precious extra moments when the Jets were bearing down in Week 16.

"You're not going to fool him,'' he said. "I think Peyton has a pretty good feel for the blitzing schemes and they'll be real aggressive with three wide receivers and Dallas Clark at tight end.''

Jaworski's bottom-line pick? Colts, but close.

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