Jets, Packers bring New York Life Protection momentum to championship Sunday

NORTHBROOK, Ill. (STATS) – Strong pass protection certainly

doesn’t guarantee a win, but it sure can help a lot. Just ask the

New York Jets and Green Bay Packers.

Those teams, coming off impressive road victories against what

were the highest remaining clubs in the New York Life Protection

Index, hope their offensive lines are equally successful against

stiff defensive tests in another rematch weekend, this one with

Super Bowl stakes.

The New York Life Protection Index is a proprietary formula

created by STATS LLC which measures pass protection by using

metrics such as length of passes, penalties by offensive lineman,

sacks allowed and quarterback hurries and knockdowns.

Mark Sanchez and Aaron Rodgers were able to flip the script on

Tom Brady and Matt Ryan a week ago as the front five of top seeds

New England and Atlanta – which ranked No. 4 and 5, respectively,

in the regular season NYLPI – were outplayed and saw their

championship dreams come to an abrupt end.

The road to Dallas will get no easier this week as the Jets

travel to Pittsburgh and the Packers to Chicago, where the

stinginess of the defenses will be matched only by the

temperatures.

While Sanchez ranked 27th in the NFL in passer rating, the Jets

finished 11th in the NYLPI (67.8), the highest mark of the four

remaining playoff teams. New York posted its third-highest

single-game index (93.7) in last Sunday’s stunning 28-21 win at New

England as Sanchez threw three touchdowns and was not sacked – all

without injured right tackle Damien Woody.

As usual, a strong running game fostered that success as the

Jets recorded their fifth straight 100-yard performance on the

ground. That stretch began with a 106-yard effort in a 22-17 win at

Pittsburgh on Dec. 19.

Though Sanchez didn’t throw a touchdown in that contest, he was

sacked only once and his line was flagged for just one holding call

while enjoying one of its better pass-blocking games (81.1) of the

season. The front five hopes to repeat that effort against a

formidable Pittsburgh unit that led the NFL with 48 sacks in the

regular season, and tacked on five more in last Saturday’s 31-24

win over Baltimore.

While superb at getting to the opposing quarterback, the

Steelers are not quite as adept at protecting their own. Their

overall success highlights the strength of a stout defense and

strong running game, as they ranked just 26th in the final NYLPI

and were again subpar (31.9) in the divisional victory over the

Ravens.

If Pittsburgh is to be beat, getting to – and bringing down –

Ben Roethlisberger will likely be a key. Roethlisberger was sacked

a season-high six times last week, and three times against the Jets

last month. Besides those three sacks, however, the Steelers line

did a decent job of keeping him upright and were extremely

disciplined, committing just a single false-start penalty and

finishing with an index of 83.9.

To counter shaky protection, coach Mike Tomlin could turn to the

running game, like he has so often this season. The Jets allowed

206 rushing yards in playoff victories at Indianapolis and New

England, and Pittsburgh’s Rashard Mendenhall ran for 99 yards and a

touchdown against New York last month.

Another rematch is on tap in the Windy City, where the stellar

play of Rodgers will be on display again. Rodgers helped Green Bay

overcome middling protection – 14th in the NYLPI – and a

24th-ranked running game in the regular season and now has his team

within a game of the Super Bowl for the first time in 13 years.

Rodgers has been nearly perfect in the postseason, throwing six

touchdowns without an interception in playoff victories at

Philadelphia and Atlanta. Buoyed by improved pass protection – last

week’s 84.6 was the team’s fourth-highest of the season – his quick

release helped him complete a remarkable 31 of 36 passes for 366

yards and three touchdowns in last Saturday’s 48-21 win at the

Georgia Dome.

If the Packers are to have similar success at Soldier Field,

however, his offensive line will need to put forth a more complete

effort than it did in two previous meetings this season.

In a 20-17 loss at Chicago in September, Rodgers was not sacked

and knocked down only three times, but his line was whistled for

four false-start and three holding penalties to tarnish an

otherwise solid night of protection. Coincidentally, referee Terry

McAulay and his crew, who worked that game, will be at Soldier

Field again this weekend. That group threw 19 flags on the Packers

– 18 of which were accepted for 152 yards.

A little over three months later in the regular season finale,

the line was less than stellar (57.3) in a must-win game Green Bay

eventually took 10-3 to earn the NFC’s final wild-card berth.

Rodgers was sacked twice, and the front five was flagged four

times.

While the Packers certainly struggled up front – during the

regular season at large, and against the Bears specifically –

Chicago has been even more dreadful. It ranked dead last (33.1) in

the final NYLPI, and scored even worse in games against Green

Bay.

The Bears line (32.0) couldn’t stop Jay Cutler from being sacked

three times in the September victory, then further struggled (29.7)

earlier this month when the Packers recorded six sacks. It provided

decent protection (57.6) in last Sunday’s 35-24 divisional win over

Seattle, helped no doubt by a targeted effort to finally balance a

Mike Martz offense.

Over the last nine games of the regular season, Chicago had 258

rushing attempts and 276 pass plays. Matt Forte ran for 717 yards

over that span, and had 91 of the team’s 110 rushing yards on 15

carries at Green Bay three weeks ago.

Forte, Cutler and Chester Taylor ran for 167 of Chicago’s 176

yards on the ground against the Seahawks.