Will Mark Sanchez become a factor this Sunday?

Know what the best thing about the Jets is? No, it’s not the fact that they’ve taken on the role of Cinderella (a brash, cocky Cinderella for that matter) for this year’s playoffs, although that has certainly made them fun to watch. It’s always easy to root for an underdog, especially when that underdog is led by a walking sound bite in Rex Ryan.

Actually, the best thing about the Jets is that they know exactly who they are and they don’t hide from it. They’re a team that relies on running the ball and playing good defense, much like the Ravens did in 2000, the Buccaneers did in 2002, the Steelers did in 2005, the Bears did in 2006 and the Giants did in 2007. The formula works.

That said, is this the weekend that rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez will have to take on more responsibility in order to take the Jets to the Super Bowl? Because at some point, an opponent will be able to take away New York’s running game and force Sanchez to beat them through the air. And that opponent may be the Colts, who happen to be the Jets’ counterpart in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game.

Peyton Manning has had a fair amount of success against Rex Ryan-led defenses over the past couple years and if the Colts can build a lead, they may force the Jets to abandon the run in order to win. Granted, this might not happen until the second half or even in the fourth quarter, but the key is that it may happen.

The word “poised” has been used in the past two weeks to describe Sanchez’s play. But “steady” might be a better term. He’s only thrown for 282 yards in his last two games, but he’s also completed over 63 percent of his passes and has only thrown one inception. For a team that can run the ball and rely on its defense to stop opponents, performances like Sanchez’s over the past two weeks are acceptable.

But what happens if Manning can move the ball at will and the underrated Colts’ front seven limits the Jets’ ground attack? Keep in mind that the Chargers had the Jets exactly where they wanted them last week after dominating the first half. Their problem was that they couldn’t convert opportunities into points and the Jets were able to get their running game going in the second half. Had San Diego been able to build a double-digit lead when the Jets couldn’t pick up a first down in the first half, New York might have been at home this Sunday.

If the Jets can execute their game plan and limit what Sanchez has to do, they have a shot at playing in Miami in two weeks. If they can get the running game going and keep Manning on the sidelines, they can control the tempo of the game and force Peyton to make mistakes.

But if the Colts can build an early lead, Sanchez will have to deliver through the air. Is he capable of beating teams with his arm? We may find out this weekend.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

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