By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) – The last time the New York Jets went to San Diego, it
Rex Ryan was a rookie coach. Mark Sanchez was a rookie quarterback. And after
the Jets surprised the heavily-favored Chargers to reach the AFC Championship
Game a week later, all seemed possible.
Fast-forward four-plus years and the subsequent visit to Southern California
brings with it a sky’s worth of dark clouds now following Gang Green from its
Northern New Jersey home base.
Ryan is likely one more mediocre season from being shown the door, and his
second-year quarterback, Geno Smith – whose arrival hastened Sanchez’s exile
to Philadelphia in the offseason – is hearing more than just whispers
suggesting he be benched for the ex-Eagle that Sanchez replaced, Michael Vick.
It all got just a little worse for Smith after last week’s 24-17 loss to
Detroit, when he was caught by television cameras shouting an expletive at a
home stadium heckler. He threw for 209 yards, a touchdown and an interception
in the loss to the Lions and has five interceptions and a pair of fumbles
through the first four games of his second season.
Still, just as he’d done when the anti-Sanchez volume cranked up, Ryan is
standing by his man.
“I believe in him,” the coach said. “I believe that we’re going to get it done
and I believe that he’s going to be one of the main reasons we get it done and
get it turned. I don’t anticipate us as a team continuing to struggle. I think
this team needs a win in the worst way, and I think that will help us more
than anything. We have guys that believe in each other and I think, to a man,
that our team believes in Geno.”
The next three games, incidentally, will match Smith against QBs named Rivers,
Manning and Brady. Not exactly an ideal list while trying to avoid a four-game
losing streak for the first time in seven years.
But fear not, Jets fans. The offensive unit held a players-only meeting to
brainstorm for ways in which it can turn around a stat sheet that indicates
the Jets are averaging 19.8 points per week, and refuel a passing game that’s
exceeded 204 yards exactly one time in four games.
Smith, for one, emerged from the get-together with defiance.
“No grievances,” Smith said. “I understand the semantics are a huge thing in
(the New York) market, but no grievance. I don’t want you guys to get that
misunderstood. No one’s hanging their head around here, no one’s sad, no one’s
down on themselves. We’re ready to go out and play.”
On the other side, New York’s run defense is tops in the league through four
weeks, but it’s mere window-dressing for a pass defense that’s surrendered
nine touchdowns and hasn’t yet managed a single interception. The last time an
NFL team failed to get a pick through five games was 12 years ago.
That team, the 2002 Buffalo Bills, would up with 10 interceptions and finished
Alongside the lack of interceptions, the 2014 Jets have allowed a combined
106.8 passer rating to QBs named Carr, Rodgers, Cutler and Stafford. This
week’s opponent – the aforementioned Philip Rivers – had TD strikes of 47 and
43 yards to Eddie Royal in a 33-14 rout of Jacksonville last weekend.
Royal has scored four times in the last two games, and Rivers enters this
Sunday with the league’s best passer rating (114.5), though it’s been even
better (128.2) in three straight wins since a one-point Week 1 defeat against
Arizona. He’s completed 74.3 percent of his passes while racking up 917 yards
and eight scores in the victories, and torched the Jaguars for 377 yards and
three of the TDs.
Keenan Allen caught 10 passes for 135 yards against Jacksonville and leads the
team with 22 catches and 244 yards for the season.
“I don’t think it’s just Eddie and Philip. I think it’s the whole group,”
Chargers coach Mike McCoy said. “Philip has many weapons to go to.”
Rivers has done it without the luxury of a reliable run game since the team
lost Danny Woodhead for the season in Week 1 and will be without Ryan Mathews
for at least a couple more weeks with a knee problem. Fill-ins Donald Brown
and Branden Oliver teamed up for 19 carries and 42 yards last week.
San Diego is second-from-last in the NFL with a 69.5-yard rushing average per
week, and the Chargers drop to No. 32 in yards-per-carry clip, which stands at
2.4. The Jets allow 63.3 rush yards per week, which is the best in the league.
Their total yardage-allowed rate is 291.2, third in the league.
“It’s nowhere where it needs to be,” McCoy said. “There’s no excuses about it.
We’re not running it well enough. We’re not blocking well enough. Whatever
we’re running isn’t working. We’ve got to figure out as coaches and players
how to get it done.”
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Out of His Hands
Whether Smith’s long-term starting fate is secure is still up for debate, but
the Jets will likely go to great lengths to keep Sunday’s result out of his
hands. Given his per-carry average of 5.5 yards over 50 attempts thus far,
Chris Ivory has become the No. 1 option as a feature back while New York
becomes an offensive that mirrors Ryan’s ground-and-pound philosophy. It’ll
keep the ball away from Rivers, too.
If He’s Standing, He’s Winning
Rivers, by any measure, is having one of his best seasons. And against a
secondary as leaky as New York’s, it only figures to continue. The Chargers
have done a decent job of keeping their QB upright – five sacks allowed in
four games – so, unless the Jets are able to get five of their own on Sunday,
Rivers has a real shot to maintain a 70.1 percent completion rate and boost
his 9 TD/1 INT ratio.
It’s not the first time that Ryan and Co. have gone into a game that looks
like a horrifically bad matchup. And he’s managed more than once to either
keep the game closer than expected or even win the thing.
But even the most hopeful of Jets fans has to think this one’s got a chance to
get out of hand pretty early. Bottom line, if Rivers is anywhere near himself,
he’ll make mincemeat of a Triple-A secondary.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Chargers 38, Jets 14