Breaking Down the Jets vs the Chargers
Coming off a victory that may have left more questions than answers about the Jets, the team will face a high powered San Diego Charger team looking to make a certain Jets head coach eat his words about their head coach.
Jets Defense vs Chargers Offense
The San Diego offense is kind of a mixed bag. The offense is loaded with weapons, has one of the best Quarterbacks in the NFL, and moves the ball all over the field. Yet, for all the statistical production they donít score the points you would assume they would score. They just seem to stumble at least once or twice every game. A bad interception. A bad handoff. Failure to convert on 4th down. If they could eliminate those mistakes that could be the best offense in the NFL, but right now the mistakes are part of their game. QB Phillip Rivers is a supremely talented and extremely cocky QB. He has been unable to win the big one like Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisbeger, both drafted the same year as Rivers, have done, but there is no question that he is the most talented of the three. He has a great downfield arm and is very accurate with the football, but this season he has been very turnover prone. His big weapon is WR Vincent Jackson, a huge down the field threat that will make some of the most supremely athletic catches in the NFL. The team is searching for a second target. WR Malcolm Floyd is explosive but is a two play a game player. He has nursed a groin injury this season. TE Antonio Gates has been injured most of the last two years and is no longer reliable enough to be counted on to finish a game. He will give it a try this week. The running backs, Ryan Matthews and Mike Tolbert, are actually the secondary targets in the passing game. Tolbert leads the team with 28 receptions and the two often see large amounts of daylight with the receivers drawing the coverage deep. Matthews has had a terrific season running the football, averaging nearly 5 yards a carry.
The Jets defense is struggling to find any type of consistency in putting together a full 60 minute effort. They played poorly against the Ravens at the start before dominating them the rest of the game. They opened terribly against New England, dominated the middle of the game, and fell apart late. Miami did as much damage to themselves as the Jets defense did to the Dolphins. The slow starts are a major problem. It was always a problem for the offense, but this is the first season where it has been a problem for the defense. It is as if they need a quarter just to get into the flow of the game and succeed. Physically the Jets are having a hard time setting the line and too often letting teams surge past them. The run defense isnít terrible but when they look bad they look awful. One of the problems has been the lack of help from LBís Bart Scott and David Harris who are both having down years. All the years of extra games may have caught up with the two of them in 2011. Physically they are being beaten and are slow to shed blocks. The cornerbacks have played very well this year. It goes without saying that CB Darrelle Revis is the best in the game, but the Jets have gotten good contributions from Antonio Cromartie and Kyle Wilson. The penalties are a problem in the secondary, but part of that issue is the physical style that the staff teaches them. Even with the deficiencies at Safety, the secondary play remains the strong point of the team and has allowed the Jets to use more and more blitz packages.
From a matchup perspective this is one of the worst matchups for the Jets in the league. The Chargers are a big play team and the biggest problem the Jets have is slipping up against a big play. Those are the kind of plays that change a game and too often the Jets are giving up those plays. One would assume that Revis will matchup with Jackson the entire game leaving Cromartie on Floyd. The Chargers do not think much of Cromartie and are going to target that matchup. That matchup could decide the game. If Floyds two receptions go for 30 yards it means Cromartie did his job. If they go for 70 the Jets are in big trouble and the Chargers are going to bank on him making a mistake. Revis and Cromartie have to make Rivers pay when he slips up. Some of his downfield throws are as much careless as they are daring and those are the kind of QBís that you have to intercept when given the chance. You beat big play offenses by making big plays in the secondary and the Jets two stars have to do it.
The run game has to worry the Jets who lose the edges too often. Teams are taking bigger advantage of the different fronts the Jets show and the various substitution patterns. People point to the loss of veteran DE Shaun Ellis, but Trevor Pryce was also a big contributor who is no longer here. They have not been replaced in the rotation. The bigger issue is the ILB play which has fallen off a cliff and is not making up for problems up front. The Jets are going to have to contain Matthews in both the pass and run game, a very difficult matchup for a team lacking speed. The team may have to commit both a LB and S to taking him when he leaks out of the backfield. The pass protection for the Chargers has not been great, particularly RT Jeromey Clary constantly blowing assignments. That is a big opportunity for LB Calvin Pace to continue his excellent season. On the other side the Jets will primarily be bringing Jamaal Westerman, but the Chargers may also take advantage of him and toss the ball right over his head to Matthews.
If the defense gets off to another slow start the game is over. The defense has to look at the current offensive deficiencies and take it upon themselves to finish the games. There are only 5 starters remaining from that 2009 defense, but those players have to step up and let the other guys know what it takes to truly be a great defense. Right now the Jets are considered by many great because of a reputation built by other player, but they are far from great. The Jets need to actually be great defensively to win a game like this. They have to pressure the QB, contain the runners, and create mistakes this week and use this game to springboard the defense for the next 9 games. If they canít get it done this week it is simply not going to happen this year. The Jets have to be up for the test.
Jets Offense vs Chargers Defense
With the exception of the game against New England, in which they allowed 35 points, the Chargers defense has been very good and has not allowed another opponent to score more than 17 points on offense, though in fairness that has been against some of the worst offenses in the NFL. The pass defense does a tremendous job of keeping plays in front of them and not allowing plays to develop deep. Though starting corners Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason are not special players they do their job well. Jammer has been struggling with injuries but should play in the game. He does a very good job of staying close to his assignment and quickly reacting to the catch. Like the Jets secondary, it has been the safeties that have been the bigger liabilities. S Eric Weddle is the lone player that makes plays on the football but can sometimes rely too much on his athleticism to make a play, while S Steve Gregory has been terrible in all aspects of the game. Gregory has been unable to lend much support in the run game or shut down anyone in the passing game. The strength of the defense is in the linebackers. LB Shaun Phillips has become one of the more disruptive pass rushers in the game and is a solid all around player. Situational pass rusher LB Antwan Barnes has been very effective in getting after the QB as well. The ILB tandem of Takeo Spikes and Donald Butler has been very good. Butler is one of the unsung heroes of the team, showing an ability to be a good all around player in all phases of the game. Heís a good tackler with great instincts for the football. The play of the defensive line has not been great and they can get worn down against more physical opponents. Like the Jets itís the little things every now and then that they fail to do which leads to big plays in a game. Both the Broncos and Vikings ran all over the Chargers and the Patriots also had some success doing it.
The Jets offense is in a funk and it doesnít look like they will be snapping out of it anytime soon. They are still stuck finding an identity on offense. It doesnít seem like the head coach trusts his QB to make a play and is still very reliant on running the football, but the running game is awful. RB Shonn Greene has to be close to being replaced as a starter. No opponent respects his presence in the passing game, no matter how much the Jets try to pass with him in there, and no team respects his ability to make people miss in the open field. With the style the Jets are using, carrying the ball for 1 or 2 yards is not going to cut it. His game has been made worse by the downgrade in run blocking provided by the offensive line, but the lack of big plays is specific to Greene. QB Mark Sanchez needs the playaction to be successful and Greene does not give that to him. If there is a game to make the switch to seeing more of RB LaDainian Tomlinson it is this one. You always give an opportunity to a player matching up against his former team and Tomlinson felt as if the Chargers just cast him aside in his last few years in San Diego. Tomlinson is more of an open field threat than Greene and the much more dangerous player in the passing game, but Tomlinson is going to get stuffed in the backfield on plays where Greene would at least get to the line of scrimmage.
The Jets do things in the passing game, but the problem is that none of it is consistent enough to ever give the offense any flow. Sanchez is all over the field right now and looks to be doubting himself on Sundays. Instead of just playing football you get the sense that he is just a robot being fed an instruction and carrying it out in the safest manner possible. He wastes no time in the pocket to allow a play to develop and almost seems to make his decision before the ball is even snapped. There is a time to be safe, but in a league where success comes from making big plays you cant be safe 100% of the time. You have to trust yourself to be able to thread the needle and make a big throw in traffic. Sanchez does not look like he does. He is playing as if the only way he can help the team win is by not hurting it with a bad turnover. He definitely misses WR Braylon Edwards. I understand why the Jets did not bring him back, and Edwards has been injured most of the year anyway, but they failed to replace his role in the offense. WR Plaxico Burress is not giving them that clearout sideline target that Edwards was. Early in the year teams respected Burress enough to cover him that way, but now he is just another guy on the field. As he becomes just another guy so does TE Dustin Keller, who is not finding the open spots the way he did early in the year. WR Santonio Holmes doesnít have the space to run away from players as often as he did last year. Depending on how worried the Jets get and how drastic a measure they want to take after this game, they might look at Terrell Owens during their bye week to see if he can be the down the field threat the offense needs. Even if it works as a decoy for two or three weeks, like it did with Burress, it might be worth it with big divisional games on the horizon.
The offense can not expect to beat the Chargers by scoring a touchdown at the end of the half and doing nothing before that. The teams needs to shake things up and break some tendencies. The teams needs to get Tomlinson to the outside and they need to take some chances deep to Burress against Cason, even though the deep ball has not had huge success against the Chargers. As long as Burress feels involved early he is going to break up a lot of potential interceptions just because of his height advantage. Even if the plays donít work you are at least sending a clear message that you are going to attack this team down the field and force their coverages to change. The Jets have to open up the field underneath for Holmes, Keller, and Tomlinson and it will only happen by looking down the field. If they wait too long to do it the Chargers wonít change coverages and you run the risk of getting the lax efforts from Burress which will mean he wonít break up any interceptions.
From a personnel standpoint the Jets need to try some things. If Tomlinson and Greene cant run, they need to try RB Joe McKnight. Now people are jumping on the McKnight bandwagon the same way they did Brad Smith, and he is most likely not anything special, but when the guys above him are failing its worth taking a chance. At the very least you know he is good if he can spring himself into the open field environment. If TE Matthew Mulligan continues to get penalties or blow assignments they have to bring in another blocker off the bench, even if its T Vlad Ducasse. The Jets need better protection up front, especially in the run game, and Mulligan is more of a hindrance. If the receivers look disinterested put them on the bench and make them watch a series or two. You need effort on the field when your team is struggling and there are times when they all look like they are going through the motions. Having Burress jogging on the field and forgetting to turn around for a pass canít be tolerated. Trading Derrick Mason was a message to the team, but it cant be the only one they make if the mishaps continue.
It is not even debatable as to what is the weakest part of the Chargers team. The special teams is terrible. It is rare for a special teams squad to have such a great impact on a team, but they cost them the playoffs last year and have been terrible again this year. They are one of the worst teams in the NFL covering kicks and punts, though they rarely punt the ball with the way the offense is run. The lone bright spot has been K Nick Novak, cut from the Jets in training camp, who has been perfect since being called into action a few weeks ago to replace the injured Nate Kaeding.
Special teams are a huge part of the Jets game. When your offense is in such a funk you need special teams to give you the short field to work with and the Jets have done that. Joe McKnight has been stellar on kick returns and Jeremy Kerley has shown flashes returning punts. The Jets also need a bigger effort from P TJ Conley. He can not allow the Chargers to have a short field. With the Jets having a full week off to look over new players this is a huge game for Conley. If he fails there is a good chance the team will give someone else a look.
Norv Turner is one of the worst coaches in the NFL. Nobody seems to get less out of more than Turner. If he was the head coach of any other team in the league he would have been let go long ago, but the front office likes a coach that doesnít interfere with them and Turner will do everything they want. Turner is a great offensive mind, but it hasnít translated to managing games. Teams do not win every game they are favored to, but the Chargers seem to lose so many games where they are favored under him and some games are so much more difficult than they need to be. Rex Ryan clearly took a shot at Turner with his comment about winning rings in San Diego and while there are certainly doubts as to whether or not Ryan would have done any better, there should be no doubt that a different head coach likely would have had better results with the Chargers.
Ryan probably should not have opened his mouth this week in regards to Turner. There is a time and place for everything and with the Jets struggles this is not the time to take shots at other teams. Itís one thing for Ryan to do this when he first got hired and was looking to put the Jets on the back page of the sports every day, but its another to do this in his third year in the NFL. Ryan is now an established head coach and he should know that when a team is struggling the worst thing you can do is make a game more important to the opponent. Again Ryan finds himself in a position where he is spending more time talking about things he said or did rather than focusing on a very important football game. Ryan has to have his team ready to play from the start this week and not have them coming out slow and just waiting for things to magically turn around.
Something has got to give between these two teams. Neither team has a quality win this year. Both look like the type of teams that can find a way to win against an inferior opponent but will not get the job done against a top tier club. Throw the records out. The Jets have played a tough schedule while the Chargers schedule has been a joke. Both teams are careless at times and both are inconsistent. The Chargers have better talent on offense while the Jets personnel is better on defense and until Phillip Rivers starts playing like an MVP candidate again there is not so much of a discrepancy between he and Sanchez that itís a lock the Chargers win.
San Diego does not travel well, having a 5-8 record when they enter the eastern part of the country with Turner as coach. They are, however, 3-1 off the bye and have used the bye week to sometimes springboard the season. The weather should be nice for the game on Sunday, but it will be much cooler than what the Chargers are used to playing in and that could have an effect as well.
There are a lot of little storylines to this game, besides the Ryan/Turner drama. There is the story of the Chargers looking for revenge for the 2009 playoff defeat by the Jets. You have Antonio Cromartie and LaDainian Tomlinson, both members of that Chargers team, now on the Jets and looking to beat their former teams. And there is always the story about a west coast team trying to win on the east coast.
The biggest story, however, is the story of the Jets season and if they can re-establish themselves as a contender or not. If the Jets lose this game their dreams of a division title are gone and even the playoffs will be difficult. You never want to go into a bye week off a string of losses and a loss would have the Jets going into their bye off a 1-4 stint resulting in a great deal of finger pointing. When you take into account just how bad the Jets have been with Ryan as coach off that bye week a 3-4 record will look pretty bleak for the team.
The Jets need this game much more than San Diego. The Chargers play in a weak division and a loss doesnít hurt them in any way. Thatís why Ryan making the game a bigger deal for them was such a mistake. There is no real rivalry here and its basically the equivalent of the Jets going into San Francisco and putting up a dullish effort. Ryan may have focused that team more than they would have been. The Jets have to start fast and keep the crowd interested. The stadium will likely be empty early on due to tailgating and general lack of faith in the team. If people start filing into their seats midway through the first quarter and see the Jets down 7-0 with no offensive first downs its going to get ugly in the 2nd quarter and those fans will be gone in the 3rd. Nothing gets a road team more excited than hearing the home crowd boo and then leaving their seats for the game. That could happen this week.
Come Sunday afternoon we should finally have a good idea about whether or not the Jets have a chance this year or should be written off for the rest of the season with the focus turning on player evaluation and draft preparation. Lets hope they still have a chance and they make the prediction be true.
Jets 24 Chargers 21