Preview: Chargers (5-9) @ Jets (6-8)
For the first time in Rex Ryan’s tenure as head coach, the Jets will take the field for a meaningless regular season game. After two straight years of AFC Championship appearances everything has trended downhill as the Jets will be sitting at home watching the playoffs for the second straight season. As much of a disappointment as these past two seasons have been for the Jets, it’s been equally disappointing for the hapless Chargers.
Norv Turner is on his way out, rumors of his being fired are being treated as a certainty, leading to more rumors that he could possibly team up with Ryan as the Jets offensive coordinator next season, rumors that Turner isn’t exactly going out of his way to dismiss. Around the NFL the struggles of Mark Sanchez has been extremely well documented and discussed at great lengths, but anyone who has watched the Chargers play this season knows Phillip Rivers has been every bit as bad as Sanchez and it appears he may have worn out his welcome in beautiful San Diego as well.
Two teams who have tasted some recent success and transgressed into disappointments will face off at MetLife Stadium this week with nothing but their pride and future job security on the line. Sanchez has been benched, Tim Tebow passed over on the depth chart and Greg McElroy gets his first start and regular season tryout. The Tebow experiment was a colossal failure and he will certainly be gone next season, the Jets will try and trade Sanchez but it won’t be an easy task and although the Jets will look to bring in another quarterback there’s a good chance Sanchez remains with the team as the backup or if Woody Johnson feels up to cutting a big check for nothing, they could cut him if they feel comfortable with their quarterbacks next year and that’s where McElroy could come into play.
McElroy essentially has a two game tryout to enter his name as an official candidate in the primaries (training camp) for the starting quarterback position next season. Even if McElroy turns in two outstanding performances the Jets will likely try and bring in outside competition, but two outstanding performances could certainly give McElroy the edge over others, depending on who they bring in of course.
WHEN: Sunday, December 23 2012, 1 pm EST (TV-CBS, Radio-ESPN)
WHERE: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ
JETS – Doubtful: CB Aaron Berry (hamstring), TE Dustin Keller (ankle). Questionable: WR Braylon Edwards (hamstring), WR Mardy Gilyard (illness), DT Sione Po’uha (back), LB Ricky Sapp (ankle), WR Chaz Schilens (calf, knee), LB Bryan Thomas (chest). Probable: TE Jeff Cumberland (ankle, wrist), DT Kenrick Ellis (knee), K Nick Folk (back), S LaRon Landry (heel), C Nick Mangold (shoulder), LB Garrett McIntyre (hamstring), RB Joe McKnight (ankle), G Brandon Moore (foot, hip), LB Calvin Pace (shoulder), RB Bilal Powell (shoulder, toe), QB Mark Sanchez (back), LB Bart Scott (toe), G Matt Slauson (knee), QB Tim Tebow (ribs).
CHARGERS – Doubtful: DT Aubrayo Franklin (knee). Questionable: LB Demorrio Williams (ankle). Probable: RB Ronnie Brown (hamstring), LB Donald Butler (groin), T Jeromey Clary (knee), G Tyronne Green (hamstring), WR Eddie Royal (hamstring), LB Takeo Spikes (hamstring).
Turnovers - Limiting turnovers and forcing turnovers are keys to every game but especially for this game. Sanchez has committed 25 turnovers this season (17 interceptions and eight fumbles) and it’s because of these turnovers that he finds himself sidelined which should give the edge here to the Jets since they are replacing Sanchez with McElroy while the Chargers will still run Rivers out there despite his 28 turnovers (15 interceptions and 13 fumbles, 13!!!). McElroy might not have the play-making ability of either Sanchez or Rivers, but it works both ways as he also won’t be making nearly as many plays for the opposing team. At this point in River’s career a few turnovers a game seems like a certainty, McElroy will be asked to manage the game and the Jets should win the turnover battle, if they don’t they have little to no chance of winning this game.
Run the ball, then run it some more - Speaking of McElroy the game manager, the Jets will surely do what they should have done more of last week against the Titans, run the ball. Against the Titans the Jets only ran the ball 30 times (three carries from Tebow for 15 yards and four carries for six yards from Sanchez), but they still ran for 146 yards on 4.9 yards a carry. If you subtract the runs from the quarterbacks the Jets ran the ball 23 times for 125 yards at 5.4 yards a carry, with the game being as close as it was there is really no excuse for them not running the ball more, very much the case as it was last year when the Jets lost to the Giants only running the ball 25 times (4.2 yards per carry) and for some reason asked Sanchez to drop back over 60 times. The Jets won’t make that same mistake this week, unfortunately for them this correction will come a week too late.
The Chargers do have the seventh ranked run defense only allowing 97 yards a game on the ground at 3.8 yards per carry so the Jets might not find as much success running the ball as they have in the past few weeks, but with McElroy leading the huddle their commitment to the run will be stronger.
Youth movement - When your team is out of the playoffs the smart move is to always play your younger players as much as possible to see what they can offer you, that’s obviously the case with McElroy, but as always it’s about more than just the quarterback. Our own Wesley Sykes wrote an excellent piece the other day about using these two games to evaluate for the future and as a fan you should watch the play of the younger guys closer than you watch the scoreboard. Ryan said he will use this time to give the younger players more reps, specifically keep an eye on Kenrick Ellis, DeMario Davis, Antonio Allen and Jordan White.
Note: Quinton Coples is not listed here because he’s proven himself as a good young player with tremendous upside for the future. Coples’ season as gone very similar to Muhammad Wilkerson’s season last year and there’s no reason to think he won’t see a similar jump in production around the mid point of next season.
Pride – Once you have failed to reach your goal, it’s human nature to let up a bit. It’s not just football players this happens too, but many of these players are playing for a job next year, whether it’s with their current team or not, these players want to put as much quality tape out there to show coaches around the league that they belong in this league. So player’s will be playing to keep their current contract and not lose the money remaining on their contract and many of the rookies will be playing strictly to prove they deserve more reps. The Chargers showed almost no fight or pride last week against the Panthers, but this is the first time in years the Jets have nothing to play for as a team, if they show up with something to prove they should have no trouble beating this Chargers team.
THE PICK: Many critics have been quick to point to the Jets “quitting” on Ryan, but that is clearly not the case. The defense gave up a few big plays against the Titans, but those were because of mistakes not quit as they did more than enough to win the game and despite all the Sanchez turnovers the offense still had their chances to pull out the win. The Jets didn’t lose to the Titans because they quit on Ryan, they lost because Sanchez kept trying, he just couldn’t do much right.
Expect to see a hungry Jets defense take the field with something to prove and watch them feast of a platter of Rivers’ turnovers as they stick with a basic offensive game plan built around the running game. It’s the Jets versus the Chargers, it’s bound to be an ugly football game, but the Jets should emerge victorious and move one win away from finishing the season at 8-8.