3TFO: Chargers @ Jets, Week 16
The Chargers and Jets are already thinking about the offseason, and many players, coaches and managers will be fighting for their jobs this Sunday. The Chargers rallied with a win in Heinz Field a few weeks ago, but disappointed again last week when they lost to the Panthers at home, back to their routine this season. If that wasn’t enough, they lost two of their best players because of injuries — Ryan Mathews broke his clavicle and Malcolm Floyd suffered an ankle injury.
Amazingly, the Jets were in the playoff race until last week. A horrific performance from Mark Sanchez in the Monday Night Football game versus the Titans buried their hopes to get a wild-card spot. That was the last act of the nightmare Sanchez has been this season, and the team has moved to Greg McElroy for at least this game. This is the Jets’ last home game, and, although there is nothing at stake, they won’t want to let down their fan base.
Greg McElroy vs. Jets playcallers
What to expect from this team at this point of the season? They finally made the quarterback switch and Greg McElroy is the starter now. His only professional experience came this season when he replaced Sanchez in the third quarter against Arizona. That time the Jets relied on the run and both Shonn Greene and Bilal Powell averaged more than 4.0 yards per carry. That game plan continued in Jacksonville with Sanchez at quarterback, and Greene and Powell ran for more than 70 yards and scored one touchdown each. Quietly, the Jets’ offensive line is playing at a high level as all five starters are grading positively for the season.
The run-first approach could work again, but the staff may want to see a bit more from McElroy than they did in Week 13. Calling a pass every three plays is not enough to evaluate a quarterback, and now that wins don’t matter, McElroy should get to see more action. He doesn’t need a splashy performance to make an impact. This offense just needs a zero-turnover game to make a difference from what it has been all season.
For San Diego, keep an eye on defensive end Corey Liuget and outside linebacker Melvin Ingram. They come in with solid Pass Rush Productivities of 6.7 and 9.7 respectively. The Chargers’ last two first-rounders represent hope for the future for San Diego.
Wilkerson and Coples vs. Philip Rivers
One of the few bright spots of the Jets’ season is their defensive line, and especially two young players. Muhammad Wilkerson was expected to have a breakout, and our second-highest graded 3-4 defensive end is doing an amazing job against the run and starting to find the rhythm as a pass rusher. In the past six weeks, Wilkerson recorded 16 total pressures, including three sacks, for a Pass Rushing Productivity of 7.0. His new partner in the line, Quinton Coples, isn’t enjoying a lot of playing time (around 50 percent of total snaps) but he is making it count as the fourth-highest ranked 3-4 defensive end in Pass Rushing Productivity. This production was even higher in the past two games, when he got a 13.7 PRP with two sacks, three hits and two hurries in just 42 pass rushing snaps.
Philip Rivers used to be one of the best quarterbacks under pressure, but that changed this season. His accuracy percentage (counting drops as completions) dropped to 57.3 percent, from 62.2 percent last season. You could say the pressure got into his head because he’s been pressured in 38.1% of his drop-backs, making him the fifth-most pressured quarterback in the league. The way Wilkerson and Coples are playing lately, they could completely destroy the Chargers’ passing game if they make Rivers uncomfortable in the pocket and force him to take some risks.
Danario Alexander vs. Antonio Cromartie
The Chargers found the replacement to Vincent Jackson in a free agent signed in October. In just seven games, Danario Alexander has impressed everyone in the league with his athleticism. The 6-foot-5 receiver is really tough to defend, as he showed in his touchdown versus the Steelers when he caught a back-shoulder pass over Josh Victorian. Alexander looks to have already developed some chemistry with Rivers and entering this game, with Malcom Floyd heading to injured reserve, he is the most-targeted receiver with 48 targets. He is also the leader in WR Rating with 124.9 so he will probably be the go-to-guy for Rivers.
In his best Revis impersonation, Antonio Cromartie will have to deal with Alexander all game. He is one of the few cornerbacks with the physical ability to cover Alexander and not get exposed. Cromartie has allowed only 149 yards after the bye week, 24.8 yards per game, with just two touchdowns in that stretch. Another performance like that and the Jets’ defense will be in position to dominate the Chargers’ offense.
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