ReFo: Chargers @ Jets, Week 16
Even though the Chargers came away Sunday the victors, it wasn’t the type of awe-inspiring win that will create hope in their fan base. In fact, it wasn’t as much what San Diego did to win the game, as much as it was what New York did to lose it. What the Jets did was hand the reigns of the offense over to second-year pro Greg McElroy who, unsurprisingly, struggled in his first NFL start. After the game though few in the national media cared about anything McElroy did, and instead focused on Tim Tebow who didn’t play. We here at PFF don’t usually concern ourselves with players that don’t even factor in the game, but I’ll say that Sunday’s wildcat quarterback Jeremy Kerley has the third highest PFF Quarterback Rating of any player to throw a pass this season.
The Chargers’ win means lower draft position to pick up help to protect the beat up Philip Rivers. Left tackle has been the biggest need for some time now, and Sunday’s game made that need even more apparent. Michael Harris was replaced midway through the second quarter by Kevin Haslem after a truly dreadful start to the game, and then Harris did little better. All that remains to be decided is who will oversee the rebuilding of the Chargers’ offensive line this offseason.
In a game where little more than jobs and pride were on the line, here’s who made us take notice of their performance.
San Diego — Three Performances of Note
Corey Liuget has proven throughout this season he is a top tier 3-4 end. It wasn’t the Illinois product that lit up the Jets’ offensive line on Sunday though, it was rookie Kendall Reyes. The second-round pick from Connecticut recieved spot playing time for the first 10 weeks and looked terribly inconsistent when he did see the field. Since week 11 though, when he first cracked 40 snaps in a game, he has collected a total grade of +8.3 and has done most of his work rushing the passer. He has picked up multiple pressures in all six games, and capped it off Sunday with his finest performance yet. Reyes had three sacks, a hit and two hurries for a grade of +3.5. If Reyes can make a same kind of jump that Liuget did in his second season, the Chargers will have one of the best end duos in the NFL.
Safe on the Back End
Safeties in the NFL have to have the most complete skill set of any player on the defensive side of the ball. Most safeties are asked to cover, stop the run, and rush the passer. Right now, no one fills those duties any better than Eric Weddle and he put together another solid performance on Sunday (+2.2) — but then, that is no surprise. What was a surprise was the play of Corey Lynch. Lynch wasn’t starting in the base defense on Sunday until Brandon Taylor went down with an injury. After that though, Lynch didn’t allow a single reception and picked off a pass. Atari Bigby had been disappointing in coverage all season, so Lynch’s game was a sight for sore eyes.
The Real Deal
All season long the Chargers have struggled to replace Vincent Jackson. With Malcom Floyd out, it appeared as though the passing game didn’t stand a chance. That is until Danario Alexander was able to get the best of his matchup with Antonio Cromartie. Alexander has always been a physical freak at 6’5” 215 pounds with impressive speed and leaping ability, evident by his now signature windmill dunk on the goalpost. The only question was could he ever recover from the multiple ACL tears he has suffered throughout his career. Well, it certainly appeared that he’s recovered this season, as he caught his sixth touchdown pass in the past seven weeks on Sunday. Alexander caught three of the four balls thrown his way for 69 yards and didn’t drop one. Even though he is not at Jackson’s production level yet, it is encouraging so far.
New York — Three Performances of Note
If there was any question why Mark Sanchez wasn’t relieved of his starting role earlier, Greg McElroy (-3.8) provided the answer. McElroy’s start wasn’t atypical of young quarterback, but it provided little or no reason to think he’s the future starter. He appeared very tentative all throughout the game and was fairly inaccurate considering how few risks he took downfield. The former Alabama quarterback attempted only 10 passes over 10 yards, and no passes over 20 yards. On those passes longer than 10 yards he was only 3 of 10, with an interception. The biggest thing that stood out for McElroy was how long he held the ball. He had the longest time to throw of any quarterback in Week 16, with an average of 3.26 seconds (by comparison, Sanchez averages 2.66). Holding the ball also led to all those sacks. Of the 11 sacks he took, we credited only six to the offensive line. It’s still too early to make summary judgment on McElroy though, and improvement in week 17 should be expected.
Any Other Year
Muhammad Wilkerson is putting together a season on par with the best we’ve seen from 3-4 defensive ends the previous four years. The unfortunate thing for Wilkerson is that fellow 3-4 end J.J. Watt is having the best defensive season we’ve ever seen in PFF’s five years. Wilkerson has been unblockable in the run game all season and that continued against the Chargers, as he collected five stops. Wilkerson especially impressed rushing the passer though, and almost single-handedly gave left guard Tyronne Green and Nick Hardwick a combined grade of -6.4. Wilkerson’s grade of +5.5 would be a career day for most 3-4 ends, but it was only his third highest grade of the season. He is a truly special talent that will be a building block for years to come.
One of the biggest differences between this Jets team and the back-to-back Jets teams that appeared in consecutive AFC title games, is the play of Bart Scott. Earlier this year he we highlighted linebacker tackling efficiencies and noted how far Scott has fallen. In 2010 he had the fifth-best tackling efficiency in the league (36.0), this season he has the second-worst mark (6.0). On Sunday though, he didn’t miss a tackle on four attempts and collected a sack and a hurry rushing the passer. The power he displayed in both facets harkened back to the play we were used to seeing from him.
— Philp Rivers threw away five passes in 27 drop-backs to bring his league-leading season total to 42
— Jeremy Kerley took four snaps as a quarterback and completed the third-longest pass for the Jets this season
— The Jets averaged 2.06 yards per carry on handoffs.
Kendall Reyes was in the backfield regularly on Sunday and made his biggest plays on the last drive when it mattered most. Muhammad Wilkerson may have had a better all-around game, but it wasn’t enough to pull out the victory so we this game ball goes to Reyes.
Follow Mike on Twitter: @PFF_MikeRenner