Friday, December 21, 2012
W2W4: Jets vs. Chargers
By Rich Cimini
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- This will be weird: For the first time since 2007, the Jets will play a Week 16 game with no chance at the playoffs.
Welcome to 6-8. The Jets' only motivation is to avoid their first losing season since 2007.
The Chargers (5-9) have dropped five of their past six games, playing out the string for a coach (Norv Turner) who will be fired after the season. Hey -- who knows? -- maybe Turner will resurface next season as the Jets' offensive coordinator.
Kickoff is 1 p.m. Sunday at MetLife Stadium. What to watch for:
1. G-Mac attack: Second-year QB Greg McElroy will make his first start since his days at Alabama, replacing Mark Sanchez. He's the first quarterback not named Sanchez to start for the Jets since Kellen Clemens in Week 14 of the 2009 season. McElroy is the new fan favorite, so he should get support from the home crowd -- albeit a sparse crowd.
Offensive coordinator Tony Sparano will keep him on a tight leash. McElroy doesn't have a big arm, so they'll try to take the pressure off him by running the ball and rolling him out of the pocket on pass-run options. He'd better be careful because the Chargers have a nose for the ball. They've scored seven defensive touchdowns, tied with the Bears for the league lead. They've scored five times on interception returns.
2. Fond farewells: The Jets close the season on the road, so this could be the last home game for several veterans: RG Brandon Moore, OLB Bryan Thomas, RB Shonn Greene, QB Tim Tebow, LG Matt Slauson, DT Mike DeVito, LB Bart Scott, LB Calvin Pace, S LaRon Landry, S Yeremiah Bell and perhaps even Sanchez. They're all free agents or likely salary-cap casualties. The Jets are a team in transition, and there will be considerable turnover in the offseason.
3. Touchdown Tim: No one got a bigger raw deal this season than Tebow, who was promised a role on offense in the Wildcat -- a role that never really materialized. He also got passed over for the starting QB job. It wouldn't be a surprise if Rex Ryan throws him a bone, increasing his role in the final home game. They may use last week's game plan, giving him an entire series. If the Jets get inside the 10 -- a big if with this offense -- it would be a nice touch to insert Tebow, giving him a chance to score a touchdown.
4. Look out above: The Jets' defense, utterly frustrated by the lack of offensive support, has kept its sanity by striving to crack the top 5 in total defense for the fourth straight year. That would be quite an accomplishment, considering it had dropped to 19th only three weeks ago. The Jets are only 10 yards per game behind the fifth-ranked Bears, so a top-5 finish is definitely possible.
Coordinator Mike Pettine said the goal is to create turnovers. The Jets have only four takeaways in the past four games, but they'll face the mistake-prone Philip Rivers, who has 47 turnovers over the past two seasons. That's second in the NFL, behind Sanchez (50).
5. The new-look Chargers: WR Vincent Jackson is long gone. RB Ryan Mathews (broken collar bone) is out for the season. TE Antonio Gates isn't the player he used to be. The offensive line is a mess. It's hard to believe, but San Diego has gone nine straight games without a rushing TD. Yep, the Chargers aren't the same.
They're still a good defensive club, though, especially in the front seven. DE Corey Liuget and OLB Shaun Phillips are their top players. The Chargers are No. 7 against the run, so it won't be easy for Greene, who needs only 41 yards for his second straight 1,000-yard season.