It was a busy short week in Florham Park, N.J., after the Jets’ Monday night triumph over the Dolphins. As we look ahead to Sunday’s critical game between the 3-3 Jets and the 4-1 Chargers, let’s empty out the notebook.
Bolts Backs Are Pass Game Threats
Since LaDainian Tomlinson arrived in New York, you’ve always been inclined to think about Philip Rivers and the Chargers’ vertical passing game first in regards to the SD offense. But Ryan Mathews, a second-year back out of Fresno State, is averaging an impressive 4.9 yards a carry and has scored three times on the ground in 2011. The Chargers are ranked ninth overall in rush yards per game at 122.8 per contest.
So the rush attack is solid, but Mathews and Mike Tolbert are paying dividends in the passing game as well. In fact, Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune wrote this week that the backfield pair are on pace for more combined yards (1,574) than any RB tandem in history and their pace of 154 receptions would put them only four fewer than the total that the Jets’ Richie Anderson and Curtis Martin combined for in 2000.
“They have a lot of weapons on their offense,” said ILB David Harris. “When they’re not throwing the ball downfield to Vincent Jackson and [Antonio] Gates, they have good running backs who come through the line and are checkdowns for Philip Rivers. He does a great job of finding the open receiver. Their two running backs are first [Tolbert: 28 catches, 231 yards, 2 TDs] and third [Mathews: 20-261] on the team in receptions, so they’re the main focus of their offense. We have to do a good job of keeping them in check.”
While the Jets’ defensive struggles against perimeter runs have been noted time and time again, the Green & White quietly are tied for third in the NFL with 17 sacks and tied for second with 14 takeaways. Mike Pettine’s unit also leads the NFL in third-down defense (28.6 percent conversion rate by opponents) and they’ll be challenged by a Chargers offensive unit that also paces the NFL (56.5 percent).
“It’s a good matchup for both teams to try to stop each other,” said CB Darrelle Revis. “I think that’s the biggest thing. We’ve been great on third down and we’ll see on Sunday.”
If you’re at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, you would be well served to keep your eyes on LaDainian Tomlinson. Not only will he get the start against his former team but he could provide an emotional spark early for the Jets.
“I’m super excited,” said WR Santonio Holmes. “I hope he rushes for more than 200 yards on Sunday, and it will definitely be my duty to make sure I block those guys down the field so he can get his job done, just to show those guys that they let go a valuable aspect of their team, a leader, and a guy who’s a future Hall of Famer.”
While Tomlinson might not don a C on his jersey, make no mistake that he is one of this team’s most important leaders.
“I think his leadership carries around the locker room,” Holmes said. “It shows on Sundays before the game. Even the little things that he comes and talks to me about as far as running some routes and the way he has to run these specific routes that we run in practice. He comes and talks to me a little bit. We share a lot of information on how to be more of a leader on and off the field without having to do too much. I think that carries a long way around this team and everybody here respects him.”
Special Teams: Advantage, Westy
It has been overshadowed again this week, but perhaps the Jets’ biggest advantage headed into this AFC contest is on special teams.
The Jets are first in the NFL in average drive start after kickoff returns (28.0) while the ‘Bolts are 29th (24.4) in covering kicks. Conversely, the Green & White kick coverage unit ranks third (19.4 average drive start) while the Chargers returners are 21st (21.1).
“I’m expecting them not to kick it back there as much — just like last game,” said Joe McKnight, who is averaging a ridiculous 44.1 yards a kick return.
Percy Harvin of the Vikings got the Chargers season under way in ominous fashion, racing 103 yards for a score on their first play of the 2011 season. The Chargers have also been porous covering punts, but the problem is Norv Turner’s crew has only booted it away 12 times in five games. Mike Scifres, who has a decent average of 46.3 yards, has seen opponents average a whopping 18.8 yards on their six returns.
“Every team we’re going to play is going to come with their ‘A’ game. We just have to come with our ‘A’ game and expect anything,” McKnight said. “They’re probably going to come out and try to kick it different ways, try different things. You just have to be ready for it.”
Tags: Darrelle Revis, joe McKnight, LaDainian Tomlinson, Mike Tolbert, Mike Westhoff, Philip Rivers, Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers
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