San Diego Chargers vs. New York Jets: 10 Keys to the Game for San Diego
Last Sunday's 31-7 loss to the Carolina Panthers was just a tidbit of the struggles that San Diego has faced all season, and for the third consecutive year, the Chargers will not be heading to the playoffs.
Instead, this San Diego squad will tend to their wounds with a slew of banged up starters and attempt to put up a decent showing against a team that has had its fair share of heartbreak this season as well.
The Jets made headlines this week when they announced that Greg McElroy would start at quarterback in favor of both Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow, furthering the rumors that both men are on their way out of the Big Apple.
Sunday's contest won't have playoff implications of any sort but both teams will be looking to finish off the season on a positive note.
Here are the 10 keys to a Chargers victory against the Jets:
Develop a Running Game
The Chargers have endured a bevvy of injuries over the course of the season, but the worst one came last Sunday when Ryan Mathews broke his clavicle for a second time, forcing him to miss the remainder of the season.
The three backs scheduled to fill the void against New York will be Ronnie Brown, Jackie Battle and Curtis Brinkley, who was waived in November before re-signing with the team earlier this month.
Of the three, Battle currently leads in rushing yards (225) and touchdowns (3).
On paper, San Diego's running game doesn't look promising, but this week could be different when the three men will face one of the league's worst run defenses.
New York has allowed an average of 138 yards rushing yards per game, ranking them 29th in the NFL.
Instead of letting Philip Rivers chuck the ball 30-40 times, the Chargers should consider pushing the ground game against the Jets.
More Antonio Gates
With just one more touchdown catch in Sunday's matchup with the Jets, Antonio Gates will make franchise history as the team's all-time leader in touchdown receptions, passing Lance Alworth's total of 81.
Gates tied the record in last Sunday's loss to Carolina, finishing the day with four catches for 31 yards.
San Diego will have to incorporate Gates on offense much more with a stifled backfield in lieu of Ryan Mathews' injury.
On top of that, Philip Rivers will be without his leading receiver in Malcom Floyd, who was placed on IR this week with an ankle injury.
Find Your Playmaker
Despite playing in just eight games this season, Danario Alexander has exploded onto the scene for the Chargers, becoming the team's second-leading receiver behind Malcom Floyd.
Alexander didn't have a catch in last week's loss to the Panthers, but his previous five outings have been something to marvel at considering the fact that San Diego picked up the former St. Louis Ram right off the street.
Twice this season, Alexander has had multi-touchdown games and more than 100 yards receiving. In the eight games since he was signed, Alexander has caught 33 passes for 555 yards and five touchdowns.
Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal, who were signed as free agents at the beginning of the season, have a combined total of 30 catches for 341 yards and three touchdowns—nowhere near Alexander's numbers.
With Floyd on IR, Alexander becomes the No. 1 receiver for the Chargers, and San Diego has to allow its playmaker to do what he does best.
Cover McElroy's Security Blanket
Every QB has their security blanket, and come Sunday, Greg McElroy's will be Jets tight end Jeff Cumberland. In spite of the loss to Tenessee on Monday, Cumberland finished the game with four catches for 53 yards and a score. He was targeted nine times by Mark Sanchez.
With a second-year quarterback under center for the Jets, Cumberland should see more action against the Chargers, especially if Rex Ryan's gameplan for McElroy stresses short passing situations.
Keeping Cumberland under wraps is a must in San Diego's strategy against New York.
Protect the Quarterback...Somehow
Philip Rivers has gotten to know the feeling of real authentic grass and turf quite well this season. San Diego's offensive line has allowed their QB to be sacked 43 times this season—second-most in the NFL next to Aaron Rodgers (45).
However, protecting the quarterback is easier said than done for an offensive line that is more than just banged up. Since the beginning of the season, just two starters have managed to play and start on a consistent basis—center Nick Hardwick and right guard Louis Vasquez.
Judging from this week's injury report, left guard Tyronne Green and right tackle Jeromey Clary are working to make a return to the lineup, but even so, it's looking like pass protection will be an issue against the Jets.
New York's 26 sacks this season are only 27th best in the league, but their front seven should be looking pretty good against this ravaged offensive line. Defensive ends Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples lead the Jets with four sacks each.
Keeping Rivers upright is the only way that he'll be able to have some success throwing the ball.
Rivers Has to Make Good Decisions
Oddly enough, the Chargers tend to lose even when Philip Rivers throws for an insane amount of yards. They do win, however, when he limits his interceptions—too easy, right?
In terms of interceptions, Rivers' 16 picks this season are the sixth most in the league compared to Drew Brees' 18. But when it comes down to this season's worst quarterback as far as how those interceptions affected the outcome of a game, Rivers definitely takes the cake.
The list of last-minute interceptions in a game-winning or game-tying scenario goes on and on for the San Diego signal-caller, but we got a glimpse of the old Rivers in the win against Pittsburgh two weeks ago.
In the 34-24 win over the Steelers, Rivers threw for 200 yards, three touchdownss and zero interceptions—yes, zero. It was his best performance of 2012, and probably the only time he didn't cause Chargers fans to tear the hair out.
If Rivers can have an outing like that where he makes good decisions with the football, then a San Diego win is almost guaranteed.
Hang on to the Football
Too many times this season we've watched in agony as Philip Rivers stumbles around chasing a loose football—13 times to be exact.
In the 31-7 loss to Carolina last Sunday, Rivers fumbled the ball four times—two of which were recovered by the Panthers.
Like the Chargers, the Jets defense has a habit of knocking balls loose—14 forced fumbles this season—and something tells me Rex Ryan's boys will be anticipating butterfingers on the part of Rivers.
Interceptions are one thing, but not fumbling the snap is Football 101. Rivers needs to hang onto the football if the Chargers are to have any chance at winning this game.
Contain Shonn Greene
Following his 68-yard performance in a Monday night loss to the Tennessee Titans, Jets running back Shonn Greene needs just 49 yards to reach his second consecutive 1,000-yard season.
While Greene hasn't been much of a scoring threat this season—six rushing touchdowns—statistics have shown that when the Jets get him his touches, they're more likely to win the football game.
In the six wins by New York this season, Greene was given more than 19 carries in each of those games. Against San Diego, Greene should figure to get about that many, and possibly more with Greg McElroy set to start at quarterback.
San Diego's stout run defense has been one of the best all season, allowing an average of 97 rushing yards per game. But giving up 155 yards to the Carolina Panthers in last week's loss proved to be one of the Chargers' biggest downfalls.
New York will feed Greene the ball all day against the Chargers, and eventually, he'll muscle his way to the 49 yards. But, even if Green does reach the accolade, all is not lost for San Diego.
The key to shutting down New York will be forcing McElroy to win the game. Limiting Greene's success will almost certainly force New York to start throwing the football.
Put Pressure on Greg McElroy
With both Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow riding the bench on Sunday because of poor play, second-year quarterback Greg McElroy will get the start—his first this season.
While McElroy may prove to be a more formidable starter for New York, that doesn't mean that he's not liable to make a mistake against a San Diego defense that has 31 takeaways this season.
The Chargers have struggled in terms of their pass defense—giving up more than 240 yards a game through the air—but turnovers haven't been in shortage.
Look for San Diego to bring the heat against the inexperienced quarterback and force the Jets to beat themselves.
No More Second-Half Slumps
One of San Diego's horrifying trends this season has been the lack of scoring—and stopping opponents from scoring, for that matter—in the second half.
One visual many Charger fans will never forget from this season is that of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice scampering for a first down on 4th-and-29 with 1:37 left in regulation in Week 12. After that play, Baltimore was able to force overtime before eventually defeating San Diego 16-13.
The Chargers led 10-0 at halftime of that game, only to put up just three points in the second half, while Joe Flacco and Rice engineered a 13-point showing in the last two quarters.
Securing a win takes four quarters of aggressive play. The Chargers can't come out big in the first half and go cold in the second.