SAN DIEGO -- Losers of three straight, the New York Jets are down, but they are not out.
Just ask embattled Jets head coach Rex Ryan.
"This team wants to win," Ryan said. "And they’re not focused on all that type of stuff. ... We feel good about ourselves. We believe we’re doing the right things and we’re going to come through this."
Though struggling to tread water early in the season, the Jets under Ryan are 2-1 against the San Diego Chargers, including an AFC divisional playoff win at Qualcomm Stadium at the end of the 2009 season.
And Ryan’s exotic, ultra-aggressive defenses have given Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers fits in the past.
Including the postseason, Rivers is 2-2 against the Jets, completing 61.3 percent of his passes for 892 yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions. He has been sacked seven times, posting an 86.5 passer rating in those four games.
Rivers understands he will have to deal with a heated pass rush when facing the Jets.
"They’re all over," Rivers said. "They never let you get comfortable. And to me, that’s what that defense has always done."
ESPN Jets reporter Rich Cimini and ESPN Chargers reporter Eric D. Williams preview the game:
Cimini: I could write a book on the quarterback situation, but we will stick to the abridged version. When it comes to his starting quarterback, Ryan is loyal to a fault (see: Mark Sanchez), so I think that is part of it. He would like to make it work with Smith, who, despite his turnover issues, has made subtle improvements in his game. But here is the crazy part: If Ryan decides at some point that a change is needed, I don’t think he has the unilateral authority to make that call. General manager John Idzik has a huge say, and it’s no secret that he is a Smith guy. Idzik can afford to be patient, taking a wide view of the situation. Ryan needs to win now because his job could be on the line. In my opinion, he’s making the right call by sticking with Smith. But if Smith has a bad first half on Sunday, it wouldn’t shock me if Ryan goes to the bullpen -- assuming it’s OK with his boss.
Williams: Rivers’ success is based on preparation, trusting his playmakers and mobility. Under coach Mike McCoy and offensive coordinator Frank Reich, Rivers relies on short passing game. Because of his intense preparation leading up to game day, Rivers knows where he wants to go with the ball pre-snap and the ball comes out quick. He has several playmakers at his disposal in Antonio Gates, Keenan Allen, Eddie Royal and Malcom Floyd, so it’s hard to take everyone away. And finally, Rivers moves well within the pocket to buy time, and will run for an occasional first down if given an opening. So San Diego does not have many negative-yardage plays, allowing the Chargers to stay in manageable down-and-distance situations.
Rich, the Jets have the best run defense statistically in the NFL, giving up just over 63 rushing yards per contest. What has been the reason for their success?
Cimini: For the most part, the Jets have always been strong against the run under Ryan. Their front three is exceptional -- Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and Damon Harrison. They have run-stuffing linebackers who like to play downhill, namely David Harris. Demario Davis is more of a run-and-hit linebacker, capable of making plays on the edge. The scheme is a factor, too. Ryan plays multiple fronts, mixing 3-4 and 4-3 looks and confusing opponents. He also likes to play an eight-man box, using safety Dawan Landry in run support. Since the start of 2013, the Jets have limited ball carriers to a league-best 3.29 yards per attempt. If this were the 1980s, and not a pass-happy league, the Jets would be truly dominant.
The Chargers’ passing attack is pretty balanced, with Allen, Royal and Gates. Who is Rivers' go-to guy and how do you think they will attack a suspect Jets secondary?
Williams: Gates has been the most targeted pass-catcher by Rivers throughout his NFL career. They have combined for 63 touchdown passes, the most in NFL history between a quarterback-tight end duo. But with the Jets’ situation at cornerback, the Chargers could look to get the ball into the hands of Allen. After a surprising rookie season, Allen leads San Diego in targets (29), receptions (22) and receiving yards (244). However, Allen has not found the end zone yet. That could change on Sunday.
Rich, the Jets lead the NFL in sacks with 14, but are one of two teams with zero interceptions (New Orleans is the other). What are the reasons for New York’s struggles in pass coverage?
Cimini: It’s amazing, isn’t it? Pressure on the quarterback usually equates to hurried throws, which leads to interceptions. But not for the Jets. Why not? They are playing with a revamped secondary -- a rookie safety (Calvin Pryor), a safety at cornerback (Antonio Allen) and a career backup at corner (Darrin Walls). Former first-round pick Dee Milliner is expected to return this week from an injury, but I don’t think he will be the savior. Once again, scheme is an issue. The Jets play a lot of man-to-man coverage, which typically doesn’t produce as many interceptions as zone. Nevertheless, that is not a good enough reason for having zero interceptions after four games. This isn’t a new phenomenon for the Jets, as they finished with only 13 interceptions last season. I think Rivers should feel secure on Sunday.
Eric, the Chargers’ pass defense was a big issue in the offseason, especially the cornerback situation. Looks OK now. In what ways have they improved?
Williams: Free agent addition Brandon Flowers and first-round selection Jason Verrett upgraded the talent in the secondary, so the Chargers are more sticky in coverage and a better tackling defensive unit. The second thing is an improved pass rush. The return of Dwight Freeney, along with interior pass-rusher Corey Liuget playing at Pro Bowl level, has resulted in more pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and less time for the secondary to have to cover.