NFL Preview - N.Y. Jets (1-3) at San Diego (3-1) (ET)
(SportsNetwork.com) - The last time the New York Jets went to San Diego, it felt different.
Rex Ryan was a rookie coach. Mark Sanchez was a rookie quarterback. And after the Jets surprised the heavily-favored Chargers to reach the AFC Championship Game a week later, all seemed possible.
Fast-forward four-plus years and the subsequent visit to Southern California brings with it a sky's worth of dark clouds now following Gang Green from its Northern New Jersey home base.
Ryan is likely one more mediocre season from being shown the door, and his second-year quarterback, Geno Smith - whose arrival hastened Sanchez's exile to Philadelphia in the offseason - is hearing more than just whispers suggesting he be benched for the ex-Eagle that Sanchez replaced, Michael Vick.
It all got just a little worse for Smith after last week's 24-17 loss to Detroit, when he was caught by television cameras shouting an expletive at a home stadium heckler. He threw for 209 yards, a touchdown and an interception in the loss to the Lions and has five interceptions and a pair of fumbles through the first four games of his second season.
Still, just as he'd done when the anti-Sanchez volume cranked up, Ryan is standing by his man.
"I believe in him," the coach said. "I believe that we're going to get it done and I believe that he's going to be one of the main reasons we get it done and get it turned. I don't anticipate us as a team continuing to struggle. I think this team needs a win in the worst way, and I think that will help us more than anything. We have guys that believe in each other and I think, to a man, that our team believes in Geno."
The next three games, incidentally, will match Smith against QBs named Rivers, Manning and Brady. Not exactly an ideal list while trying to avoid a four-game losing streak for the first time in seven years.
But fear not, Jets fans. The offensive unit held a players-only meeting to brainstorm for ways in which it can turn around a stat sheet that indicates the Jets are averaging 19.8 points per week, and refuel a passing game that's exceeded 204 yards exactly one time in four games.
Smith, for one, emerged from the get-together with defiance.
"No grievances," Smith said. "I understand the semantics are a huge thing in (the New York) market, but no grievance. I don't want you guys to get that misunderstood. No one's hanging their head around here, no one's sad, no one's down on themselves. We're ready to go out and play."
On the other side, New York's run defense is tops in the league through four weeks, but it's mere window-dressing for a pass defense that's surrendered nine touchdowns and hasn't yet managed a single interception. The last time an NFL team failed to get a pick through five games was 12 years ago.
That team, the 2002 Buffalo Bills, would up with 10 interceptions and finished 8-8.
Alongside the lack of interceptions, the 2014 Jets have allowed a combined 106.8 passer rating to QBs named Carr, Rodgers, Cutler and Stafford. This week's opponent - the aforementioned Philip Rivers - had TD strikes of 47 and 43 yards to Eddie Royal in a 33-14 rout of Jacksonville last weekend.
Royal has scored four times in the last two games, and Rivers enters this Sunday with the league's best passer rating (114.5), though it's been even better (128.2) in three straight wins since a one-point Week 1 defeat against Arizona. He's completed 74.3 percent of his passes while racking up 917 yards and eight scores in the victories, and torched the Jaguars for 377 yards and three of the TDs.
Keenan Allen caught 10 passes for 135 yards against Jacksonville and leads the team with 22 catches and 244 yards for the season.
"I don't think it's just Eddie and Philip. I think it's the whole group," Chargers coach Mike McCoy said. "Philip has many weapons to go to."
Rivers has done it without the luxury of a reliable run game since the team lost Danny Woodhead for the season in Week 1 and will be without Ryan Mathews for at least a couple more weeks with a knee problem. Fill-ins Donald Brown and Branden Oliver teamed up for 19 carries and 42 yards last week.
San Diego is second-from-last in the NFL with a 69.5-yard rushing average per week, and the Chargers drop to No. 32 in yards-per-carry clip, which stands at 2.4. The Jets allow 63.3 rush yards per week, which is the best in the league. Their total yardage-allowed rate is 291.2, third in the league.
"It's nowhere where it needs to be," McCoy said. "There's no excuses about it. We're not running it well enough. We're not blocking well enough. Whatever we're running isn't working. We've got to figure out as coaches and players how to get it done."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Out of His Hands
Whether Smith's long-term starting fate is secure is still up for debate, but the Jets will likely go to great lengths to keep Sunday's result out of his hands. Given his per-carry average of 5.5 yards over 50 attempts thus far,
Chris Ivory has become the No. 1 option as a feature back while New York becomes an offensive that mirrors Ryan's ground-and-pound philosophy. It'll keep the ball away from Rivers, too.
If He's Standing, He's Winning
Rivers, by any measure, is having one of his best seasons. And against a secondary as leaky as New York's, it only figures to continue. The Chargers have done a decent job of keeping their QB upright - five sacks allowed in four games - so, unless the Jets are able to get five of their own on Sunday, Rivers has a real shot to maintain a 70.1 percent completion rate and boost his 9 TD/1 INT ratio.
It's not the first time that Ryan and Co. have gone into a game that looks like a horrifically bad matchup. And he's managed more than once to either keep the game closer than expected or even win the thing.
But even the most hopeful of Jets fans has to think this one's got a chance to get out of hand pretty early. Bottom line, if Rivers is anywhere near himself, he'll make mincemeat of a Triple-A secondary.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Chargers 38, Jets 14