Jets’ dominant defense takes on Justin Herbert, Chargers

Oct 15, 2023; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Jets linebacker Quincy Williams (56) attempts to recover a fumble by Philadelphia Eagles running back D'Andre Swift (0) during the second quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The reward for a New York Jets’ defense that dominated during a current three-game winning streak is a showcase game Monday night with the Los Angeles Chargers in East Rutherford, N.J.

The Jets’ pass defense is fifth-best in the NFL and held opponents to 15.0 points per game over a stretch that delivered victories over the Denver Broncos, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants.

Enter the Chargers’ sixth-best passing offense that has been spotty at times despite its lofty status. Los Angeles (3-4) rides some momentum after a decisive 30-13 victory over the Chicago Bears on Sunday.

While the Jets (4-3) give up 184.4 yards per game through the air, the Chargers’ passing game under quarterback Justin Herbert registers 258.9 yards per game.

The anchor of the Jets’ defensive line is All-Pro tackle Quinnen Williams, who has drawn enough attention to allow tackle Quinton Jefferson to flourish with 3 1/2 sacks and seven quarterback hits.

John Franklin-Myers and Jermaine Johnson II patrol the ends, with Johnson recording a team-high 4.0 sacks. Linebacker Bryce Huff has 3.5 sacks, all in the past three games.

The cornerback combination of Sauce Gardner and D.J. Reed has made life difficult on opposing wide receivers. Both are back after recent concussions.

And then there is linebacker Quincy Williams, the brother of Quinnen, who was named AFC Defensive Player of the Month for October. He and fellow linebacker C.J. Mosley share the team lead with 71 tackles each.

The Jets’ offense is a different story, scoring 18.0 points per game while sitting next to last in passing offense (164.3 yards). The offensive line is in shambles, although Mekhi Becton (knee), Joe Tippman (quad), Laken Tomlinson (hamstring) and Duane Brown (hip) all practiced in some capacity Thursday.

But center Connor McGovern (knee) and lineman Wes Schweitzer (calf) both were injured Sunday and placed on injured reserve. It leaves head coach Robert Saleh undecided at center.

“Where we are right now, we just have to make sure the best five are on the field somehow, some way to protect the quarterback and give him some time,” Saleh said of his offensive line. “It’s very frustrating because everything starts up front.”

The Chargers know all about alternate plans at center with All-Pro Corey Linsley out. Herbert was sacked five times in a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs two weeks ago, but was not sacked for the first time all season against the Bears.

As productive as the Los Angeles passing game has been, the rushing attack (103.6 yards) is in the bottom third of the league. Running back Austin Ekeler has averaged a career-low 3.7 yards per rush and has just one touchdown on the ground in four games, although he did miss time with an ankle injury.

With Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams out for the season and pass-catchers Gerald Everett and Joshua Palmer ailing, Ekeler’s abilities in the passing game could help. His 11.1 yards per reception are the best of his career, but his 4.0 catches per game are well below his 6.3 rate last season.

“Let’s have the same energy and get a win on ‘Monday Night Football,'” Ekeler said after he had seven catches for 94 yards against Chicago.

Everett (hip) was a full practice participant Thursday but Palmer (knee) did not practice. Wide receiver Jalen Guyton (knee) was a full participant as he closes in on his 2023 debut. Eric Kendricks (ribs) and D-lineman Morgan Fox (oblique) were limited.

Even while losing more games than they have won, the Chargers have scored at least 17 points in every contest. By comparison, the Jets have been held to 13 points or fewer three times, although that didn’t stop them from winning last week.

“We’ve just got to put one foot in front of the other,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said. “We’ve just got to go one day at a time here. That’s what we did last week and that’s what, I think, led to us being fresh and focused. We weren’t looking too far out in the future.”

–Field Level Media

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