Pro-tanking Jets fans should worry that conservative Chargers could hand Gang Green their first win

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#TankForTrevor proponents will be sweating out Sunday’s Jets game at the 2-7 Chargers, one of the few remaining contests in which Gang Green has a real shot at breaking into the win column this season.

One win for the currently winless Jets and it’s probably curtains in the race to the bottom, the first overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft and the right to select Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Right now, the 1-8 Jaguars look like they could also run the table, finish 1-15, and beat out New York for the slot on a strength-of-schedule tiebreaker.

At first glance, the vision of Chargers wide receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams and tight end Hunter Henry streaking across the middle, being chased by Jets linebackers Neville Hewitt and Harvey Langi in their pitiful zone coverages, should give pro-tanking Jets fans plenty of comfort.

Then, you remember that the Chargers’ coach is Anthony Lynn – who, in comparison, makes Adam Gase look like he has the “brilliant offensive mind” that owner Christopher Johnson was duped into buying prior to the 2019 season.

Lynn would make Rex Ryan proud – heck, he’d make Woody Hayes proud – with his dedication to a running attack in spite of the above weapons for strong-armed rookie quarterback Justin Herbert, and all the data that justifies why the NFL is a passing league. In last week’s 29-21 loss to Miami, their featured running back in place of injured Austin Ekeler was Kalen Ballage, who was cut by both the Dolphins and the Jets this season.

That didn’t stop Lynn and offensive coordinator Shane Steichen from calling first-down running plays, which averaged a paltry 2.3 yards per carry, on two-thirds of the Chargers’ offensive snaps in Sunday’s first half, per SharpFootballStats.com. Only when they got down by two scores did L.A. open things up.

The post-game explanation for such conservatism – that Miami’s defensive disguises forced L.A. into safer calls – was just as moronic, since they routinely led to second and third-down situations that put Herbert more at risk of a negative play.

Last week’s run/pass ratio was hardly an outlier; this season, the Chargers have called runs on 59 percent of their first down snaps in first halves, per Sharp. Even the Jets, with Gase’s mind-boggling bro-mance with 37-year old running back Frank Gore, have been 50/50.

On the season, only Baltimore and New England have run the ball more often than L.A. Of course, both those teams’ heavy use of their quarterbacks in the ground game enable them to be far more successful than the Chargers’ 22nd-ranked 4.1 yards per carry. Herbert, by contrast, has just 37 rushing attempts for 176 yards this season, 97 of those on 18 scrambles, per ProFootballFocus.com.

The surest way to hand the Jets their first victory of the season is to hand off the football instead of throwing it. The Jets allow 4.1 yards per carry, good for 10th-best in the league, while their pass defense rankings have them last in completion percentage (72.5) and fourth from the bottom in yards per game allowed (281.8) and yards per pass attempt (8.1).

That might get worse, too, as the Jets will enter Sunday’s game without two (and possibly all three) of their starting cornerbacks from their last game; underperforming Pierre Desir was waived on Tuesday (the Jets obviously read my columns), underrated Brian Poole is having season-ending shoulder surgery, and Blessuan Austin missed Thursday’s practice with a neck injury.

Without those three, Sunday’s starters at the corners are expected to be Arthur Maulet, 2020 fifth-rounder Bryce Hall – who just came back from a major ankle injury and will play just his second game in roughly a year – and one of a pair of undrafted free agents, either Lamar Jackson or Javelin Guidry. Herbert will have a free eight-yard toss on underneath routes any time the Chargers opt to dial his number.

On the other side of the ball, the Jets happen to be relatively healthy – of course, with the exception of Joe Flacco starting at quarterback over sore-shouldered Sam Darnold. One might actually call that an upgrade following the offense’s atypical competence with Flacco under center versus New England, and assuming Breshad Perriman’s shoulder allows him to play, Flacco will again have his full complement of wide receivers. In addition, he’ll have his blindside protector, as the Mekhi Becton scare during the Patriots game was just a cold, and the beastly rookie tackle has been a full go at Jets practices so far this week.

Given how the Jaguars reacted in injured quarterback Gardner Minshew’s absence, turning things over to sixth-round rookie Jake Luton instead of journeyman Mike Glennon, I suggested, mostly tongue-in-cheek, that Gase respond by handing the reins to his own fourth-round rookie, James Morgan.

That’s not going to happen, as Gase told the media on Thursday that Morgan is “way off” from dressing as a QB2 in a game. However, with Flacco, the Jets should be able to move the ball against the Chargers defense, even with the return of star edge rusher Joey Bosa, who has five of L.A.’s 16 sacks, out of concussion protocol.

If you’re a pro-tanker Jets fan, then, you have to hope that Gase out-conservatives Lynn on Sunday.

For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Devils and Jets, follow Steve Lichtenstein on Twitter: @SteveLichtenst1

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