- Gary Horton, Scouts Inc.
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This week's "Monday Night Football" game (ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET) features the Jets on the road versus the winless Chargers. Scouts Inc. has all the story lines to watch in this AFC showdown.
Get the tight ends involved
Look for the Jets to get their tight ends more involved this week, especially in the red zone. QB Brett Favre loves to throw to his tight ends, and he's familiar with TE Bubba Franks from their time together in Green Bay, but Favre has only targeted Franks five times thus far, and Jets tight ends a total of eight times in two games. The Jets like to use two-tight end sets to run the ball, but throwing to the tight ends in that situation -- maybe even off play-action -- could open up the offense.
The Jets' conservative play calling has been well documented, and when you watch the film it's obvious the coaches are not taking advantage of Favre's skills. It's not that they're not passing enough; it's how they are passing. The Jets' receivers are running a lot of short, safe routes like curls, circle routes and drags designed to get yards after the catch. However, this week could be different, because the Chargers' pass rush is depleted and their corners have been destroyed by double moves.
When Favre throws short, safe passes he usually stays in the pocket and uses three- and five-step drops. But when he uses a seven-step drop (which we should see more of this week), he seems to make more big plays. The deeper in the pocket he is, the more time his receivers have to separate and the more room he has to survey the field. Plus, it allows him to move around the pocket more easily or even move outside and throw on the run -- which is when he is most dangerous.
Jenkins vs. Newberry
NT Kris Jenkins has been very productive through two games, and he should have another big game Monday night versus backup C Jeremy Newberry. Jenkins is big and physical and when not collapsing the pocket or disrupting quarterbacks, he is eating up blockers with double- and triple-teams. This allows the Jets' linebackers to make lots of tackles unblocked.
Newberry is a savvy veteran, but he cannot be expected to hold his own at the point of attack versus the 350-pound Jenkins.
Win the field-position battle
This is a big week for the Jets' struggling special teams. They must do a better job of establishing field position, and they have to control explosive return specialist Darren Sproles. In Week 2 the Jets averaged starting their drives at the 21-yard line, which contributed to their conservative play calling. If the Jets are going to win, they have to win the field-position battle, otherwise QB Philip Rivers will be able to use the entire playbook.
The Jets will bring the blitz almost a third of the time, and SS Kerry Rhodes is a master at applying pressure off the edge. However, Rivers has done an excellent job of reading the blitz and either avoiding it with his feet or throwing to his "hot" receiver. The Chargers also have an excellent blocking tight end, Brandon Manumaleuna, who lines up in the backfield during passing situations. Plus, RB LaDainian Tomlinson is very adept at picking up the blitz. This is an area of the game to watch closely.
Trickery in the red zone
In two games the Chargers have not shown much production in the red zone, partly due to the nagging injuries to Tomlinson and TE Antonio Gates. However, this might be a good week for the Chargers to pull out their patented Tomlinson halfback pass to Gates against an aggressive Jets defense, especially when Rhodes is blitzing.
Be aggressive on defense
San Diego's pass defense is ranked No. 31, and CBs Antonio Cromartie, Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason are being beaten by double moves. A big part of the problem is the Chargers' lack of a consistent pass rush. They really miss LB Shawne Merriman, because without his pressure the Chargers' secondary is asked to stay in coverage for too long. However, the Chargers' pass defense ranking is deceiving because this is a good unit, but it could be better if the guys up front did their job. In order for that to happen, defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell will have to call more blitzes and put more pressure on Favre.
Get it to Gates
Gates could be in for a big game, because the Jets have been vulnerable in the middle of the field this season. Part of the problem is that the Jets' safeties are not elite cover guys, but also Rhodes loves to attack versus the run and blitz. If Rivers can catch him on a blitz or lure him with play-action, Gates will have space in the middle of the field.
Gary Horton, a pro scout for Scouts Inc., has been a football talent evaluator for more than 30 years. He spent 10 years in the NFL and 10 years at the college level before launching a private scouting firm, The War Room.
Gary Horton knows what to pay attention to during the Jets-Chargers MNF game.