Sunday features two franchises that entered the season with high hopes and promise, only to see it all washed away early on.
The Jets (3-6) and Los Angeles Rams (3-5) arrived at their sad situations in different ways, as New York endured a brutal six-game start to the season where it lost five of its first six contests, while Los Angeles started hot at 3-1 but is now on a four-game tailspin (1 p.m., Fox).[tab]
Both teams have quarterback issues with the Jets sporting Ryan Fitzpatrick and his league-high 13 interceptions, while the Rams roll out Case Keenum (nine touchdowns and 11 interceptions), who is average at best. Each franchise also has neophyte signal callers as backups, New York’s Bryce Petty and Los Angeles’ Jared Goff, this past spring’s No. 1 overall pick – and for some reason, neither backup can see the field as their more experienced starters take a blowtorch to this highly-flammable kindling of a season.
Fitzpatrick, though, is dealing with a sprained MCL, so his grip on the job may be tenuous. Keenum’s job seems more secure since head coach Jeff Fisher deemed that he won’t turn to Goff until the Rams are out of the playoff picture – which could be any week now.
Since the quarterback situation is a mess for both teams, look for the offensive gameplans to be run-heavy to start, as a way to alleviate pressure. This should be the formula every week, except for the fact that Jets’ offensive coordinator Chan Gailey sometimes forgets he has a borderline Hall of Famer in the backfield in Matt Forte – as well as a very suitable backup in Bilal Powell. And the Rams simply, and surprisingly, can’t run the ball despite having last season’s Rookie of the Year in Todd Gurley, who has tallied just 451 rushing yards, 3.1 yards per carry, and three scores.
Both teams sport a very good defense, particularly up front, which means the outcome may be decided by one of the inept signal callers. Buckle up, Jets and Rams fans, because Sunday could be a bumpy ride for both offenses.
1. Healthy Fitz?
The hobbled signal caller is dealing with a knee sprain, but deemed that he’s “definitely optimistic” that he’ll be able to go out there and play – but should he? Los Angeles is a mess much like New York, but the one thing going for them is a hellacious pass rush, particularly its four-man defensive front. The Rams have 15 sacks and six fumble recoveries in its first eight games, meaning they know how to get after the quarterback. Fitzpatrick could be a sitting duck for a speedy and exotic defense that features the likes of defensive tackles Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers and defensive ends William Hayes and Robert Quinn, to go with the fleet Alec Ogletree and converted safety Mark Barron at linebacker. The Rams’ unique front allows them to either rush a traditional look of four linemen or send its two linebackers and its extra defensive back from a five-man secondary at any given moment. It could be a “chuck and duck” afternoon for a wounded Fitzpatrick.
2. Run to victory
Both Forte and Gurley are amazing dual-threat options, so it’s important for both offenses to feature their star running back. Smart money is on the Jets to come out running the ball, both to protect a one-legged Fitzpatrick from shouldering the burden and to keep the ball out of the air and into the hands of Rams’ defenders. The Rams’ issues have been both self-inflicted and personnel. Fisher has said the gameplan has gotten away from Gurley far too much, particularly in last week’s loss to Carolina when he only had 12 carries. Gurley is averaging just 13 carries per game over the last three weeks, all losses. And those defeats were all one-score deficits, meaning the Rams weren’t forced to exclusively throw, but chose to – while ignoring their best offensive weapon. Whichever offense gets its ground game on track will have a huge advantage in setting the tempo and controlling the outcome of the game.[tab]
3. Holding the line
It’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which both quarterbacks light it up, as the defensive front seven on each team is loaded with talent. The Jets face a defense that has stars at every level, beginning with the All-Pro Donald, who’s already gathered 25 sacks in just 40 career games. That’s outside linebacker-type stats and the 2014 Defensive Rookie of the Year is doing that with his hand in the ground battling through the muck and mire of the nasty trenches. Donald has been exceptional again this year, and his five sacks ranks second in the league for interior linemen – second only to the Jets’ star defensive lineman Leonard Williams, who has six. New York’s defensive line, which includes Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, and Steve McLendon, is every bit as daunting as Los Angeles’, which should make for a fun game to watch for fans who appreciate an old-school type contest – but not so much fun for the opposing quarterbacks, running backs, and offensive linemen. [tab]