Here are five keys to the game heading into the Week 16 match between the Los Angeles Chargers and New York Jets:
1. Next Man Up Steps Up – The Bolts already know they'll be without several key contributors as Hunter Henry was placed on IR earlier this week while Denzel Perryman and Corey Liuget have been ruled out. Then there's Russell Okung, Austin Ekeler and Joe Barksdale, who are each questionable to play after sustaining injuries in Kansas City. There's no denying the Bolts enter New York a banged up club. Still, that's no excuse. Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley noted how it's about putting those on the field in the best position to go out and make plays:
"You always talk about, this game is about us, how are we going to do it? But there are some things the Jets do with their personnel groupings that we have to make some decisions on how we want to approach it. And sometimes those injuries force you to take a look at opening everything up and saying, 'Alright, how do we get our best personnel on the field, yet still be effective?' With Denzel being hurt, it's forced us to sit down and talk personnel even more."
2. Petty Looks to Cash in – The Jets went on record the past few days talking about the need to take more vertical attempts this week. They limited the playbook last week for quarterback Bryce Petty's first start taking over for an injured Josh McCown. However, the Chargers expect him to air it out this week, and when he does, odds are he'll look for Robby Anderson. The former undrafted free agent has taken the league by storm in his second season as one of the most explosive wideouts in the NFL. Anderson has caught 57 passes for 888 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 15.6 yards per catch. Meanwhile, Petty has another steady weapon at his disposal in Jermaine Kearse, who has caught 55 passes for 709 yards and five TDs on the year. Bradley has a lot of respect for both weapons, but noted when it comes to explosive plays, all eyes will be on Anderson:
"When you look at the explosive players on their team, his number keeps showing up. It's his speed. He's a 4.3 guy that can run. I think he's been a great surprise for them. They're looking at his ability to make big plays down the field for them. On tape, you can see him outrun very good corners, and make plays on very good corners. They would have no issues running it 35 times a game. But it doesn't mean they won't take shots. It doesn't mean that they're not going to try to get the ball in their playmakers' hands. And he's one of those guys. So we anticipate them trying to get him the ball some in the passing game."
3. Powell Power Football – As Bradley mentioned, the Chargers expect a healthy dose of Bilal Powell on Sunday. New York loves to pound the rock, with the team anticipating they may run it 40-plus times. However, with Matt Forte and Elijah McGuire questionable to play due to injury, Powell is expected to see most of the action. The veteran currently leads the team in carries (146), yards (581) and touchdowns (four), so the Bolts stressed the need to corral the power back. Nobody knows just how talented Powell is more than Lynn, who was his position coach in New York. As such, he had high praise for the running back:
"He's one of my favorite human beings in the National Football League. He's very intelligent, tough, physical, he can run, catch, block; he's like a coach on the field. I love Bilal."
4. Belief in BO – The Bolts are banged up at running back. Andre Williams was lost for the season with a broken wrist earlier this month, while Austin Ekeler suffered a wrist injury of his own in KC. The silver lining is the Chargers have Branden Oliver waiting in the wings. Oliver was the primary complement to Melvin Gordon earlier in the year before a hamstring injury forced him to miss two games. During that time, Ekeler proved to be so effective that the team couldn't take him off the field. Thus, Oliver has spent much of the season as a healthy scratch. The Chargers will rely on Gordon to continue to be the team's bell-cow back, but they have complete faith in Oliver to carry his share of the load. As Philip Rivers noted, it's a boost having someone with fresh legs this late in the season:
"You never hope someone goes down, but Branden's been really patient to where for he himself, it's probably been hard for him. But, you're going to get a guy that's fresh who's still stayed in it. They guy's a real pro. You're going to get a fresh back that doesn't have a lot of wear and tear as you get down to this time of the season. It can be a real positive thing. We'll see how Ekeler does with whatever apparatus he ends up wearing. But, it'd be good to have BO. You never want to see guys go down, but when they do, you're thankful to have a guy like BO ready to go."
5. Control What You Can Control – The Chargers aren't oblivious to the fact they need help at this juncture in order to make the postseason. However, to a man, they stressed they can't worry about what happens in those other games. They just need to focus on what they can control, which is winning the next two games. As Rivers noted, how gut punching would it feel if the other games they needed went right, but they weren't able to take care of business on their end?
"(Winning out) is the one (constant) that's in all of (the scenarios). I think the path there, all of them including us winning, isn't that crazy. There've been crazier paths to get in. But again, if you get distracted by that and don't take care of your business and if all the things happen that needed to happen, then you're even sicker. I think it's key for us to focus on just trying to find a way to win this week."