CHICAGO — Sam Darnold isn’t worried about the weather or wind in his first NFL game in Chicago. The conditions inside MetLife last Sunday and in Florham Park this week prepared the Southern Cal product for what he might face.
The weather isn’t supposed to be too bad Sunday in the Windy City, but there’s another force of nature that’s hard to prepare for that could wreck a game.
“Fifty-two jumps out,” Darnold said. “Khalil Mack is obviously a great player. They’ve got a great defense as a whole. But Khalil Mack, you’ve got to know where he is.”
If the Jets had their way, Mack would be their edge rusher. But they weren’t willing to part with the assets the Bears sent the Raiders.
It cost Chicago two No. 1s, a third-rounder and a sixth-round pick for Mack, who has five sacks, four forced fumbles and an interception that he returned for a touchdown this season.
The Jets (3-4) retained all their assets and their quest for a game-changing pass rusher continues. It will be a focal point in the offseason. The focus Sunday for the heavily undermanned Jets is beating the Bears (3-3) and a somewhat compromised Mack. He has an ankle issue, but the Jets expect him to be at his best.
“He’s more of a complete outside back than most,” Todd Bowles said. “There are fast ones, there are strong ones but he can do all of the above, he can run around you, he can run over you, he can strip the ball, he can catch the ball, he can drop in coverage. He’s a more complete player then a lot of players today.
“We expect to get the same player on Sunday, the dominant player he’s always been.”
This is a tough matchup and daunting task for the Jets to win even if they were at full strength. They’re on the road, facing a dominant defense that has sprung leaks lately, but is hungry to redeem itself after giving up 38 points in a home loss to New England last week.
The Jets probably will struggle to score points as their offense is being held together by staples and scotch tape.
Starting running back Bilal Powell was placed on season-ending injured reserve this week with a neck injury that will require surgery. Darnold’s top target Quincy Enunwa (high ankle sprain) is out. Darnold’s No. 2 receiver Robby Anderson is doubtful with an ankle sprain.
Presuming Anderson doesn’t play, the Jets receiving corps will consist of one regular full-time receiver, Jermaine Kearse. After Kearse, who had no catches last week against Minnesota, Darnold will have special teamers Andre Roberts and Charone Peake, rookie Deontay Burnett and newly signed Rishard Matthews as his receivers.
Darnold, who looks to bounce back from a three-interception game last week against the Vikings, spent time after practice working with his receivers. Offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates doesn’t believe Darnold’s development will be slowed by all the injuries, and players being shuttled in and out.
“I think as a rookie quarterback it would be easier, because you don’t have the four and five-year relationships with guys,” Bates said. “It’s just other players coming in, and he has confidence in all the guys on the team. If they are open he is going to drive it.”
Isaiah Crowell and rookie Trenton Cannon will be the featured backs. They promoted De’Angelo Henderson from the practice squad Saturday for insurance, and released corner Juston Burris.
The Jets could use a big game from Crowell. He rushed for a franchise-record 219 yards in Week 5, but he’s totaled just 69 yards the two games since. The Bears have only allowed one back to run for 100 yards this season (Miami’s Frank Gore), and they haven’t given up a rushing touchdown.
On the other side of the ball, where safety Jamal Adams said the Jets have a “savage mentality at all times,” the Jets have to try to slow down a team and young quarterback who can put up points and hurt you in so many ways even if receiver Allen Robinson (groin) is slowed or doesn’t play.
Jordan Howard is the Bears’ big bruising back who can wear defenses down. Speedy Tarik Cohen beats teams as a back, receiver and returner. Receiver Taylor Gabriel is a downfield threat. Tight end Trey Burton, who the threw the touchdown pass for the Eagles in last year’s Super Bowl, is a go-to target for Mitchell Trubyski.
Trubyski, in his second year, has really emerged as a multi-threat quarterback. He has thrown for 11 touchdowns in the last three games, while rushing for 180 yards and score. Trubyski has run 245 yards, second among quarterbacks to only Cam Newton.
“There’s clips where he’s sitting there and there’s a guy coming from the blindside and he has him dead to rights and then he spins out and starts running down the field,” linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “It definitely changes the way you got to come at the guy. You just got to try and gang tackle that guy. You got to have multiple guys in his face because he’s an athlete.”
It would help the Jets if they had someone like Mack.