While Philip Rivers is off to a torrid start for the AFC West-leading San Diego Chargers, Geno Smith's struggles with the New York Jets are drawing calls for his replacement.
The Chargers' hopes for a four-game winning streak likely rest on Rivers' arm Sunday, when they try to frustrate Smith and send the Jets to their longest losing streak in seven years.
Rivers enters Week 5 with an NFL-best 114.5 quarterback rating, and he's at a staggering 128.2 while completing 74.3 percent of his passes for 917 yards and eight touchdowns over the past three games. He's coming off his best performance, compiling a season-high 377 yards with three TDs while connecting on 29 of 39 attempts in a 33-14 win over Jacksonville last Sunday.
Rivers almost single-handedly made up for a battered running attack that's missing Ryan Mathews (knee) for at least two more weeks and Danny Woodhead (ankle) for the season. Donald Brown and Branden Oliver combined for 42 yards on 19 carries last week for the Chargers (3-1), who rank 31st in rushing at 69.5 yards per game and average a league-worst 2.4 yards per attempt.
Things seem unlikely to improve against the Jets (1-3), who allow a league-low 63.3 rushing yards per game and rank third in total defense at 291.2.
"It's nowhere where it needs to be," Chargers coach Mike McCoy said. "There's no excuses about it. We're not running it well enough. We're not blocking well enough. Whatever we're running isn't working. We've got to figure out as coaches and players how to get it done."
Smith is trying to do the same, and Jets fan are growing restless as calls for him to be replaced by backup Michael Vick grow louder. Chants of "We want Vick!" echoed through MetLife Stadium last Sunday, when Smith completed 17 of 33 passes for 209 yards with one touchdown and one interception in a 24-17 loss to Detroit.
The embattled second-year signal-caller, who has five picks and two fumbles, was then caught by television cameras shouting an expletive at a heckler while walking off the field. He later apologized.
Despite the mounting pressure to turn to Vick, coach Rex Ryan isn't budging.
"Because I believe in him," Ryan said of Smith. "I believe that we're going to get it done and I believe that he's going to be one of the main reasons we get it done and get it turned.
"I don't anticipate us as a team continuing to struggle. I think this team needs a win in the worst way, and I think that will help us more than anything. We have guys that believe in each other and I think, to a man, that our team believes in Geno."
Wins will be hard to come by with New York facing San Diego, Denver and New England in a span of 12 days, and the team is already on the brink of a four-game slide for the first time since dropping six straight in 2007.
With the Jets averaging 19.8 points and the passing game topping 204 yards only once, the players held an offensive players-only meeting earlier this week in an effort to begin turning things around.
"No grievances," Smith said. "I understand the semantics are a huge thing in this market, but no grievance. I don't want you guys to get that misunderstood. No one's hanging their head around here, no one's sad, no one's down on themselves. We're ready to go out and play."
While the Jets' run defense is the best in the NFL, the pass defense has given up nine touchdowns and has set a franchise record by failing to intercept a pass through the first four games of a season. The last team to start a season without an interception in their first five games was the 2002 Bills, who didn't get their first interception until the seventh game.
Opposing quarterbacks have compiled a 106.8 passer rating during New York's skid, and it's not likely to get any easier against Rivers.
He had touchdown passes of 47 and 43 yards to Eddie Royal last week, and the wide receiver has reached the end zone four times on nine catches in the last two games.
"I don't think it's just Eddie and Philip. I think it's the whole group," McCoy said. "Philip has many weapons to go to."
One of them is Keenan Allen, who leads San Diego with 22 receptions and 244 yards, but is still without a score. He caught 10 of the 12 passes thrown in his direction in Week 4, totaling a season-high 135 yards.
The Chargers last hosted the Jets in a 17-14 loss in a divisional playoff game on Jan. 17, 2010.