Breaking Down the Jets vs the Titans
A little more than a week after vanquishing their biggest rivals and taking sole possession of first place in the AFC East the New York Jets travel to Tennessee to take on the best team in the AFC when they meet the undefeated Tennessee Titans. A victory here puts the Jets in a commanding position to sprint into the playoffs and likely earn a first round bye.
Jets Defense vs. Titans Offense
The Titans have re-found what they loved to do on offense back in the heyday of their first championship era team with Steve McNair and Eddie George as the focal point of the team. The backbone of the Tennessee Titans offense lies with the physicality of their offensive line allowing them to play smashmouth football grinding teams down for the first two quarters and often watching them crack in the second half of the game. They open holes for the runners and rarely let their QB get touched. Most of the season the Titans have relied on their “Crash and Dash” backfield tandem of Lendale White and Chris Johnson. White is a bruiser that earns the tough yardage through the middle, is great at the goal, and softens up the defense for Johnson who has tremendous burst and speed. In recent weeks, though, teams have been completely taking the backfield away which has led to QB Kerry Collins turning back the clock and putting up some impressive numbers in some big wins to keep the team undefeated. Collins is a veteran QB that still has a good arm and works very well off the play action. In an ideal world the Titans want Collins to throw for 180 yards and manage the game, but these past two weeks may have the Titans experiment more with opening up the passing game as they have all but wrapped up the first seed in the AFC playoffs and can turn their attention towards the playoffs. One of the keys to the Titans passing game has always been the reliance on the tight ends and multiple tight end sets and that has been no different in 2008. Bo Scaife is Collins favorite target and leads the team in receptions and yards. He is very good at getting separation from the coverage and taking a small pass into a moderate gain. The WR’s are a group of no-namers that seem to have someone new step up every week. Last week it was Justin Gage, who has had problems holding onto the ball this season, making big catches for the team. Gage has the ability to put together big games from time to time. Brandon Jones has made some big catches for the team and at the least looks to be a reliable player in the offense. Justin McCareins is similar to how he was on the Jets dropping some passes and grabbing a few others. He may not play due to concussion.
This will be a big test and somewhat of a measuring stick for the Jets defensively. The team was physically outplayed at the line of scrimmage against New England and looked physically drained through most of the game. It is very likely that may have been due to the pace of the game as well as the very short rest between games, two factors that should not be the case this week. The Titans are going to make you play their game, at least at the start, and the Jets can make a statement about how physical a team they can be on defense. The success will start up front with Kris Jenkins manning the middle of the field. Jenkins is a load at the point of attack and will be responsible to help eliminate center Kevin Mawae from the Titans gameplan. Mawae, a perennial pro bowler and former Jet, has had trouble in the past when facing players like Jenkins. The Jets could use a boost this week with the return of David Harris, who is a much more physical tackler and player than David Bowens, but regardless of who suits up the ILB’s will be responsible for bringing White down. Of course enough can not be said for the Jets being able to find the proper coverage for the tight end schemes run by the Titans. The Jets have had a tough time all year in coverage and this is a team that will confuse you with their looks. The secondary, battered around in Foxboro, should have much better luck this week. The worries won’t be there the way they were with Randy Moss and Wes Welker and the Titans offensive scheme should limit the time CB Dwight Lowery sees the field.
One thing that will work in the Jets favor this week is that the Titans running game is very much either feast or famine, with much of the success coming from huge games. Since Johnson’s huge game against the Chiefs he has been relatively quiet as a runner and White has games where he is completely useless other than around the goal. White also is no threat in the passing game. If the Jets can set the tone early for the running game they should turn the Titans into more of a controlled passing attack. While the Jets pass defense is not very strong, when you play an opponent that on paper is better than you are the first thing you need to do is force that team out of their style of game and into something they are not used to. Collins has certainly answered the call these last two weeks when the Titans were forced into that offense, but the Jets pass rush is far superior to those of the Bears and Jaguars. Collins is a statue in the pocket and if the Jets force them into a pass first offense and can blitz Collins with their secondary players as well as the OLB’s there is potential there for a different result than what the NFL has seen these previous two weeks. The other area the Jets need to be careful in is again their lax approach inside of two minutes. The team is giving up huge plays and they can not allow Johnson to run for 50 yards on a 3rd and 15 where everyone expects a deep pass.
Jets Offense vs. Titans Defense
The Tennessee Titans are the best defense in the NFL. They are extremely physical up front and the secondary is loaded with ball hawks that do not let you get away with a mistake. Only once have they allowed a runner to gain more than 100 yards, only once they have gone a game without an interception and most importantly have yet to give up more than 17 points in a meaningful manner this year. The defense is again led by DT Albert Haynesworth having another MVP type season. Haynesworth is a nasty player that is the most disruptive tackle in the NFL. He seems to spend as much time in an opponents backfield as he does on his side of the ball and already has 7 sacks on the season. Kyle Vanden Bosch, who has been nursing a groin injury, is a terrific pass rusher if he suits up. Even without Vanden Bosch the team has done a good job pressuring the QB and simply playing solid defense with players like Dave Ball having a solid impact. The Titans linebackers don’t attack the QB much but all do a good job quickly getting to the running backs and clogging the field to disrupt the passing lanes. CB Cortland Finnegan is one of the brightest young corners in the NFL. Much like the Jets Darrelle Revis he is excellent in coverage and a really good tackler. Safeties Michael Griffin and Chris Hope are as good a tandem as any in the NFL and make life miserable for the opposition.
This will be the best offense that the Titans have faced to date. There are few teams more productive at scoring points than the Jets and the Jets look to have peaked on that side of the football. QB Brett Favre is coming off the best game of his brief Jets career and has done a much better job protecting the football in his last 3 games than he has all season. The Jets will need that trend to continue if they want to win this game. Equally important will be how the Jets offensive line handles the Titans four man rush. The Jets line has let Favre go nearly untouched these last three weeks but will be facing their toughest challenge thus far. The players are going to need to help out on Haynesworth and be very aware of where he lines up. If he ends up working on Brandon Moore it could be a huge mismatch. If the line reverts back to how they played early in the season it will be a long day for the Jets. It will be hard to imagine either Thomas Jones or Leon Washington having a huge impact this week in the running game. The Titans are simply not a team you can run on, though both guys will get an opportunity since the typical games against Tennessee are field position slugfests. Not many Wrs have had big days against the Titans, though if you can keep the QB from getting touched there is a slight chance for someone to get loose down the sidelines. More likely the Jets biggest pass targets will be Dustin Keller and Chris Baker this week. Keller has been outstanding the past two weeks and the Titans do give up plays to the tight ends. For the Jets passing game to be a success they are going to have to get the tight ends involved early on. The question is will the Jets if they move the ball be able to score touchdowns this week or have to settle for field goals as is often the case against the Titans?
When you play the Titans you have to win the special teams battle---kicking, returns, and coverage---if you want to win a game. In a game such as this one field position and clutch kicking could be the difference between a win and a loss. Tennessee’s kicking game is very good. Punter Craig Hentrich does a great job of positioning punts and kicker Rob Bironas has a big enough leg to keep players from returning the ball out of the end zone. That isn’t to say you can not return the ball on the Titans. If you catch the ball in play the return lanes will open up for Leon Washington and in what should be a low scoring game the Jets will likely have Washington returning whatever he possibly can. Washington is a huge factor if he can swap field position with his punt and kick returns. Titan return man Chris Carr does a good job returning the ball to create good field position for his team. While he doesn’t have the game breaking ability Washington does, he ranks right near the top of the AFC in kick returns.
Who handles the kicking duties for the Jets will likely be a mystery until game day. Jay Feely hit the biggest kick of his career in New England and has seemingly staved off Mike Nugent from reclaiming the job. Whomever kicks needs to be perfect on field goals. The Jets should get their opportunities and can not leave 3 points on the field at any point in the game.
Jeff Fisher is one of the best, if not the best, in the NFL. He does more with less talent than almost anyone in the league. He should have won coach of the year in 2006 and 2007 and will undoubtedly win it in 2008. Fisher doesn’t let his team get down if things go bad and he always has them prepared for the 4th quarter of games. He is excellent at making halftime adjustments and the Titans are just completely shutting teams down in the 2nd half. If you don’t get a lead in the first half it is hard to defeat this team right now. Fisher does get very conservative at times, but that seems to suit this team best.
Eric Mangini came out of the biggest win of his career with as many questions as answers. The Jets were prepared for the game and came out firing, but he called off the hounds in the 2nd quarter and watched as his team blew the lead twice after being up 24-6. The Titans are not as explosive as the Patriots so his seemingly biggest weakness may play a part in the game. Mangini’s main job this week will be to get the Jets off of their emotional high from last week and avoid a letdown in week 12. The Jets have had two big emotional type games under Mangini and they came out flat both times they had a game following that.
If the Jets were to pull off the upset this week the entire opinion about the Jets would change around the country. While many reluctantly acknowledge the Jets as the best team in the AFC East there are many who refuse to acknowledge them as a good team period. The Jets have nobody to blame for that but themselves with the way they played in many games this year, but the team is on a very nice run right now and a win against the Titans would put the Jets in the very upper echelon of the AFC without question.
From a playoff perspective this is a big game for NY. If they lose the game this week they will once again find themselves tied for the lead in the AFC East with either Miami or New England. While they have the tiebreaker advantages and still control their own destiny, there is something to be said for the confidence being alone in front gives you. The Jets are playing with some swagger and confidence and that can be hurt by looking up at the standings and seeing the Patriots right there tied with you for the lead. If that happens you lose your margin for error. If you win you have a great chance to end up with the number 2 seed in the playoffs.
The game should be a close game unless the Jets really are just still basking in the glory of last weeks win. If the Jets protect the football and win the battle of field position they have an excellent chance to win the game. Tennessee is not going to score a ton of points unless the Jets fall asleep against the run or give them the ball in great field position. 20 points probably wins this game. At the end of the day home field probably means the difference and it would not be a shock if these two teams match up again in the playoffs. Jets will just fall short, but the feelings off of the loss are probably going to be very good as the Jets prove they can hang with the elite of the NFL.
Jets 19 Titans 24