W2W4: Jets at Titans

September, 27, 2013
9/27/13
12:00
PM ET
It's Mirror City in the Music City.

There are many similarities between the New York Jets and Tennessee Titans, who play Sunday in a 4 p.m. kickoff at LP Field in Nashville: Both teams are a surprising 2-1. Both began the season with coaches on the hot seat. Both have young, developing quarterbacks. Both play aggressive, man-to-man schemes on defense. And both are highly penalized. For the Jets, it's their third straight opponent that won the previous week in the final seconds.

What to watch for:

1. Statement game: If the Jets want people to take them seriously, they need to go on the road and beat a middle-of-the-road team like the Titans. Folks are getting a bit carried away by last week's win; remember, the Jets almost always beat the Buffalo Bills, the ideal punching bag. See the 2012 opener, the ultimate mirage. This is a very winnable game for the young Jets, who can show the skeptics that maybe, just maybe they can do something this season. They have to win these swing games because the schedule is about to get a lot tougher. If they can hit the quarter pole at 3-1, it changes the complexion of the season.

[+] EnlargeNew York's Geno Smith
Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY SportsGeno Smith passed for 331 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions last week against the Bills.
2. Big-play Geno: Geno Smith made the Buffalo Bills pay dearly last week for putting eight in the box and playing man-to-man on the outside. He'll see a lot of the same looks from the Titans, who decided to change their defensive philosophy after allowing a franchise-record 471 points last season. But the difference is that the Titans' cornerbacks, Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner, are better than the scrubs rolled out by the depleted Bills.

In other words, it'll be a challenge for the Jets' wideouts, Stephen Hill in particular, to get clean releases and into their routes on time. The X factor could be tight end Kellen Winslow, especially in the red zone. The Titans had some trouble last week with San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, so don't be surprised if Marty Mornhinweg tries to feature Winslow in the passing game.

3. Beware, the blitz: The Titans will bring pressure out of their 4-3 front. They've blitzed on nearly 50 percent of their passing downs, significantly higher than last season. Call it the Gregg Williams factor. The disgraced former coordinator of the New Orleans Saints (see: Bounty Gate) doesn't call the plays, but there's no denying his presence has made an impact on the Titans' defensive mentality.

Outside linebackers Akeem Ayers and Zach Brown are fast, active players, sometimes used in zone-blitz situations. The front four is led by defensive end Derrick Morgan, who will be matched against right tackle Austin Howard. Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey is a strong interior pass-rusher. The Jets' offensive line played a clean game last week (no sacks), but this will be a tougher challenge, especially on the road.

4. Make him the 'Hurt' Locker: Jake Locker is a great athlete still learning to play quarterback (only 11 career starts), but his confidence is soaring after last week's come-from-behind win in the final two minutes. Folks in Nashville are saying it could be the turning point in his career. Really? Locker remains a limited passer who, somehow, has managed to avoid turnovers. That's right, no turnovers in three games, compared to seven for Smith. The Jets aim to end Locker's streak. Rex Ryan has been preaching takeaways from the minute last week's game ended. (The defense has only one takeaway, which is unacceptable.)

The trick is keeping Locker in the pocket, forcing him to be a passer. His passer rating actually is significantly lower when he has extra time in the pocket, according to ProFootballFocus. If he breaks contain, watch out. He rushed for 68 yards last week, including a brilliant, 39-yard scramble. You might recall he scored a rushing touchdown against the Jets in last December's debacle.

5. Avoid the killer breakdowns: Each week, the Jets suffer one or two defensive lapses that result in a big play. It usually shows up in the form of a busted coverage, which happened in Weeks 1 and 2. Last week they fell asleep and let Fred Jackson escape a pile-up for a 59-yard run. They can't do that when Chris Johnson has the ball in his hands. To reinforce the point, Ryan can show the clip of last year's meeting, when Johnson turned a routine, off-tackle play into a 94-yard touchdown. He leads the AFC in rushing (256 yards), but there haven't been any splash plays. The Jets need to keep it that way.

The Titans are a ground-and-pound offense (where have we heard that before?), running behind their two new guards, free-agent addition Andy Levitre and No. 1 pick Chance Warmack. The center is ex-Jet Rob Turner, whose shotgun snaps have been shaky. They've had some problems with inside stunting, something the Jets might try to exploit. Levitre, Turner and Warmack already have allowed 26 pressures, per PFF.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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