New York Jets: Tennessee Titans
The situation: The Titans took over at the Jets' 46-yard line with 1:28 remaining in the first half, following Geno Smith's second interception. Despite a poor half, the Jets were still in the game, trailing 17-6.
The drive: The Titans used all but two seconds of the clock, taking a commanding 24-6 lead on Jake Locker's 16-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Justin Hunter. The drive took seven plays, 46 yards. The Jets knew Locker would try a jump-ball pass to Hunter in the end zone, but they still couldn't defend it. Cornerback Darrin Walls was burned on the play.
The impact: This was a crushing score for a couple of reasons. Moments earlier, the Jets forced a three-and-out and used two timeouts, setting themselves up for a potential hurry-up drive at the end of the half. They got the ball in good field position, at their 41, but Smith forced a ball to Santonio Holmes and was intercepted. Just like that, the defense was back on the field. Instead of cutting into an 11-point deficit before halftime, the Jets went to the locker room down by 18 points. It changed the complexion of the game.
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.
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.
"I know this one meant a lot to him," Titans coach Mike Munchak said Wednesday.
Munchak said Greene is "something special" and hopes to give him 10 to 15 touches per game when he returns, perhaps next week. Greene was the Jets' leading rusher in 2011 and 2012, but he was a free agent and was part of the mass exodus that marked the Jets' offseason.
They parted ways with 11 starters, but take a closer look: Only four of 11 played last week for their new teams: guard Matt Slauson (Bears), defensive tackle Mike DeVito (Chiefs), safety Yeremiah Bell (Cards) and cornerback Darrelle Revis (Bucs). Three were injured -- safety LaRon Landry (Colts), tight end Dustin Keller (Dolphins) and Greene. Two are out of football (nose tackle Sione Po'uha and linebacker Bryan Thomas) and two retired (guard Brandon Moore and linebacker Bart Scott). Their most famous non-starter, quarterback Tim Tebow, also is out of football.
Maybe the Jets didn't lose as much as most people thought.
ICYMI: Tough times for the cornerback position. Rookie Dee Milliner, benched in Week 2, injured a hamstring Wednesday in practice. The team provided no details. ... Coach Rex Ryan has seen the light. No longer married to ground-and-pound, he's willing to live on the edge with a rookie quarterback. ... Santonio Holmes said he's still not 100 percent. Anybody surprised? ... Yes, the Jets are going through with the push-ups thing. Owner Woody Johnson dropped and knocked out 30.
3. Sanchez Interception No. 3: QB Mark Sanchez threw deep for Braylon Edwards and it was intercepted by S Michael Griffin along the Jets' sideline. Sanchez did a couple of things wrong. He stared down Edwards the entire time, allowing Griffin -- in a single-high position -- to get a great jump, providing deep help to CB Jason McCourty. Sanchez also threw it too late, making it easy pickings for Griffin.
4. Sanchez Interception No. 4: This was the most egregious mistake of them all. The Jets had a chance to win, with a first down at the Titans' 23, less than two minutes to play. Sanchez threw off his back foot into triple coverage, looking for Jeff Cumberland. It was intercepted by Griffin. There was no reason to make that throw because it was first down. He would've had three more cracks at the end zone. Inexcusable.
5. The Hut Fumble: You remember the Butt Fumble, of course. This wasn't as theatric, but it still was a mind-boggling mistake. Thanks to the Titans' own ineptitude, the Jets got the ball at the Titans' 25 with 47 seconds left -- another chance to win. On first down, Nick Mangold's shotgun snap was below Sanchez's knees. He failed to catch it cleanly. With the ball rolling on the turf, Bilal Powell -- in pass protection, his back to the ball -- inadvertently kicked it. LB Zach Brown pounced on it, and that was that. Fittingly, the Jets' playoff chances died with a wacky fumble.
• Muhammad Wilkerson: 59 snaps/100 percent
• Mike DeVito: 40 snaps/68 percent
• Quinton Coples: 22 snaps/37 percent
• Sione Po'uha: 19 snaps/32 percent
• Kenrick Ellis: 16 snaps/27 percent
• David Harris: 59 snaps/100 percent
• Calvin Pace: 59 snaps/100 percent
• Bart Scott: 45 snaps/76 percent
• Garrett McIntyre: 41 snaps/69 percent
• Demario Davis: 8 snaps/14 percent
• Yeremiah Bell: 59 snaps/100 percent
• LaRon Landry: 59 snaps/100 percent
• Antonio Cromartie: 59 snaps/100 percent
• Kyle Wilson: 54 snaps/92 percent
• Ellis Lankster: 25 snaps/42 percent
• Eric Smith: 19 snaps/32 percent
• Antonio Allen: 6 snaps/10 snaps
Analysis: Only 17 players saw action on defense, a relatively low number for the Jets. ... Wilkerson always leads the linemen playing time, but this was the first time he played every snap. ... McIntyre received a heavier-than-usual workload because of the injury to Bryan Thomas.
• Mark Sanchez: 61 snaps/91 percent
• Tim Tebow: 6 snaps/9 percent
• Shonn Greene: 31 snaps/46 percent
• Bilal Powell: 28 snaps/42 percent
• Lex Hilliard: 15 snaps/22 percent
• Joe McKnight: 8 snaps/12 percent
• Jeff Cumberland: 61 snaps/91 percent
• Konrad Reuland: 35 snaps/52 percent
• Jason Smith (jumbo TE): 13 snaps/19 percent
• Jeremy Kerley: 54 snaps/81 percent
• Braylon Edwards: 41 snaps/61 percent
• Mardy Gilyard: 23 snaps/34 percent
• Clyde Gates: 16 snaps/24 percent
• Chaz Schilens: 10 snaps/15 percent
Analysis: Edwards arrived last Wednesday, practiced for the first time Thursday, started the game and played the second-highest among of snaps among the wide receivers. Yep, that about sums up the state of the receiving corps. ... Curiously, Schilens started and played his lowest snap total since Week 2. He didn't appear to be injured. ... After not playing in three games, Tebow played an entire series (five plays) for the first time this season. They picked a weird time for Tebow time. ... Backup LG Vladimir Ducasse received more time than he had been in recent weeks. He played 20 snaps (30 percent), compared to 47 snaps (70 percent) for starter Matt Slauson. ... WR Jordan White was active but didn't play. Rex Ryan opted to dress a sixth receiver instead of a third quarterback, Greg McElroy.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Handing out grades from the Jets' 14-10 loss to the Titans, which mathematically eliminated them from playoff contention:
The Jets didn't need Mark Sanchez to be Tom Brady to beat the Titans; they just needed mediocrity. They didn't get it. They got five turnovers, including four interceptions. The first was a bad decision, the second an overthrow, the third a late, telegraphed throw and the fourth a horrible decision. The only thing he didn't do was throw a pick-6. The pass protection was solid at times, making his performance even more alarming.
The Jets actually ran the ball pretty well (146 yards), continuing a late-season trend. Shonn Greene picked up tough yards and Joe McKnight provided a little spark off the bench. ... Why don't they give McKnight more chances? He's the only back with home-run ability. ... The running game should've opened up play-action opportunities for Sanchez, but he went 3-for-7 on play-action passes, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Three of his four interceptions came on play-action.
The numbers look pretty. The Jets held QB Jake Locker to 149 yards and a 79.5 passer rating, and CB Antonio Cromartie did a fantastic job on WR Kenny Britt (one catch for 7 yards), but the numbers don't tell the whole story. Locker had been a turnover machine -- nine in the previous three games -- but he didn't turn it over at all. You can't call yourself a top-10 defense and not force any turnovers against Locker and a mediocre Titans offense.
One slip up, that's all it took. Chris Johnson found a crease and bolted 94 yards for a touchdown. NT Sione Po'uha accepted the responsibility, saying he filled the wrong gap. It was the longest run against the Jets since 1998, when the 49ers' Garrison Hearst ran 96 yards in overtime. ... Later, the Jets got burned on a QB sweep by Locker, who ran 13 yards on a read-option. The Jets got burned on the same exact play by the 49ers' Colin Kaepernick in Week 4.
The Jets got good pressure on P Brett Kern, coming close to blocking a couple of punts. Pressure may have forced him into a 19-yard punt in the final minute, which nearly cost the Titans the game. ... Muhammad Wilkerson blocked a field goal. ... The return units were pretty much a wash.
Can you blame the coaches for four interceptions? That's a tough one, but you have to wonder why they allowed the turnover-prone Sanchez to take so many deep shots. He attempted eight passes of 15-plus yards, completing only two, according to ESPN Stats. In fact, he completed twice as many deep balls to the Titans (all four interceptions) as he did to his own team. ... Coordinator Tony Sparano had his running game going, yet he abandoned the conservative play calling that allowed them to pull out ugly wins in the previous two games. ... Rex Ryan's handling of the QB situation was curious. Why remove Sanchez after two decent series? Why not dress Greg McElroy? Did they really need six wide receivers? We could go on and on.
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Send in the next tomato can.
The Jets, trying to continue their desperate, late-season rally, meet their third consecutive last-place opponent Monday night in Nashville. This time, it's the Titans (4-9), who have dropped three straight to put themselves on the brink of their second double digit-loss season in three years.
For the Jets (6-7), hoping to reach .500 for the first time since Week 6, it's win or start planning for 2013. A loss would mathematically eliminate them from playoff contention. If the Jets win their third straight, they'd maintain a pulse into Week 16.
Kickoff is 8:30 p.m. at LP Field. What to watch for:
1. Mistake-prone QBs: So you think Mark Sanchez has a turnover problem? The Titans' Jake Locker has him beat in that department. The second-year QB has nine turnovers in the past three games -- seven interceptions and two fumbles. That's three more than Sanchez in the same span.
Mistakes notwithstanding, Locker can be dangerous because he does two things well: He can escape pressure (9.9 yards per scramble) and he can throw the deep ball (league-high 48.3 completion percentage on passes of 20+ yards). His most dangerous target is former Rutgers star Kenny Britt, who had a season-high 143 yards last week. The Jets believe they can make Locker panic by shutting down his first read. Chances are, the team with the fewest QB mistakes will win.
2. Braylon 2.0: Braylon Edwards has been slowed by an old hamstring injury, but the newly-acquired wide receiver is expected to make his 2012 debut for the Jets. In his first stint with the Jets, Edwards had a penchant for playing well in prime time. In his 2009 debut, in Week 5, he caught five passes for 64 yards and a TD against the Dolphins on Monday Night Football. Then, like now, he had only a few days to familiarize himself with the offense.
Edwards could be used in three-receiver sets with Jeremy Kerley and Chaz Schilens. Sanchez has a built-in comfort level with Edwards, who could be useful in the red zone because of his size. The question is, will his balky hammy hold up an entire game?
3. Run D vs. CJ: Titans RB Chris Johnson reached the 1,000-yard mark for the fifth straight year, but this hasn't been a vintage year. He has been slowed by a sore ankle and upheaval on the offensive line, which has changed four starters since camp. The only original starter is LT Michael Roos. The weak link is C Kevin Matthews, who had three holding penalties two weeks ago. Don't be surprised if the Jets put DE Muhammad Wilkerson on Matthews in certain fronts.
Johnson was held to 51 and 44 yards in the last two games, but he remains a home-run threat because of his speed. He needs space to run because he's not the type of back to break tackles. The Titans are last in the league in rushing yards after contact, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Conversely, Johnson leads the AFC in yards before contact. Get the picture?
4. Kids R Them: The Titans are very young on defense, especially at linebacker -- two second-year players (Akeem Ayers and Colin McCarthy) and rookie Zach Brown. They're fast and aggressive, but that means they're vulnerable to misdirection runs, counters and play-action passes.
The Jets have done a nice job in recent weeks with counters and misdirection plays, especially the wind-back run. You also could see a throwback screen. The goal, of course, is to exploit over-pursuit. One injury to watch: McCarthy, who calls the defensive signals, is out with a concussion.
5. Beware, a McCourty is lurking: Jason McCourty starts at cornerback for the Titans. His twin brother, Patriots CB Devin McCourty, already has inflicted plenty of misery into the Jets' season. He scored on a 104-yard kickoff return and, in the Thanksgiving night debacle, he set up a TD by forcing a fumble on a kickoff return by Joe McKnight. The ball flew into the air and landed softly in the hands of Julian Edelman, who returned it for a score. Not surprisingly, Jason said he called his twin bro' this week to pick his brain for some intel on the Jets.
6. Return of the 'Cat? Rex Ryan made a big deal out of Tim Tebow's supposedly improved physical condition, suggesting that Tebow -- a spectator the last three games because of fractured ribs -- could be back in his old role, whatever that is. We'll believe it when we see it.
Gang Green has won back-to-back games for the first time this season and will take on the Titans who have given up the second-most points in the NFL.
While Mark Sanchez started the year with accuracy issues, in the last four games he has the second-best completion percentage among AFC starters.
He will face a defense that has allowed a completion rate of 67.8 percent to opponents which ranks last in the NFL.
The Jets will welcome back Braylon Edwards who has been the best deep threat receiver Sanchez has had with an average target depth of 15.5 yards downfield. The 10 touchdowns between them is more than Sanchez has with all active Jets receivers combined.
Here are three matchups to watch in Week 15:
1. Running back Chris Johnson has rushed for 1,000 yards for the fifth straight season to begin his career and leads the Titans who rank second in the AFC with 4.7 yards per rush.
The ground attack can be stopped when you consider the Titans rank last in the NFL in yards gained after contact per rush. It will be up to the Jets to contain, swarm and finish tackles.
As easy as that sounds, it can be difficult against the elusive Johnson who leads the AFC in rushing yards gained on plays when he is not contacted by a defender, including all four of his touchdowns.
2. The Jets have returned to the Rex Ryan roots of ground and pound with the most rushing attempts in the NFL in winning three of their last four games.
Gang Green has scored all five of their rushing touchdowns over that stretch by running up the middle between center Nick Mangold and either guard. That leads the NFL along with the most rushing yards and yards after contact in that direction since Week 11.
The Titans will need to plug the middle, disrupt the backfield and add to their AFC-leading 52 tackles for loss to have success against the Jets.
3. With previous experience as a baseball prospect, Jake Locker has a very strong arm and leads qualified NFL passers in completion percentage on throws that traveled more than 20 yards in the air.
Locker has thrown a touchdown every 7.3 pass attempts on the deep ball, which leads the AFC, and the Titans are the only AFC team without a dropped pass on a 20+ yard throw this year.
The Jets meanwhile have been tested on the deep ball more often than any other team in the NFL.
Fortunately, their strength is a passing defense that ranks second in the AFC in both total passing yards allowed per game and Total QBR allowed on attempts of more than 20 yards.