Even with the New York Jets’ somewhat soft early season schedule, I would have scoffed at you if you told me the 2-1 Jets were facing off with the 2-1 Titans come Week Four. Yet here we are, excited about our rookie quarterback, proud of how the defense has shaped up, and exhilarated for some young players to still break out with their potential. Before I start getting all teary-eyed, let’s break down some key match-ups for this afternoon’s game.
The Battle in the Trenches
Both the Jets and the Titans will enter this game looking to assert their dominance in one part of their game that they’re probably most confident they can: the interior of their defensive lines. It’s no secret that the opposing offensive lines are cupcake match-ups for either side, but both teams have run away in games with their success in this area.
For the Jets, Damon Harrison could continue to build on his tremendous start of the year by facing off against former Jets’ utility lineman Rob Turner. Turner has been starting at center ever since Fernando Velasco was let go by the Titans, and it hasn’t all been pretty for him. His run blocking has made it even harder for the Titans to run anything him and a guard with Chris Jonhson.
He’s also given up pressure through the middle fairly consistently this season. Harrison has been a plug, but he has gotten some solid penetration, even against double teams, on passing downs. Today might be his day to break out a bit rushing the passer from the nose, especially considering that they will hardly be able to double team him with Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson alongside of him. Speaking of those two, they should find success today, as well. Chance Warmack and Andy Levitre have been road graders in the run game, but they’ve disappointed in their pass blocking, combining for 19 hurries given up this season already. The Jets should be able to register some serious pressure on obvious passing downs by just rushing four defenders out of their classic 4-6 formation they’ve been using a lot.
For the Titans, Jurrell Casey has broken out as an interior pass rusher already. He can line up at the nose, and anywhere from the one, two, or three technique and be effective. Willie Colon has been solid for the most part for the Jets, but he’ll certainly have his hands full with Casey, who’ll easily be the hardest assignment he’s had so far this season.
Jets vs Even More Pass Rushing:
It’s not like the Titans have one of the most prolific pass rushes in the league, but it’s definitely a well rounded one that needs to be assessed one multiple different levels. Even with their stronghold in Casey, the Jets will have a key match-up on the right side of the line with Austin Howard manning up against Derrick Morgan. Morgan has been having an off year compared to last year’s dominance, but he’s still a force to be reckoned with. This match-up is such an underlying importance, for the Jets would have all single-matchups on the line taken care of if Howard can lock up Morgan. I have confidence in Howard to do so; he’s having a stellar year so far. Elsewhere, the Jets need to keep a watchful eye on Zach Brown and Akeem Ayers. The Titans’ SAM and WILL linebackers both have incredible pure speed, and they love to blitz both of them. The Jets will likely have Bilal Powell in on all third downs where they’re throwing the ball for blitz protection, and if not, then Tommy Bohanon.
In the Slot
The Jets and Titans are still really similar teams, actually. Both will likely find most of their success in the air through their slot receiver(s). With Alterraun Verner having an excellent year and Jason McCourtey getting a favorable match-up versus Stephen Hill, all eyes will be on Jeremy Kerley to produce for good reason. Kerley could have his breakout game of the season against Coty Sensabaugh, who’s been less than impressive so far this season.
On the Titans’ side, they have a number of receivers all somewhat around the same skill level, all with seemingly similar talents and skillsets. Outside of Kenny Britt, who still may not play due to injury, the Titans will give Kendall Wright, Nate Washington, and even Justin Hunter a relatively fair share of snaps. Washington typically lines up outside as well with Britt, but he’s also dangerous through the slot. Wright and Hunter will be likely be covered by Kyle Wilson and Isaiah Trufant with Darrin Walls starting on the outside and Dee Milliner out. The Titans might surprise you with how often they line up in three and even four wide receiver sets.
Jake Locker On the Move
I remember highlighting for the Jets’ Wee One game versus the Buccaneers how important it was to play to Josh Freeman’s weaknesses, which is pressuring him, but not chasing him out of the pocket where he’s dangerous. The Jets face a similar but much tougher task with Locker, who has even better escaping ability from the pocket. With Locker, you never know when you have him secured. If you’re rushing n him and closing, he can pull up on you and make moves like he’s a scat back in the wide open field, and all the sudden, he’s out and looking for yards.
There isn’t a way to completely avoid this scampering ability from Locker to gain substantial yardage outside of tackling well. He will get out of the pocket and run at will, but it’s up to Rex Ryan how he wants to crack down on it. He could keep Demario Davis in a role that he did with him on Doug Martin in Week One, which is spy coverage (on Locker). The Jets could even do this with Antonio Allen, but it would hinder the back end’s ability to keep him in or around the box at all times. If I had to guess, I would believe Rex is going to bear it and hope for the best with the rushing Locker. It might take too much to totally spy him out of the pocket.
I’ve got the Jets moving on to 3-1 over the Titans. Jake Locker’s multiple abilities scare me, but Chris Johnson no longer does. If the Jets can make some plays on defense when Locker is under duress from the pocket, they can win this game. Bilal Powell should have himself a solid day, and therefore, Geno Smith can lead a balanced offense.