Tomorrow night, the Jets face the Tennessee Titans, a team that has struggled this year, but is still regarded as a step up in quality from their last two opponents. However, the Titans are 4-9 this year and that makes them worse than every team the Jets faced before their current two-game winning streak. The Jets are 4-1 against sub-500 teams this year with their only loss being at home to the 5-8 Dolphins.
After the jump, I break down the positional groupings (BGA-style!) to try and highlight what the Jets need to look out for.
Jake Locker will face the Jets for the first time on Sunday. Statistically, he's a below average quarterback, but he does have an ability to extend plays and gain yardage with his legs, something the Jets have struggled to contain at times this season. Locker is 2-6 in his eight starts this year, but has shown flashes of potential, including on Sunday against the Colts where he was 15-for-20 for 213 yards and a touchdown at halftime (before going just 7-for-15 for 49 yards with two interceptions in the second half). The Jets' complex blitz schemes will hopefully confuse Locker, who completes 63% of his passes when not under pressure, but only 38% when pressured.
If Locker gets hurt or benched, veteran Matt Hasselbeck will step in.
The Titans offensive line, which is above average when at full strength, has been decimated by injuries in recent weeks. Four starters are now on injured reserve. Michael Roos missed one game, but has otherwise started every game at left tackle and is a solid blindside pass protector. Fernando Velasco is the only player to start every game, but even he has had to move positions, sliding over from center to left guard last week to accommodate youngster Kevin Matthews. Right guard Deuce Lutui, once considered an elite prospect, hasn't lived up to his potential. However, he is now in his seventh season and will be making his 78th career start so he has plenty of experience. At right tackle, Mike Otto is basically a career backup, although he hasn't done too badly filling in over the last couple of weeks.
In pass protection, this unit has held up reasonably well, even in light of all the injuries, but their run blocking has been inconsistent. Their offensive coordinator (Chris Palmer) came under criticism during the offseason for putting together an offensive line that had a lot of size and weren't ideally suited to their zone blocking scheme. He lost his job three weeks ago. Dowell Loggains was promoted from QB coach to replace him.
The Titans running game depends almost entirely on Chris Johnson. However, some Titans fans feel that Johnson can't break tackles like he used to, so when the offensive line isn't creating holes, his impact is lessened. From 2008 to 2010, Johnson averaged 42 broken tackles per season, but since then has had only 51 in almost two years. He still has speed though, so the Jets will have to ensure they set the edge and maintain contain, something which could be a challenge if Bryan Thomas can't play. Behind the patchwork offensive line against the Colts, Johnson gained just 44 yards on 19 carries. The Jets, of course, ran for 252 yards against the same team.
Johnson will play virtually every snap, just bringing himself out for a snap or two when he needs a blow. The Titans occasionally go into a no-huddle spread offense, but Johnson will still stay in the game and split out wide. He does have over 220 career receptions, but seems to get most of these out of the backfield.
When Johnson does go to the bench, Darius Reynaud, who has playmaking ability himself, will fill in for him. Quinn Johnson is a reliable enough fullback, but doesn't play a great deal.
Perhaps Tennessee's most dangerous receiving threat is tight end Jared Cook. After a 2011 campaign where he caught 49 passes for almost 800 yards, he looked set to break out and become a superstar. However, he hasn't really emerged as expected in 2012, with 44 catches but only 523 yards. He's still an athletic big play threat, although he has only had one play go for more than 30 yards since the opening weekend. EDIT: Actually, Cook just landed on injured reserve with a torn rotator cuff, so that's one less guy to worry about.
Their most established wideouts are Kenny Britt and Nate Washington. Britt is on his way to a career year in terms of receiving yards, but is averaging less than 13 yards a catch after having averaged over 17 yards per catch in his first three seasons and has been slowed by injuries. Washington has always been a good deep threat and has caught 39 passes on the season, one less than Britt. Rookie Kendall Wright leads the team with 59 receptions, although he's averaging less than 10 yards per catch and hasn't had a 40-yard play or a 100-yard game yet.
The Titans didn't use the no-huddle against the Colts last week, other than in a two minute drill at the end of the first half, but used it extensively against the Texans two weeks ago. I wonder if they see that as a way to counter a complex attacking defense, or just avoided using it because of the lack of preparation time, specifically for the offensive line. Either way, facing the Jets on Monday Night Football could be a situation where they might reintroduce this. If they do, look for Cook and Johnson to be in the game with three receivers.
Damien Williams is out with an injury, so the current fourth receiver on the depth chart is Mike Preston, a 2011 undrafted free agent who made his first ever appearance on offense in a NFL game last week. The backup tight ends are Craig Stevens (an all-round player who will often start) and Taylor Thompson, a blocking specialist.
The Titans' defensive line definitely has the ability to generate pressure. On Sunday, they had 33 total pressures. By contrast, the Jets had 21 on Sunday against the Jaguars and that was their season high. Defensive ends Derrick Morgan and Kamerion Wimbley have combined for just 8.5 sacks officially, but Cameron Wake is the only 4-3 defensive end in the league with more QB hits than Morgan and Chris Long and Michael Bennett are the only ones with more pressures than Wimbley.
Against the run, the line is anchored by tackles Jurrell Casey and Sen'Derrick Marks. However, Wimbley struggles at times to get off blocks, so the Jets might look to run at him.
The Titans employ four backup linemen that don't play very much. The most interesting of these is Karl Klug, who last year had a sensational rookie season as a situation interior pass rusher. This year he hadn't been getting much playing time, but made a big impact against the Colts with two sacks, a hit and three pressures in just nine pass rush attempts, so he could be set to get a bigger role.
The Titans play with a four man front virtually all of the time. The only real exception to this (other than when they go to a prevent defense) is when Akeem Ayers comes up to the edge of a three man line on passing downs, although he sometimes plays with his hand in the dirt when he does this. Ayers is their most talented linebacker and capable of contributing as a pass rusher. With Colin McCarthy out, they've been rotating veterans Tim Shaw and Will Witherspoon at middle linebacker. Rookie Zach Brown will play most of the time at the other linebacker spot.
Since their front four is so good at generating pressure, the Titans will only blitz their linebackers (other than Ayers) a couple of times a game.
The Titans don't bother to match their cornerbacks up. Jason McCourty (Patriot Devin McCourty's older brother) plays on the left and Alterraun Verner plays on the right. Verner hasn't been beaten for a touchdown all year, whereas McCourty has given up six. Rookie Coty Sensabaugh (Cowboy Gerald Sensabaugh's cousin) has been the third corner in recent weeks, although the Titans do also run some three-safety sets.
At safety, the Titans have been weak. Michael Griffin will usually play every snap, but he's had a terrible season, with 20 missed tackles. Griffin is totally unpredictable from year to year. He was awful in 2009, average in 2010 and great in 2011. Jordan Babineaux gets most of the reps alongside him, although the Titans have been rotating some other guys in over the last few weeks.
As we've seen in recent weeks, the Jets are susceptible to special teams breakdowns and the Titans are just as capable of exploiting that as any of the Jets' recent opponents. Reynaud is a fine return man and they've always been a team that is a threat to block a punt. The kicking game is fine too, with reliable veteran Rob Bironas connecting on 82% of his field goals this year and the underrated Brett Kern 3rd in net average for punting.
I'll be back on Tuesday to recap the game!