BY SAM HITCHCOCK
The New York Jets can make the playoffs with a little luck, but to do so they need to win out against three below .500 teams: the Tennessee Titans, San Diego Chargers, and Buffalo Bills. This Monday night they are playing the Titans, a team that is bad, but differs from their previous two opponents because they can actually score touchdowns and have an NFL-caliber quarterback in Jake Locker. I see one of two possible scenarios unfolding.
The Jets Win If:
The Jets are very similar to the Titans since both lean on their heavy personnel-tight formations, and depend on their offensive lines opening up lanes for their running backs to shoot through.
For New York, that puts the onus on Shonn Greene and Bilal Powell to be able to consistently achieve positive yardage on early downs, and not force Mark Sanchez to get into third-and-long situations where he needs to make a difficult throw into a tight window while Tennessee is sending pressure.
The Jets’ best opportunity to win will come from dominating time of possession and field position and avoiding turnovers. Sanchez will get one-on-one matchups in the slot and outside the numbers when the Titans use a loaded box count. He will need to exploit any mismatches or open space his receiving targets can find, because the Titans can manufacture good pressure with defensive end Derrick Morgan, Kamerion Wimbley, and Karl Klug (who had two sacks, a hit and three hurries against the Colts last Sunday). Alterraun Verner has been the Titans’ best cover cornerback this year, so Sanchez will need to make better decisions when he throws to Verner’s side if the Jets want to avoid falling behind early.
It is therefore critical how well the Titans’ defensive line pressures Sanchez and stuffs the run. Sanchez is Carrie Matheson-frightening when the pocket collapses, and he is forced to make quick choices. If he is kept clean and Powell and Greene are able to run behind the open daylight (the Titans have allowed 100 or more rush yards in nine of their 13 games), the Jets will be able to do just enough to win.
The Titans Will Win If:
Running back Chris Johnson is the X-Factor, wild-card, whatever you want to call him. He is the unknown commodity who could burst out for 200 yards rushing and two touchdowns, or finish with 45 yards on 14 carries. After calling out his offensive line for not providing stellar holes for him to dart through earlier in the season, the Titans’ offensive line has given him much better hat-on-hat blocks, creating space.
Tennessee employs traps and wham blocks, which allow Johnson the opportunity to break out with the big play touchdown run. Johnson has the moniker of being a “track star” runner, meaning he is not going to shed tacklers and gain tough yards. But if he has room to explode, no one will catch him.
Jets’ defensive ends Quentin Coples and Muhammad Wilkerson have been anchoring the D-line, and if they can disrupt flow of the line at the point of attack, never allowing Johnson to get that first step in space, then the Titans offense will need to rely heavily on Locker, their neophyte quarterback.
The Titans’ No. 1 receiver, Kenny Britt, is very talented, but Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie has been superb in his role of playing the Jets’ No. 1 shutdown cover man. If Locker is going to pass successfully against New York, he will need to look to Kendall Wright and Jared Cook to step up against a secondary that is second in completion percentage conceded and fifth in pass yard per attempt.
The Jets are not a playoff team, and they are not winning three in a row. Additionally, the Titans are not a good football team, but they are better than the dregs the Jets played the last two Sundays.
Titans 21, Jets 17