INSIDER WEDNESDAY TEAM REPORT
They’re fresh off a win of catastrophic proportions against New England at home, and looking ahead to a showdown against the league’s most prolific offense in New Orleans next week. From an outsider’s perspective, Sunday’s tilt against the winless Titans looks like the quintessential “trap” game for the New York Jets.
Rex Ryan and his players beg to differ.
“I don’t know why this would be a trap game or anything else,” said Ryan at his Wednesday news conference. “This is just our next opponent and we know they’re an outstanding football team. If they beat us, it has nothing to do with us or it being a ‘trap game’ or us not putting forth the effort.”
“We’re gonna give everything we’ve got this week. So, if they’re gonna beat us, they’re gonna have to earn it.”
QB Mark Sanchez agreed that the Jets aren’t getting too full of themselves just yet. “I think Coach Ryan has done a great job this week of just, resetting our focus,” said Sanchez. “Letting us know that yesterday and Monday really was the day to celebrate that win. That’s one game in our schedule, one divisional game, and we’ve moved on.”
In a league as unforgiving as the NFL, getting off to slow start can spell doom for a franchise. History has proven that overcoming an 0-3 start, in the context of a 16-game season, is a seemingly insurmountable task.
With that concept in mind, the Titans will be theoretically playing for their season Sunday. Desperate for a win following tough losses in their first two games, while boasting one of the league’s most dominant ground attacks as well as a stellar defense against the run, Tennessee is certainly no slouch of an opponent.
Tennessee’s offensive charge is spearheaded by RB Chris Johnson. Johnson rushed for over 1,000 yards during his rookie season in 2008, and seems poised to shatter that mark this season.
Johnson put on a show last week against Houston, rushing for an astounding 197 yards on 16 carries with three touchdowns, two on the ground, one through the air.. The second-year stud out of East Carolina broke off runs of 91 and 57 yards, leaving the Texans’ secondary in the proverbial dust.
Jets S Kerry Rhodes expressed the need for the Jets’ defense to limit the “big-play” from Johnson on Sunday.
“He’s a good player man,” said Rhodes. “He’s probably the fastest player in the NFL right now. If he gets an edge on you, it’s lights out. We’ve just got to try to contain him and not let him beat us with the big one.”
“If they get the consistent, three yards or whatever and we can hold them to not the ‘big’ play, we’ll be ok.”
Blitzing their way to the top
Through only two games, Rex Ryan’s aggressive, blitz-krieg attack on the defensive side of the ball has proven to be more than effective. To say that the Jets’ defense has been dominant, would be a severe understatement. Bart Scott and company lead the league in yards allowed per game (241) and are second in the NFL in total points allowed (16 points). They have been especially stingy against the run, allowing an average of only 60.5 rushing yards per game, sixth in the NFL, yet to give-up a legitimate “game-breaking” run to an opponent.
But one statistic is particularly eye-popping; Ryan’s defense has yet to allow a single offensive touchdown. In the last 60 years, only two rookie coaches have been able to achieve this feat in their first two games: Red Miller with the Broncos in 1977 and Kay Stephenson with the Bills in 1983.
A strong component of the Jets defensive success has been the consistent use of blitz packages and aggressive play calling through the team’s first two games. Against a team like Tennessee, which features a strong running attack, aggressive play-calling could be risky.
LB Bart Scott contends that the Jets don’t necessarily need to blitz in order to be effective. “Who said we had to blitz,” shouted Scott to a crowd of reporters Wednesday. “We don’t have to blitz to be a successful defense. Blitz is for the personnel, for the opponent that we’re playing.”
“We don’t have to blitz every game. We just do it because it’s fun.”
Making his Mark in the history books
With his Week 2 victory against New England, Mark Sanchez continued to make history. According to Elias, Sanchez is only the fourth quarterback in the last 40 seasons to start and win his first two games in his rookie season. The only others are Joe Flacco, Ryan Leaf, and John Elway.
Also, the former Trojan became only the second rookie signal-caller to defeat Bill Belichick during his ten-year tenure as head coach. The other? Ben Roethlisberger in 2004. “Big Ben” went on to win Offensive Rookie of the Year and led the Pittsburgh Steelers to the AFC Championship game that season. Will Sanchez enjoy the same rookie success? We shall see.
Titans’ Fisher impressed by Revis, Sanchez
In his Wednesday conference call with the New York media, Titans’ head coach Jeff Fisher commented on a number of topics, most notably the improved Jets’ defense, Darrelle Revis, and Mark Sanchez.
Fisher is extremely impressed by the job head coach Rex Ryan and his staff has done with the defense so far.
“For them to come in this quick and have them playing the way they are, that’s very impressive,” said Fisher. “They’re very well coached. I think the secondary is exceptional, they cover well. And they’re fearless and they’re playing with a great deal of confidence. They’re very difficult defense to attack.”
Fisher admitted that CB Darrelle Revis is quickly becoming a serious player in the league. “He’s playing very well, said Fisher. “Now he’s in a system where he can really show what he’s capable of doing.”
“He’s gonna become, I think, a shut-down guy. We have to play team offense and the quarterback has to make good decisions and people gotta make plays.”
Fisher also raved about the play of QB Mark Sanchez in his first two NFL starts.
“We’re very impressed with the way he’s handled himself,” said Fisher. “He’s making good decisions, he’s got just terrific pocket presence.”
“They’re 2-0 against two pretty good defensive teams. It’s difficult to go and open up on the road number one, and he looked like a six-year vet in Houston.”
Despite starting off 0-2, Fisher rejected the notion that Sunday should be classified as a “must-win” for his team. “We’re a football team that’s just trying to improve right now,” said Fisher. “You classify this game as ‘must-win’ and it just makes it harder on yourself. We’ve just got to improve as a football team.”
“Unfortunately we’ve been down this road before with slow starts. We’ll pull out of it.”
Jets to go “old school” Sunday
Sunday, the Jets and Titans will both wear throwback American Football League uniforms as part of the NFL’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of the league’s eight original AFL teams. The Titans will sport their 1960 Houston Oiler uniforms and the Jets will wear, ironically, their 1961 New York Titans jerseys.
Woody “breaks it down” at practice
In one of the day’s more entertaining moments, owner Woody Johnson was involved in drills with the Jets defense. While being cheered on by onlooking players, Johnson tested his arm against a team of backup defenders. Johnson fired a few errant passes, while Jets players shouted “Break it down, Woody! Break it down!” On his last passing attempt, the owner was picked off by LB Ryan Fowler. It’s a safe assumption that Johnson won’t be making a Mario Lemieux-like move from the press box to the playing field, anytime soon.
Jets play dress-up
With October soon approaching, the Jets had an early Halloween celebration of sorts at Wednesdays practice. In an attempt to emulate some of the match-up problems posed by Tennessee, WR Marcus Henry and RB Danny Woodhead wore the numbers of Tennessee players Kerry Collins and Chris Johnson, respectively. Henry, a 6′4″ receiver, is the best candidate on the roster to imitate the size of the 6′5″ Collins, while Woodhead mimics some of the speed and agility of the Titans’ track-star RB.
Minor roster moves
With cornerbacks Lito Sheppard and Donald Strickland both banged up, the Jets signed CB Marquice Cole from their practice squad today. To make room for Cole, the team released TE Matthew Mulligan.
Cole had been waived by the team last week, to make room on the active roster for DE Shaun Ellis. Mulligan, a second-year player out of the University of Maine, spent the majority of last season on the Titans’ practice squad. He was waived by Tennessee on Sept. 6 and subsequently claimed by the Jets. Think he had any input on this week’s game-plan?
Hodges signs on with Tennessee
Former Jets punter Reggie Hodges was signed by the Titans today and added to the active roster for Sunday. Hodges, who was cut by the Jets on Sept. 6 after an underwhelming preseason performance, will kick in place of the injured Craig Hentrich. Hentrich, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, strained his left calf against the Texans last week and is out indefinitely.
Cornerbacks Lito Sheppard (quad) and Donald Strickland (ankle) both sat out practice today. Ryan expressed that he is still unsure about what their status will be for Sunday.