Confidence. Around the Meadowlands nowadays, everyone is brimming with it, from the fans to the players to the coaching staff. That’s what a 2-0 start can do for a team.
Through two games, all is right in Jetsland. With a rookie quarterback performing well beyond his years, a rookie head coach saying all the right things, a nasty defense chewing up and spitting out opposing quarterbacks, and coming off a thrashing of a hated rival, what more could you ask for?
Enter the enigma that is the 2009 Tennessee Titans. Going into Week 3, the Titans are without a doubt the league’s most talented 0-2 team. Coming off of a season in which they posted a league-best 13 wins, and boasting one of the NFL’s most dynamic running attacks, they are the anti-Jets. Tennessee is a team that has seen nothing go right so far through the season’s first two weeks. Unlike New York, Jeff Fisher’s squad came into 2009 with sky-high expectations and has severely underperformed so far. They have lost two close games to Pittsburgh and Houston by a combined total of six points.
The Titans are a desperate team, by every stretch of the imagination. They head into Sunday’s match-up at Giants Stadium, looking to save their quickly-deteriorating season before it spirals out of control.
Sunday, desperation meets confidence. Insecurity faces off against swagger. The Jets play the part of the glamorous prom queen, with the Titans in the role of the timid, social outcast looking for a prom date. Will the confident Jets crush the prom night dreams of Tennessee, sending them home 0-3, dateless and into metaphorical obscurity? Or will the Titans muster up the confidence to ask Ms. Popularity to the prom, coming out of Sunday with a win and having their confidence soar to sky-high proportions?
KEYS TO VICTORY FOR GANG GREEN
1) Smash their dash
Despite their 0-2 record, the Titans come into Sunday with the league’s seventh-ranked offense, compiling 384.5 yards per game. Their offensive prosperity, is thanks much in part to the “Smash and Dash” ground attack of running backs Chris Johnson and LenDale White.
Through two games, the Jets have yet to face an offensive talent among the likes of Tennessee’s Chris Johnson, whom Rex Ryan calls “the fastest player in the league.” Johnson, a 5-foot-11, 200-pound scatback, is one of the leagues most talented young players.
“He’s a home run hitter,” says Jets LB Bart Scott. “He’s a threat. We’re gonna have our work cut out for us.” That they do.
With Mach-3 speed and the ability to leap whole secondaries in a single bound, Johnson is a definite game-changer.
LenDale White, the “smash” to Johnson’s “dash”, is a punishing back that can really push the pile. Together, White and Johnson form one of the NFL’s most potent offensive duos, and the number one assignment for the Jets’ defense Sunday. The Jets must find a way to contain the Titans’ running game and force Tennessee to beat them through the air.
Outside of rookie WR Kenny Britt, the Titans do not pose any serious downfield threats for the Jets’ secondary.
Since Jeff Fisher took over as Tennessee’s head coach in 1995, the Titans are third in the NFL in rushing yards per road contest, averaging 124 rushing yards per game.
Plain and simple, the Jets defense should strive for a repeat performance of their 2008 game in Tennessee. In that game, the Jets completely shut down the Titans ground game, limiting them to only 45 yards on 11 attempts.
If the Jets can mirror that performance on Sunday, there’s no way they lose this game.
2) Get the ground game going early
In their first two games, the Jets have struggled to get their running game going early. Against Tennessee, which boasts the league’s second best run defense (49.5 yards per game), it’s important for the Jets to come out of the gates sprinting.
Jets’ FB Tony Richardson, one of the key elements of the Jets’ ground game, is aware of the tough task the team has ahead of them this week. “We know it’s gonna be a grind,” said the 15-year veteran. “We know they’re gonna have eight guys in the box. We know there’s gonna be some times where they hit us for a negative two-yard run, maybe get one yard, maybe get two yards. That’s just the nature of it. But same situation as last year when we played them, we had to pound, pound, pound and we end up rushing for 197 yards.”
“They’re good and there’s no doubt about it. They play good against the run, they got great pass-rushers, they got good linebackers. They’re a good football team and they’re well coached.”
Getting Thomas Jones and Leon Washington off to a strong start will also open up the passing game for QB Mark Sanchez. Defending the pass is not Tennessee’s strong suit, as they rank dead-last in the NFL in passing defense.
3) Stop holding
The Jets have been whistled for 18 penalties this season, the third-most in the league. While they have been able to avoid getting burned in their first two games, against a strong opponent like Tennessee, the Jets may not be as lucky. The stupid mistakes must be kept to a minimum.
4) The 12th man
Jets fans need to show that last Sunday was no fluke. The Meadowlands crowd was unbelievable last week against New England, forcing the Patriots to four delay of game penalties and one illegal formation. DE Shaun Ellis, who admitted he felt the Giants Stadium ground “shaking” last week says the Jets need that kind of performance every week. “We need that every game,” said Ellis. That’s the new culture we’re trying to bring here. They’re an extra man on the field.” There was no taped-phone message from Rex Ryan this week, but regardless the “12th man” must make another appearance.
The Jets face their toughest test to date, cemented in a true defensive struggle. Sanchez is the difference, leading the home team to a scoring drive late in the game. The Jets win a close one, 14-13.
Sunday marks the 40th all-time meeting between the two teams. Tennessee holds the series edge, with a record of 22-16-1. However, in recent years the Jets have had the Titans’ number, winning four of the last five games.
The Jets emerged victorious in their last meeting at Tennessee on Nov. 23, 2008. The Jets, led by Brett Favre and Leon Washington, dominated from start to finish, winning 34-13, and handing the 10-0 Titans their first loss of the season.
Injury report; Jets banged up in secondary, Titans kicking game hurting
Cornerbacks Donald Strickland (ankle) and Lito Sheppard (quadriceps) are both out for Sunday’s game. With the Jets unsure how much time both players will miss, the team is looking at bringing in another corner. Former Raven CB Corey Ivy, who played under Ryan and former Jets CB Justin Miller both visited with the team on Friday.
Rookie OL Matt Slauson (ankle), who was limited in practice on Friday is listed as questionable for Sunday.
For Tennessee, P Craig Hentrich will miss Sunday’s game with a calf injury. Hentrich, who is the Titans’ franchise leader in punts, will miss only his second game in 16 seasons. Filling in for Hentrich will be the newly acquired and always interesting Reggie Hodges.
LB Stanford Keglar is listed as doubtful with a hamstring injury while G Eugene Armano (illness), K Rob Bironas (ankle), TE Bo Scaife (knee), and QB Vince Young (illness) are all listed as questionable.