What I think they should be thinking at the headquarters of the Tennessee Titans this afternoon :
Posted ImageWe can play with a good team for a half. We showed that much Sunday in Indianapolis. If we could strike up a deal for half wins that would help us, but such a change in the league’s format is unlikely. Are the coaches telling us we are as good as the first half or are they telling us we are as bad as the second half? No matter what they say, we should believe the latter. There was a big wrestling match for blame after the game. Mike Munchak tried to take the blame for Jake Locker’s pick-6 and for the first-and-10 sneak near game’s end. Locker said he needs to be able to handle the situations. Both plays were terrible and symbolic and made it look like we didn’t know what we are doing. Will we be determined to look like we know what we are doing on Monday night against the New York Jets? Or will we let the spotlight come to town and highlight our warts ?
On his first red-zone play of the game, Titans quarterback Jake Locker dropped back quickly and lofted a perfect 18-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jared Cook.From that point on, however, the red zone became the dead zone in a 27-23 loss to the Colts on Sunday.The Titans couldn’t score touchdowns on either of their final two red-zone possessions, and also failed to score one on a drive that reached the Indianapolis 22.It’s become a familiar pattern for the Titans, who’ve managed only one offensive touchdown in each of their last three games — going 2-for-7 in the red zone.“We just couldn’t finish,” tackle Michael Roos said. “We should have had 35 points. Our goal is to get seven points every time down there. We should have and we just didn’t. It’s the tale of our season. We just couldn’t finish.”
The Titans went into the game ranked 20th in the NFL in red-zone scoring. Their 1-for-3 showing against the Colts dropped them below 50 percent in that department.It’s a far different situation than last season, when the Titans finished with the NFL’s fifth-best red-zone offense, scoring touchdowns at a nearly 60 percent clip from inside the opponent’s 20.Why the drastic drop from 2011 to 2012 ? The biggest reason is likely the change in quarterbacks, as veteran Matt Hasselbeck was a wizard in the red zone. He completed more than 60 percent of his passes in the red zone, threw for 13 touchdowns, no interceptions and posted a passer rating of 109.6.Locker, in his first season as a starter, had a good touchdown-to-interception ratio in the red zone — four TDs, no picks — but he’s also only 10-of-26 passing.
Quick decision-making and accurate passing become even more important in the red zone, when the field shrinks and opposing defenses tend to ramp up the pressure.“Obviously you get less space to deal with down there,” Roos said. “However you do things, it just becomes a little more compact and guys have to be more precise in what they’re doing — whether it’s route running or us blocking, especially if a team is sending a blitz. You have a little less time and you don’t have that space.”One of the red-zone failures against the Colts came just before halftime, when the Titans — by scoring a touchdown — could have taken a three-possession lead. But after driving to the Indianapolis 13, the next three plays were an incompletion to Kendall Wright, a three-yard pass to Jared Cook and a Locker sack.The Titans settled for a field goal and a 20-7 lead at halftime.
“That’s been one of the problems we’ve been having, getting down in the red zone and then getting just three points,” running back Chris Johnson said. “Anytime a defense can stop you from getting seven points, they’re holding on.”A poor Johnson run was a big part of the problem on the final red-zone possession for the Titans. They had marched 75 yards in 12 plays, arriving at the Indianapolis 5 early in the fourth quarter.But on first down, Johnson was tackled in the backfield for a five-yard loss. Locker got two yards back on a scramble, but Fernando Velasco was then called for a false start and Locker couldn’t connect with Nate Washington on third-and-goal from the 7.Again, the Titans settled for the field goal, taking a 23-21 lead that would only last as long as the next Colts’ drive.
“We had the ball for 15, 16 plays,” coach Mike Munchak said. “It’s a great drive and we got the lead back … but again, we had to settle for a field goal. Getting a touchdown there would have made a big difference.”If those kinds of comments sound familiar, they should.Two weeks ago against the Jaguars, the Titans drove inside the 20 early in the fourth quarter with a chance to take the lead. They settled for a field goal and never regained the advantage.Last week against the Texans, the Titans — trailing by two scores — drove to the Houston 7 early in the fourth quarter. They fumbled the ball away on fourth down.“We get so close — even last week when we were trying to come back — and we just can’t get in the end zone,” Roos said. “I’m sure it’s some of those tiny little things here and there. But guys have to figure it out and play better.”
Gleason : Jets don't have the feel of a playoff team
Give Jets coach Rex Ryan credit.
He refuses to be reeled into talk about his team making the playoffs. Ryan has resisted making many declarations this season, ever since proclaiming in preseason that it's his best team as Jets coach.I like the new Rex, especially now. He knows his team can't make a great case for reaching the playoffs. Not now. He knows those wins over Arizona and Jacksonville were jayvee "Ws" in a varsity league. Perhaps deep down, Ryan even knows his team isn't very good, at least not nearly as good as he once believed.
So Ryan has tried another tact largely foreign to him — humility. Players have smartly avoided the topic as well. Let fans and the media chat up the Jets' playoff possibilities. And boy are those possibilities being actively discussed these days.
The Jets (6-7) would need some kind of football miracle to make the playoffs.I'm sure crazier things have happened in this wacky league. I just can't think of one.The popular argument trumpeting their playoff chances is the Jets' schedule. Tennessee, San Diego and Buffalo hardly represent a who's-who of prime NFL beef. But we are asking the Jets to win all three games. We are asking a team with one signature victory — a 35-9 rout of Indianapolis in Week 6 — to win its final five games.The Jets are riding their first two-game win streak of 2012. They have done it against Arizona and Jacksonville, two brutal NFL teams. Arizona responded to its loss to the Jets by dropping a 58-0 nailbiter in Seattle. The Jags have beaten the Colts and the Titans. That is all. Only four of Jacksonville's 11 losses have been by seven or fewer points, including its 17-10 thriller against the Jets on Sunday.
We are asking a five-game win streak from an offense that appears incapable of a sustained passing game. Quarterback Mark Sanchez didn't exactly redeem himself against the Jags after getting yanked from the Arizona game. Not that it's entirely Sanchez's fault. Each game further highlights his remarkable lack of surrounding playmakers.Sanchez's lack of weapons and his own struggles have forced coaches to reduce the playbook to mostly high-percentage, low-yardage throws. Even if Sanchez gets his head on straight down the stretch, he will need significant help from receivers to prevent defenses from crowding the box in all-out efforts to stop the Jets' running game.And it's not like the Jets' defense can be counted on to channel the 2000 Ravens.
Despite their modest streak, the Jets are 29th in the league against the run.You can make a strong case that the Titans, Chargers & Bills are every bit as bad as the Jets.You can.All three Jets opponents have a plethora of awful performances stuck to their stat sheet.But the Titans, Chargers, Bills and Jets are four peas in a pod. All three games will be toss-ups. How in the world are the Jets, with virtually no offense to speak of and a leaky defense, going to finish the regular season on a five-game win streak ?
I'm tempted to borrow one of the most overused yet timelessly hilarious coaching quotes in NFL history. With apologies to former Saints and Colts coach Jim Mora ... PLAYOFFS?!!!
Let's take a quick glance at the Jets' next opponent, the Titans (4-9), whom they face on ESPN's Monday Night Football:
1. They're calling this one of the worst seasons in Titans history. They've lost three straight and they're one defeat away from their second 10-loss season in the past three years.
Posted Image2. This is their first Monday night appearance since Nov. 18, 2010. Embattled coach Mike Munchak is hoping his team will be motivated by the national stage. He needs a big win to help his eroding job security.
3. A sure sign of a poorly-coached team is a lack of preparation. The Titans have been outscored by 66 points in the first quarter, the largest differential in the league.
4. Chris Johnson is the one player with the ability to ruin the Jets' night. He got off to a horrible start, but he's up to 1,037 rushing yards, averaging 5.2 yards per carry over the past 10 games. Problem is, the Titans have lost four starting linemen to season-ending injuries.
5. Second-year QB Jake Locker is experiencing serious growing pains. He has seven interceptions and only three TD passes during the three-game losing streak, incurring the wrath of the fans. He does two things well: He can run (9.9 yards per scramble, second-best in the league) and he throws an accurate deep ball. In fact, he has completed a league-high 48.3 percent of his throws of 20+ yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
6. Locker's top weapon is WR Nate Washington, a dangerous vertical threat. He has 12 receptions of 20+ yards, averaging 16.6 yards per catch.
7. The Titans' defense is ranked 27th overall and largely devoid of playmakers. Their top pass rusher is DE Kamieron Wimbley, who leads the team with five sacks.
The Jets continue their steady climb in the AFC and find themselves within one game of the final playoff spot heading into Monday Night Football in Tennessee.Gang Green has won back-to-back games for the first time this season and will take on the Titans who have given up the second-most points in the NFL.While Mark Sanchez started the year with accuracy issues, in the last four games he has the second-best completion percentage among AFC starters.
Best AFC Completion Percentage
Last 4 Games
Comp pct << Matt Schaub 65.9 Mark Sanchez 65.6 Peyton Manning 65.4 Charlie Batch 64.3 Tom Brady 63.5 >> Starting QBs
He will face a defense that has allowed a completion rate of 67.8 percent to opponents which ranks last in the NFL.The Jets will welcome back Braylon Edwards who has been the best deep threat receiver Sanchez has had with an average target depth of 15.5 yards downfield. The 10 touchdowns between them is more than Sanchez has with all active Jets receivers combined.
Here are three matchups to watch in Week 15 :
1. Running back Chris Johnson has rushed for 1,000 yards for the fifth straight season to begin his career and leads the Titans who rank second in the AFC with 4.7 yards per rush.The ground attack can be stopped when you consider the Titans rank last in the NFL in yards gained after contact per rush. It will be up to the Jets to contain, swarm and finish tackles.As easy as that sounds, it can be difficult against the elusive Johnson who leads the AFC in rushing yards gained on plays when he is not contacted by a defender, including all four of his touchdowns.
2. The Jets have returned to the Rex Ryan roots of ground and pound with the most rushing attempts in the NFL in winning three of their last four games.Gang Green has scored all five of their rushing touchdowns over that stretch by running up the middle between center Nick Mangold and either guard. That leads the NFL along with the most rushing yards and yards after contact in that direction since Week 11.The Titans will need to plug the middle, disrupt the backfield and add to their AFC-leading 52 tackles for loss to have success against the Jets.
Most Deep Throws Faced
Pass Att << Jets 66 Patriots 63 Browns 63 Packers 59 Texans 58 >> 20+ yards downfield
3. With previous experience as a baseball prospect, Jake Locker has a very strong arm and leads qualified NFL passers in completion percentage on throws that traveled more than 20 yards in the air.Locker has thrown a touchdown every 7.3 pass attempts on the deep ball, which leads the AFC, and the Titans are the only AFC team without a dropped pass on a 20+ yard throw this year.The Jets meanwhile have been tested on the deep ball more often than any other team in the NFL.Fortunately, their strength is a passing defense that ranks second in the AFC in both total passing yards allowed per game and Total QBR allowed on attempts of more than 20 yards.
The Bengals' win over the Eagles Thursday night moved the Jets one step closer to the brink.If they lose Monday night to the Titans, it's over. They'd be eliminated from playoff contention, regardless of what happens Sunday, according to the NFL.
Rex Ryan said he glanced at the Bengals-Eagles game, but didn't watch the end. He said it didn't change his approach."Our whole thing is, it's all about (Tennessee)," Ryan said. "I've said it the last several weeks, it's just about what we have to do, and that's to find a way to beat Tennessee. That's where our entire focus is."
Several players,including DT Mike DeVito,said they were under assumption that Monday night was an elimination game no matter what."That's kind of the mentality we've had this whole time," he said. "We recognize we have to win out to have any chance."
The Jets (6-7), Bengals (8-6) and Steelers (7-6), in all likelihood, are battling for the final wild-card spot. An 8-8 record wouldn't cut it for the Jets; they need to be 9-7 to have any chance.
Here's why :
The Bengals and Steelers meet each other next week. If the Steelers lose Sunday to the Cowboys but beat the Bengals, they'd have eight wins -- and they own a tiebreaker over the Jets based on their Week 2 victory. If the Bengals defeat the Steelers, they'd have nine wins.
If the Jets, Steelers and Bengals all finish 8-8, the Steelers would get the wild-card spot because of tiebreakers over the Bengals and Jets.