The 6-7 Jets attempt to get back into the playoff conversation
Another week, another mediocre opponent on the New York Jets' schedule. After defeating the 4-9 Arizona Cardinals and the 2-11 Jacksonville Jaguars (giving up 16 points combined in the two games), the New York Jets head to the Volunteer State to take on the 4-9 Tennessee Titans. A victory and losses by the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals would create a three-way tie for the second wildcard berth in the AFC. Luckily for Gang Green, the Tennessee Titans appear to be a good matchup. Their run defense allows 127 rushing yards per game, so Shonn Greene and Bilal Powell will have ample opportunity to set the tempo and allow the Jets to play their game. When the Jets are forced to put the ball in Mark Sanchez' hands, the Titans' suspect pass defense will be ripe for the picking. Tennessee's best statistical unit is the passing offense, which leads to my first key:
- Kyle Wilson vs. Kendall Wright: Despite the loss of Darrelle Revis early in the year, the Jets secondary has allowed only 196 passing yards per game (3rd best in the NFL). They will be tested this week with a 3-headed monster at wide receiver, as Nate Washington, Kenny Britt, and Kendall Wright are all talented and productive receivers that give QB Jake Locker plenty of options down-field. Kenny Britt has been quiet all year but came on last week with a nice effort against the Colts (8 catches for 143 yards), but Nate Washington has been the team's best downfield threat and leads the team in receiving yards by a healthy margin. Assuming that Cromartie draws Washington, it will be up to Kyle Wilson to blanket rookie Kendall Wright, who actually leads the Titans in receptions and targets. Wilson has played well this year, but he will be tested early and often by Locker's favorite receiver, who already has been targeted 97 times. If Wilson holds up, it will allow the Jets to key in on the dangerous Chris Johnson.
- Sione Pouha: After registering an all-pro level season in 2011, Sione Pouha has seen his play drop off substantially this year, largely due to injuries. On the other side, Chris Johnson has enjoyed a nice bounceback campaign (1073 yards on 4.7 YPC), but 603 of those yards came in just four games (with a whopping 200 against a porous Bills defense). The Titans will no doubt try to isolate Johnson in space to take advantage of his speed, but if Pouha can plug the holes up the middle, it would make the linebackers' jobs much easier at the second level. In a sense, Johnson has been a bit hit-or-miss, with yards per carry averages of less than 4 yards in his last three games. However, he is as capable as anyone of busting a long run, and a big game from Sione Pouha could go a long way to preventing that.
- Bilal Powell: With 19 carries last week and more than 10 in his last four games, Bilal Powell seems to have firmly entrenched himself as option 1a, along with Shonn Greene. The Jets have showed that they don't have much trust in Mark Sanchez, so Powell will be a key player this Monday again. If he can provide effective change-of-pace carries, the Jets will be able to control the tempo and let the defense make plays. If not, the Jets will be forced to put the ball back in Mark Sanchez' hands.
- Jeremy Kerley: Kerley was only targeted 6 times last Sunday, and all 4 of his receptions were short, low-risk throws. The Jets may hope that it doesn't have to come to it, but the Titans' pass defense is vulnerable if Gang Green chooses to attack it. They give up 251 passing yards per game, the 26th worst mark in the NFL, and allow opposing QB's a 97.4 passer rating. They aren't particularly adept at generating pressure either, as none of their players have more than 5 sacks (the team ranks 21st in the league total). If Sanchez is allowed to make throws, this seems like the type of game that could help him find a rhythm. Braylon may be back but Kerley is still the #1, as he has shown great versatility out of the slot; mixing up catches over the middle with longer gains over the top. In an otherwise miserable year for the Jets offense, Kerley is on pace for 65 catches and 900 yards. Against a miserable secondary, Kerley could likely be primed for a big game.
- Rex Ryan: This season is essentially coming down to the last three games, and as luck would have it, each of them is against a seemingly inferior opponent. 2012 has seen many head-scratching decisions by the coaches and by management, but that could all be forgotten if Gang Green wins out. Losing any of the next three games should be considered inexcusable, especially given that none of these teams have anything to play for and the Jets (for now) have everything to play for. Sure, the Jets aren't the most talented bunch, especially on offense. But what has hurt them most so far this season are sloppy mistakes: missed tackles, dropped passes and lazy routes. All of these things are avoidable when players are motivated and concentrated, especially at this level. Can Rex Ryan inspire his men to come up big this week? That's the big question.
Players to Watch: Whether you love or hate the Braylon Edwards signing, it cannot be denied that some of the most magical moments in recent Jets history involved #17, who is still only 29 years old. It is also hard to deny that Bray had very good chemistry with Mark Sanchez, making countless big plays during his time in the Big Apple. You may think that 6 days is not enough time for Braylon to get situated enough to make an immediate impact, but it only took him 5 days the last time he was acquired by the Jets. On October 12, 2009, Braylon pulled down 5 receptions for 64 yards and a touchdown only 5 days after being traded by the Cleveland Browns. Edwards was unproductive in 2009 before being traded to the Jets, but performed well for Gang Green throughout the year and into the playoffs. This is a different situation, but stranger things have happened. If nothing else, it gives me a chance to dust off some awesome gif's.
Prediction: In all honesty, this game scares me a little. The Titans aren't a highly ranked statistical team, but they have talented players at the skill positions and have the potential to score some points. I do have trust in the Jets defense though, so it will likely once again come down to the Jets' ability to score points. I may be the most optimistic Jets fan on the planet to say this, but I think this is the week the offense has a mini-revival. Kerley and Greene get into the endzone early, and Powell caps it with a touchdown late. Defense bends but doesn't break.