Much of the pregame analysis for the Jets-Titans matchup has been focused on Tennessee's ultra quick Chris Johnson. Johnson is the kind of fast, shifty back that has given the Jets' old, slow LBs fits this year, and there is well justified concern that Johnson will have a field day against the Jets.
That is a very real possibility. However, the Jets run defense has gradually gotten better as the weeks have gone by, and the Titans' offensive line has slowly disintegrated. Injuries have hit the Titans' O Line very hard, to the point where they are now starting only 1 guy on the line that was a projected starter on opening day. This has the potential to provide the Jets defense the opportunity to attack the Johnson threat with a swarming, gang tackling approach that should not be unduly impeded by Tennessee's makeshift line. That should give the Jets at least a fighting chance of minimizing the damage the very talented Johnson inflicts.
If the Jets are able to contain Johnson, one would think they are likely home free in this game, as Locker is unlikely to do extensive damage through the air. Much lesser pass defenses than the Jets have routinely shut down Locker this year and forced him into multiple turnovers. It is likely the Jets can do the same.
Unfortunately, Locker presents an underappreciated threat with his legs that could prove to be the undoing of the Jets on Monday night. Think back to the SF game. Coming into that game the 49ers had the best running game in football, led by Frank Gore having a career year, averaging 6 yards a carry at the time. But Gore is not the kind of quick, shifty back that kills the Jets, and I was fairly confident going into the game that the Jets could contain SF's running game. Well, I was half right. Gore did not really hurt the Jets, running 21 times for only 62 yards. If he had been SF's main weapon running the ball that game, the Jets would have been in much better shape. Unfortunately, that was the game the 49ers chose to unleash Colin Kaepernick, and he absolutely killed the Jets, carrying 5 times for 50 yards, a TD, and another run that should have been a TD if he hadn't slid to run out the clock. The Jets were helpless against a fast QB running in the open field.
Enter Jake Locker. Although I don't think most people view him as a running threat the same way they view Kaepernick, in fact he represents a very significant threat with his legs. He ran a blazing 4.5 40 at the combine. That is significantly faster than any DL or LB on the Jets, including Demario Davis. Locker also led all QBs in the 3 cone shuttle run at the 2011 Combine. He is an elite athlete who is every bit the threat Kaepernick is with his legs, and I could see his running ability being the difference in this game.
Locker has run the ball for 35 yards or more in 4 of his last 5 starts, and has a run of 20 yards or more in 4 of his last 6 starts. The Titans' makeshift line should permit the Jets defense to apply considerable pressure on Locker in the pocket. That, however, could wind up being a mixed blessing. If the Jets can consistently put Locker on his back or hurry him into bad throws, then it's advantage, Jets. If however all the Jets manage to do is flush Locker out of the pocket and into broken field running situations, I can envision Locker making numerous big plays with his legs, utilizing his speed and quickness to outrun the Jets front seven and keeping drives alive with his legs. If that happens, Jake Locker, the other Titans' runner, could end up being the difference in this game, much to the Jets chagrin.