Keys to Game 4: Jets @ Titans

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

The (2-1) New York Jets take their show on the road to Nashville , where Chris Johnson and the (2-1) Tennessee Titans await. An in-depth look at the key players and match ups.

Coming off an exciting 7 point win against the Buffalo Bills, the Jets have silenced many critics, but more questions have arose than answers. Is Bilal Powell a legitimate 3-down back? Is the team really this penalty-prone? Is the run defense as good as it has looked thus far? Is the offense as dynamic and explosive as it has looked at times, or as disjointed and turnover prone as it has looked at other times? The Jets will look to answer these question this Sunday, which leads into the first key.

Winning the Turnover Battle: Having less turnovers than the other team can be the key to winning any game, but will be especially significant this week. The Titans are 2-1 despite a pedestrian offense largely due to the fact that they accumulate more takeaways than "giveaways", leading to a +5 turnover margin (4th best in the NFL). This statistic may lead you to believe that the Titans have a disruptive defense that terrorizes the opponents, but that is not entirely true. The Titans have intercepted three passes and recovered two fumbles in their first two games, but their offense has been flawless in protecting the ball, with zero turnovers in three games. Jake Locker—who threw more interceptions than touchdowns last year—hasn't been intercepted yet, and none of the Titans running backs have fumbled. Compared to the Titans +5 turnover margin, the Jets' -6 turnover margin (30th in the NFL) looks downright atrocious. A few Geno Smith interceptions are to be expected with a rookie QB that was immediately asked to run an attacking offense, but the Jets' turnover margin is largely a result of lousy luck. Gang Green's dominant defense has only forced two turnovers thus far—an interception and a fumble recovery—but have forced the 3rd most fumbles in the league to this point with 6. Recovering one fumble out of six indicates that the ball isn't rolling the Jets' way, and that is bound to change as the season progresses. The Jets boast a top 10 offense (in terms of yards gained) and a top 3 defense (in terms of yards allowed), but the turnover margin is not indicative of a playoff team.

Muhammad Wilkerson: As noted before, the Titans have managed to overcome a mediocre offense (29th in the NFL in yards) by not committing any turnovers through three games, a downright amazing statistic when considering the talented but inconsistent quarterback under center. Although Locker has looked solid thus far, stopping Chris Johnson has to be the priority, despite his slow start to the year (3.7 yards per carry). Johnson ripped out the hearts of Jets fans everywhere last season with a 94 yard run through Gang Green's defense in Week 15, and still represents Tennessee's biggest threat on that side of the ball. The Jets have allowed only 3.2 yards per carry this season, so Johnson will have his work cut out for him. Regardless, if Mo Wilkerson and the rest of the Jets' line can bottle up Johnson's carries, the Titans will be forced to put the ball in Locker's hands, something that they have been reluctant to do (only Terrelle Pryor and Russell Wilson have less pass attempts among starters thus far). Wilkerson really stepped up his pass rush last week against the Bills, with two sacks and four hurries on seven pressures. If he can keep it going and maintain a consistent pressure on Jake Locker, the young quarterback's first turnover of the season is bound to happen sooner than later.

Kyle Wilson: The fourth year cornerback out of Boise State had himself quite an eventful game last week against the Bills, with his five boneheaded penalties overshadowing a nice day in coverage, where he allowed only three completions on ten targets. His work will not get any easier, as the Titans boast a nice stable of young wide receivers that can each go off at any time. Kenny Britt may be the most talented of the bunch, and is liable to contribute monster games when he's not injured or sulking, which is admittedly most of the time. Last week, he made nothing of his 5 targets, finishing with 0 catches and 2 drops. Nate Washington appears to be Locker's favorite target—his 22 targets are the most on the team—and is generally solid when given the opportunity. Kendall Wright was the Titans' first round pick last season, and has emerged this year to catch 15 of his 21 targets. Neither Justin Hunter nor Damian Williams have contributed this year, but both have talent—the former was picked 34th in the draft this year and the latter caught 30 passes last season—and can come up big when targeted. Assuming that Antonio Cromartie locks up Nate Washington, Wilson will likely be called upon to defend Kendall Wright, whose elite speed and quick release may give Wilson problems. Wilson will need to rebound in a big way this week, and his play will likely be key to the outcome.

Players to Watch: As stopping Chris Johnson will be critical to a Jets' victory, the man behind Muhammad Wilkerson and Damon Harrison will once again be front and center. David Harris has gone from "elite" to "overrated"/ "overpaid" and back to "elite" in the span of a few short years, with his play thus far in 2013 reminiscent of his masterful performances in 2009 and 2010. According to PFF's Steve Palazzolo, David Harris was a force against the Bills:

While the defensive line did their damage, LB David Harris was the star behind them... He graded at +5.1 in the game as he got in on six stops and notched a sack and two hurries on just a handful of rushes. Perhaps most importantly, he hasn't been displaced in the running game as he has in recent years and the impressive play of the defensive line has certainly gone a long way toward giving him clean reads against the run.

-per Steve Palazzolo, PFF

Harris has benefited from the improved play of the defensive line. I will be keeping my eyes on #52, as a big performance from Harris would be huge for the Jets' chances. As I do every week, I will also be watching Geno Smith, who has emerged as one of the best long throwers in the league, having completed 5 of 7 throws for 229 yards and two touchdowns on throws beyond 20 yards against the Bills. In fact, Geno's nine completions of over 20 yards are tied for the most in the NFL with some fellow who plays in Green Bay. If Geno could only show some improvement from the rookie mistakes that have plagued his first three NFL starts, the Jets will have much to look ahead to. I will also be watching GGN favorite Darrin Walls this Sunday, as Rex indicated that Walls will start if Dee Milliner can't play.


Many people feel that Walls has the potential to be a starter in the league. This Sunday we will see how he holds up against a talented wide receiver corps.

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