Hall of Famer Dan Dierdorf, working our Sunday game at Tennessee with Greg Gumbel for CBS, has an observation about the combatants that underscores his role as one of the game's top *color *commentators.
"When I first saw this game on the schedule, I certainly didn't think that one of these teams was going to come out of it at 3-1 — I don't think anybody had that thought," Dierdorf said. "Come Sunday night, one of these teams, though they won't say it, is going to be tickled pink."
Do green and pink match? We'll find out if the Jets can conclude the first quarter of their season with their first road win of the year and with a remarkable 3-1 record. Here are 10 things to look for in the Jets-Titans game at LP Field.
Tone Time II — Santonio Holmes still walks with a slight hitch, and he said this week, "I still have a long ways to go" in his foot rehab. But Tone pulled it together against the Bills for one of his best games — career-high 159 yards, 69-yard TD grab-and-go for his longest reception in seven seasons. No. 10 declines to say what's ahead but it sounds promising: "With God's will, if I can continue to stay healthy throughout the season, who knows what's going to be in store from this point forward?"
Return of the TE —In Game 1, Kellen Winslow was Geno Smith's security blanket with seven receptions and a touchdown. The past two games Geno's zeroed in on his wideouts as opponents clogged the middle against Winslow — he had three catches for 16 yards at New England, no catches and one pass interference drawn vs. Buffalo. Said Smith about his TEs: "As long as those guys continue to run good routes and stay patient, the ball will come their way." Is this one of those reward days? (Antonio Gates had five catches and a TD for SD at Tennessee last Sunday.)
Getting the Yellow Out —Watch for fewer penalty flags to be thrown at our side this weekend. "I certainly believe we're going to see a huge improvement," Ryan said today, adding, "20 [penalties vs. Buffalo] isn't far from the record — we should've gone for it." Rex was joking, of course, but he's not kidding about coaching up these Jets quickly. Two games ago, the receivers dropped six passes. After a week of emphasis: no drops vs. the Bills. This week, after everyone — including owner Woody Johnson — did 10 pushups for every practice penalty, it's time to see that punishment pay dividends.
A Telling Number? — Good things and bad come in threes, so Jets fans should be alert for the number 94. That's the amount of yards Chris Johnson ripped off on his only big run of Tennessee's Monday night win over the Jets last year. And it's also the amount of yardage in the game-winning touchdown drive that lifted the Titans over the Chargers, 20-17, at LP Field last Sunday. It's most important to hold Johnson's numbers down, reminds LB David Harris: "You have to keep him in front of you. You can't let him get outside because no one on this defense is fast enough to catch him from behind."
Actions Speak Louder — Quiet RB Bilal Powell has been letting his strides do his talking, and against the Bills, that was loud. Even though Chris Ivory got the start, he left early with a hamstring that will KO him from this game as well. Powell came on for career highs with 149 rushing yards, and his unofficial 94 yards after first contact were the fifth-most by a back in five seasons under Rex Ryan as Jets coach. "Bilal sure had a great game," said coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. "He turned it loose just a little bit."
|First Downs Gained/Game||19.0||18.0|
|First Downs Allowed/Game||13.0||19.3|
Slamming the Locker Door — The Green & White defenders are smelling blood in the water after eight sacks of EJ Manuel. It's rare that we've been at the top of the league's sack lists but there we are, No. 2 in sack rate. Locker, like Manuel, is a big QB who can rack up yards with his legs — witness his 13-yard keeper vs. the Jets last year. Unlike the Bills rookie, Locker has been sacked multiple times before playing the Jets this year. If the run defense can sit on Chris Johnson on the first two downs, into the game come Antwan Barnes and exotic packages to apply the heat to Locker in the pocket.
Who's on the Corner — Darrin Walls, who got his only pro start in last year's regular-season finale at Buffalo, could be in line for Start No. 2 at Tennessee. Or it could be Kyle Wilson. Rex Ryan wasn't saying for sure at today's news conference. But he was committing to a nickel alignment of Walls on the outside and Wilson in the slot. This skulduggery was mostly due to Dee Milliner's hamstring injury this week that Ryan said will keep the first-round rookie on the sideline for this game.
The Takeaway Game —It's a tad misleading to say Tennessee has no giveaways this year. Against San Diego, punter Brett Kern fumbled a snap, recovered but turned the ball over to the Chargers at the Titans 30, setting up a field goal. Still, that's one of the few goofs for the home side, which has a plus-5 turnover margin. The Jets, meanwhile, are minus-6 and have no defensive takeaways in their last 10 quarters. We need a takeaway breakthrough if we're intent on the road upset.
Tough Sledding Area —Be ready for a big stop should Tennessee venture inside the Jets' 20-yard line. We're No. 1 in the NFL in red zone touchdown defense, allowing just two TDs on nine opponent drives this season (22.2%), including a current seven RZ trips in a row being held to a field goal or less. The Titans are tied for 25th in red zone offense with four TDs in nine trips (44.4%).
Familiar Faces — Don't do a double-take if you recognize a few of the players on the Tennessee sideline. Two former Jets are Titans starters: Rob Turner, No. 59, at center and Ropati Pitoitua, No. 92, at defensive end. (Shonn Greene, however, will not suit up as he's still rehabbing from arthroscopic knee surgery.)
|JETS-TITANS RIVALRY FACTS||Record/Score|
|Regular-Season Series Record||Titans 22-17-1|
|Last Game||Titans 14-10, 2012|
|Last Jets Road Win||Jets 34-13, 2008|
|Regular-Season Record @ Titans||Titans 16-6|
|Last Game||Titans 14-10, 2012|
|Postseason Series Record||Titans/Oilers 1-0|
|Last Game||Oilers 17-10, 1991|