The holiday season is upon us. And one of the truisms of the season is that it's better to give than receive.
This is normally sage advice that the New York Jets definitely will NOT want to follow tonight in Nashville, Tenn. For the Green, greed is good. The Jets' thin postseason hopes, which got just a little more promising with Pittsburgh's Sunday loss at Dallas, depend on receiving much more than giving in front of their national TV audience.
We all know about Mark Sanchez, the offense and the giveaways. In last week's win at Jacksonville, Sanchez took all the offensive snaps and turned the ball over once. That could be somewhat forgiven since the fumble he yielded came when Jason :Babin fired past D'Brickashaw Ferguson for an unexpected pocket hit, fumble and recovery.
One giveaway in 62 snaps is not a significant sample to judge by, but considering the 18 giveaways he was personally involved in during his previous 711 offensive snaps this season, that 39.5-to-1 ratio is much worse and the Jets will hope that it signifies an upward trend and try to ride it past the Titans.
Just as head coach Rex Ryan, offensive coordinator Tony Sparano and QBs coach Matt Cavanaugh have stressed Sanchez to be more judicious with the ball, the defensive side has been hearing from Ryan, DC Mike Pettine and the defensive staff about the importance of separating the opponents from the leather.
"Every day in practice for weeks," said CB Ellis Lankster, "we've been trying to rip the ball out of the offense's hands, try to snatch at it all the time, try to intercept everything."
"You do that enough," LB Garrett McIntyre added, "then you create good habits, and usually good things start happening."
Taking the Ball from the Titans
Those two know first-hand. McIntyre's charge into QB Chad Henne ended the Jaguars' first drive with Henne's flutterball that Bart Scott intercepted. Lankster's interception concluded the Jags' final-drive threat to tie things up and secured the Jets' 17-10 win.
In between, well, there were no takeaways in between. The Jets' progress in taking the ball away since the Week 9 bye hasn't been as dramatic as, say, their dramatic improvement in not committing many penalties, also a focus since the bye. But with DE Muhammad Wilkerson in the forefront, at least the Green & White have been timely in their takes in their mostly successful last month.
That may very well be pivotal tonight, since among all the things that Titans second-year QB Jake Locker has been, he has been a giving kind of guy. In his eight starts this season, Locker has thrown nine interceptions and lost four fumbles. His offense's turnover drive percentage of 19.6% was the second highest in the NFL coming into this weekend behind Kansas City's Matt Cassel at 25.6%.
And the Titans' home turnover margin this season is minus-12 in six games, tied for the highest home gift-giving in the league, and in their last two home games, losses to the Bears and Texans, it's a whopping minus-10 (11 giveaways, one takeaway).
"Locker runs real well — he's almost like another running back," McIntyre observed. "So that's a point of emphasis for us, to keep him contained, not let him make plays with his feet, and try to force turnovers."
"For a young quarterback, Jake's just inconsistent right now, just like we are as a team," Tennessee coach Mike Munchak said during the past week. "It's not just him, it's the guys around him that are also inconsistent in what we're doing. He's had parts of games where we thought he would play just like we thought he would.
"Same thing last week," the coach continued about the 27-23 fall-from-ahead loss at Indianapolis. "He came out in the first half and played probably as well as he had. He made some great decisions and ran when he was supposed to, all the things you'd hope he'd do. In the second half he made a bad decision with the ball and had a pick on the 1, down by the goal line, a bad decision there."
Of course, several other factors will be key if the Jets are to stay on their roll against their favorable closing schedule and stay on the outskirts of the AFC playoff conversation.
Two Coaches, Different Focuses
The defense will need to contain the Titans' main tailback, Chris Johnson, who's having a solid season (1,037 rushing yards, 4.7 per carry), with McIntyre possibly a key player here filling in for LB Bryan Thomas (chest). Their offense, still with tandem RBs Shonn Greene and Bilal Powell, still without Sanchez go-to guy Dustin Keller (ankle), and now perhaps with Tim Tebow back for some action and recently reacquired WR Braylon Edwards able to contribute, will need to keep generating just enough yardage and points. Their inconsistent special teams could play a big role in turning this game in their favor, such as with Joe McKnight returning kickoffs against the Titans' kick-cover unit, 32nd in the league in average return allowed.
And the Jets can't throw in the towel at LP Field. Opponents have been in all six games here, winning four, including the last three, and coming from behind to take leads in the two losses.
A successful confluence of events alongside the Cumberland River will lift the Jets to back to .500 at 7-7 for the first time since they were 3-3 and preparing to do battle at New England. They would then be a home win over San Diego and a Pittsburgh home win over Cincinnati away from joining the AFC tiebreaker talk at 8-7.
"I just want to win," Ryan said. "You think about who's up next, go take care of your business, improve, put out the best football team you can each week. That's a challenge to the coach, that you have your team ready to play. I think as any coach, regardless of what's around you, your focus is on winning that game and putting your players in situations where they can be successful. That's what you try to do as a coach every single week, regardless of what your record is."
It's what Munchak had tried to do with Locker and his Titans, but instead Tennessee is at 4-9 and looking to spoil the season of some other team that up until recently looked a lot like his.
"I know, like we are, they're disappointed that's their record's not much better than it is. I know they believe it should be with the players they have," Munchak said. "I think the turnovers have really hurt them to do that. I think now you're scrambling.
"You have three games left and we were hoping that we'd be in the same situation they're in. I thought a few weeks ago we'd both be fighting for this wild-card spot. They got the job done the last two weeks and we didn't. I think they're actually doing exactly what this team needs to do, to find ways to win these last three, and that's what they seem to be doing."
The Jets will try to do the same tonight: Keep their giveaways down, their takeaways up, and their hope alive their fourth win in their last five games.