The first time the New York Jets faced the Tennessee Titans during the Eric Mangini Era, he was leading the 4-12 team he adopted to Nashville for Week One of the 2006 season. Coming off another 4-12 campaign, Mangini is once again taking a team with something to prove down to LP Field—but with a new cast of characters.
In 2006, he had Chad Pennington at quarterback—fresh off a second rotator-cuff surgery—and future Hall of Fame running back Curtis Martin on the physically-unable-to-perform list as he considered retirement.
Pennington ended up throwing for 319 yards en route to a 23-16 road victory, and the Mangenius Era was in full swing!
Kerry Collins saw his first action as a member of the Titans days after being signed because Jeff Fisher didn’t believe Vince Young was ready for NFL action. What a difference two years makes, right?
With minimal preparation, Collins, Travis Henry, and the Titans pushed the Jets in the fourth quarter, scoring two touchdowns with two-point conversions when the game looked like the Jets were looking to run away with it.
The game was tough in Week One while both teams were trying to make sense of their talent. Now that both teams are in midseason form and leading their divisions, the game looks to be a much more competitive contest.
But which team has the edge?
10 and Is That So?
The new darlings of the NFL rest in Tennessee. Their story is a phenomenal one that the media simply loves, and they’ve been effectively executing on both sides of the ball.
They have a rookie running back that seems ready to become an NFL star, an old quarterback whose best years were supposed to be behind them, a defensive monster in Albert Haynesworth, and a head coach that deserves a title.
But are they really that good?
They’ve defeated the Indianapolis Colts, Baltimore Ravens, and—well, they beat the Colts and Ravens.
They were impressive victories, without a doubt. But both teams have considerable weaknesses in 2008. The Ravens have found success with a rookie quarterback in recent weeks, and the Colts seem to have hit a stride since losing to the Titans.
But has any other opponent of Tennessee’s been truly formidable?
When the New York Jets roll into town, they will be facing the most well-rounded team on their schedule. The Jets can score on defense, offense, and special-teams.
Looking for Wiggle Room
The dynamic duo of LenDale White and Chris Johnson seems to have been figured out to an extent. After getting off to a fast start, their recent opponents have sold out completely in an effort to neutralize them.
Now that it’s clear that Collins can still throw, and some of his receivers can catch, it will be up to the Jets’ secondary to snatch those balls out of the air. The Jets have allowed offenses to rack up yards through the air, but they’ve also managed to keep them out of the end zone.
It will be up the Jets’ pass rush to continue applying pressure and disrupt Collins’ timing. He’ll get his yardage, but if the secondary can tighten up in coverage, they should have opportunities.
Unfortunately, the Jets have been exposed by tight ends. The linebackers have difficulty in space and with covering the big men that can catch. With Bo Scaife being one of Collins’ favorite targets, he could be the key to Tennessee’s offensive success if New York doesn’t adjust.
But life can be just as difficult for Brett Favre. The league leader in interceptions will be facing a defense that’s been excellent at getting them.
The Jets will need to lean harder on Thomas Jones to help open up the pass and create some separation in the passing game. Jones currently leads the AFC in rushing yards and is having one of the best seasons of his career.
The Wild Card
Most fans overlook this area, but Jets’ fans love it because they’re so great at it: special teams!
There’s nothing more deflating after a score than a touchdown on a return. If there’s anyone that can threaten one every time he catches the ball, it’s Leon Washington.
More importantly, the Jets’ ability to shut down returns, with Wallace Wright streaking down the field, is second-to-none. New York is allowing only 8.9 yards on punt returns, and 22.1 on kick returns.
If both teams’ defenses are rolling on all cylinders, the game will have the potential to become a battle of field position and could fall to the team that can break off a huge gain. Taking advantage while the defenses are on the sidelines could be a deciding factor.
Complacency on Cloud Nine?
During Max Kellerman’s Wednesday show on ESPN Radio, he read an email from a Jets’ fan, claiming that he’s still too ecstatic after defeating the New England Patriots that Sunday’s game won’t have much bearing on his feelings.
Defeating the Patriots was beautiful. Fans should be thrilled with the victory. But believing that we shouldn’t be upset with a loss in Tennessee is insane.
Sure, Jets’ fans shouldn’t be running to the highest point they can find in the instance of a loss, but to believe this game has little significance to the team’s playoff hopes is focusing on the wrong thing.
If fans want the Jets to be competitive in the postseason, winning games like this one is an incredible start. If Jets’ fans want their team to be taken seriously and not picked against week-after-week by major media NFL pundits, defeating the Titans is a strong step in that direction.
Complacency is not in the spirit of a champion. Coming away from Nashville at 7-4 and being happy because the Jets still hold the divisional tie-breakers isn’t that killer spirit New York needs to make a dent in the postseason.
A win in Tennessee could mean home-field advantage. The division is New York’s, but it’s not clear sailing.
After Tennessee, the Denver Broncos come to town and are looking to get back to early season form with the playoffs on the horizon.
But one game at a time, right?