ReFo: Jets @ Titans, Week 15
Ben Stockwell breaks down how the Tennessee Titans ended the New York Jets' playoff hopes.
ReFo: Jets @ Titans, Week 15
It’s always a little disappointing when a late-season primetime game has virtually no playoff implications riding with it, but that is what we were presented with on Monday Night in Nashville. To compound this lack of relevance, the game rarely delivered the sort of quality to make up for it being all but a dead rubber between two teams that fell short in 2012.
The Jets had the slenderest of playoff hopes entering this game, but they were extinguished by another turnover-strewn game from their quarterback as their defense surrendered one big play against the run and the game got away. The simplicity of that run, and the ease with which Chris Johnson was able to knife through their defense, will be disappointing and alarming to the Jets who now drift out of the playoff picture as quietly as they can.
For the Titans, this was far from impeccable but they will at least have the thanks of many fans league-wide for finally putting the nail in the coffin of the Jets’ remote hopes of playing postseason football. This game may have been a side note to the weekend’s action, but, as ever, it still raised performances of note and plenty of talking points.
New York – Three Performances of Note
Good Work Gone to Waste
This was another game where the New York Jets allowed more than 5.0 yards per carry to their opponent on the ground, but they will be kicking themselves for having given Johnson and the Titans an early Christmas present on the single run that forms the largest part of their 167 yards rushing. On that long run by Johnson, the second-longest ever on Monday Night Football, the play was sprung in essence by one single-team block and the Jets simply gave Johnson the space to use his speed to do the rest.
Reserve center Kyle DeVan got a solid, but not great block, on Sione Pouha to open the right side A-gap and from there it was a story of poor pursuit angles and poor hustle from the Jets’ defense that allowed Johnson to turn on the burners and go almost uncontested from there. In such a close game this run was crucial, and on their other 29 carries the Titans collected only 73 yards (2.5 yards per carry). This was such a simple run, and such a catastrophic breakdown, that it highlights the fragility of the Jets’ run defense that too often lets itself down allowing simple runs to cut them open.
One Glimmer of Hope
In spite of the fact that the Jets have only just fallen out of playoff contention two weeks before the end of the season, there can be little doubt that this year has been an utter disaster for the team and the franchise. On the field there have been very few redeeming performances, but one of those has come from Muhammad Wilkerson who has developed well after a sometimes inconsistent rookie season to be by far the Jets’ most consistent defensive player.
Wilkerson backed up his season with another fine display on the line this week, both as a run defender (+4.0), as we have seen all season, but also as a pass rusher (+1.4) as he recorded multiple pressures for the sixth straight week. Wilkerson notched four stops in run defense and collected a pair of hurries, along with only his third batted pass of the season. Members of a three-man line rarely get any attention at the best of times, and they get even less when they are a member of a pantomime akin to what the Jets have become. But Wilkerson is worthy of plenty of credit for his consistent displays this season.
How much longer the Jets can persist with Mark Sanchez remains to be seen, and could well be as much a financial decision as it is a football decision. But last night’s performance was just another nail in the coffin in the belief that Sanchez can recover from a devastating season. This may have been his first four-interception performance since 2009, but Sanchez has had plenty of performances worthy of that many interceptions since then.
This week the deep ball was causing him the most problems, with three of his interceptions coming on all three of his targets aimed more than 20 yards downfield. Whether it was the ball floating on him, indecision allowing Michael Griffin to close on a route, or simply forcing a throw that wasn’t on, Sanchez simply looked overwhelmed. What will be worse for Sanchez is that his four picks came when the Titans didn’t get pressure on him. The closest he came to being pressured on his picks was that final interception where Brandon Moore did an admirable job to hold off two blitzing linebackers and give him time to throw. If he’d have had the conviction to throw when he first saw Jeff Cumberland, rather than pump-faking, we might have been sitting here talking about a Jets win against the odds. The final fumble on a low snap from Nick Mangold was just another comedic moment in what has become a nightmare for Gang Green.
Tennessee – Three Performances of Note
Run Defense Opened Up but Not Blown Apart
This matchup was a tale of two running games, and really one run that flipped the balance of power. While the Jets’ defense limited the Titans’ running game outside of one colossal screw up, the Titans’ run defense leaked yardage for much of the game but kept a cap on the Jets to ensure that any big run had to come from a set of running backs who simply never looked like flipping that switch on their own. Up front, the likes of Sen’Derrick Marks and Tim Shaw struggled to shed blockers and get tackles made close to the line of scrimmage, but there was never the big play. The Jets had only a handful of runs longer than 10 yards, and with the passing game never firing where was the threat? The Titans have players capable of putting forth a better run defense than this, but the Jets did a solid job of limiting Jurrell Casey and the rest of the Titans’ defense couldn’t step in to fill that void.
For most of the game Chris Johnson was kept in check by the Jets’ run defense, but with one play he proved why you just have to keep feeding him the football at times. Johnson got, in essence, one opportunity to break this game open and he delivered in emphatic fashion. As the play developed Johnson would have been a threat had the Jets hustled hard and taken good angles in run defense, but with the space and angle he was given against Yeremiah Bell the touchdown was never in doubt from the moment that he was able to shrug through the arm of Sione Pouha. The down to down consistency is eluding him, but this is one of a number of times this season that Johnson has shown that if you drop your guard for a moment in run defense he can still deliver the knockout blow.
Unwrapping the Early Gifts
Christmas Day may have been more than a week away last night, but that didn’t stop Jason McCourty (+2.8) and Michael Griffin (+4.2) from receiving their early presents from Mark Sanchez with great glee. One of the interceptions by McCourty was an absolute dolly, but the other plays allowed McCourty and Griffin to display their ball-hawking skills and capitalize on a quarterback crumbling mentally.
McCourty’s sideline interception was such an excellent break and piece of toe-tapping that he and Jeremy Kerley reversed roles as defender and receiver on a sideline comeback route, while Griffin allowed Sanchez to lead him to both of his interceptions and beat receivers to the football. Against a quarterback like Sanchez, Griffin doesn’t have to force anything and you don’t see him biting on play action or running around trying to make plays. The question for Griffin is whether he can start to put in performances like this against better quarterbacks to put behind him what has been a very disappointing season.
– For the eighth time in nine games Derrick Morgan graded positively as a pass rusher (+2.5), with his six pressures (1 Sk, 1 Ht, 4 Hu) marking the sixth time in that spell that he has recorded five or more pressures.
– Only three Jets defenders (Demario Davis, Eric Smith, and Antonio Allen) didn’t record a defensive stop in last night’s game.
– There wasn’t a single completion in this game on passes targeted 20 or more yards downfield. Locker and Sanchez were a combined 0-of-7, with three of Sanchez’s interceptions on the deep ball.
PFF Game Ball
The late-game interceptions of Michael Griffin were crucial in putting this game away for the Titans, so credit goes to him in a game that few will remember in a fortnight’s time.
Ben Stockwell | Director of Analysis
Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.