Tennessee lost several key offensive contributors from its recent postseason runs, including current New York Jets WR Corey Davis.
The Opponent:Â Tennessee Titans
The Date:Â Week 4, October 3, 1 p.m. ET, CBS (@ NY)
The Series:Â Tennessee leads 25-19-1 (last meeting: 2018, 26-22 TEN)
Corey Davis earned 984 yards on 65 receptions for the Tennessee Titans last season. A bout with COVID-19 held the fifth pick of the 2017 draft just short of his first career four-digit yardage season. Davis played a major role in each of Tennessee’s last three playoff trips, two of which have seen them win at least one game.
Somehow, Davis got lost in the Nashville fold, leading Titans management to label him expendable.
The Titans’ return to the national spotlight…only three teams have partaken in more playoff games since 2017…has been driven by the breakouts of several explosive skill players, including Derrick Henry, A.J. Brown, Ryan Tannehill, Jonnu Smith, and, of course, Davis. That group…minus Davis and the New England-bound Smith…is now joined by Julio Jones, who is looking to regain his All-Pro reputation after his last season in Atlanta was decimated by injury.
Tennessee will make only its second visit to MetLife Stadium for a Jets game. They last stopped by in December 2015, a 30-8 Jets victory.
The Skinny on the Titans
Following their heartbreaking visit to the AFC title game after the 2019 season, the Titans broke the 10-win ceiling for the first time since 2008, likewise ending their division title drought. Alas, they had nothing to show for it in the postseason, as a first-round exit at the hand of Baltimore awaited.
The Titans’ current landscape and depth could perhaps best be described as top-heavy. Tannehill is backed up by Logan Woodside and Matt Barkley. Henry’s top spell option is Darrynton Evans, a third-round pick who was limited to 54 yards in an injury-plagued rookie year. They’ll once again be must-see television…as long as they stay healthy.
So what’s been the big problem in Tennessee? The Titans have learned the hard way that defense still wins championships. After losing their chance at the Super Bowl by surrendering a two-possession lead in just over five minutes against the Kansas City Chiefs, Tennessee ranked at or near the bottom in most major defensive categories. The team did muster 15 interceptions…third-best in the AFC…but one of the leaders, Malcolm Butler, has moved on to Arizona.
Despite their lack of depth, the Titans are likely the unanimous favorite in the reeling AFC South, at least until the Indianapolis Colts find a proven quarterback. Houston has far too much to prove, while it’s going to take a lot more than the arrival of Trevor Lawrence for the Jacksonville Jaguars to become relevant again.
Whatâ€™s New in Tennessee?
In bidding farewell to their offensive depth, the Titans sought to bolster the weak defense. Before Jones arrived late, their marquee addition was former Pittsburgh linebacker Bud Dupree. The ex-Steeler is coming off an ACL tear but was nonetheless bestowed an $82.5 million contract to help solve their issues. Dupree was removed from the physically unable to perform list last week and has begun practicing.
“Anytime you get paid to pass rush, you go ahead and get sacks and make big plays in the run game, be an all-around player,â€ Dupree said of his role in his new home in a June episode of NFL Network’s Good Morning Football. â€œYou donâ€™t just come in just to be a one-trick pony and just do pass rush. Youâ€™ve got to be able to be a tone-setter on the edge, as well, swarming to the ball, stopping the run, evolving your teammates, getting everybody hyped up.”
In addition to Dupree, the Titans also welcomed Denico Autry to bolster the pass rush after three successful years with the Colts. Tennessee also opted to use their top draft pick on defensive help, welcoming Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley, who should fill the void Butler left behind.
Though well accomplished…Tannehill has become a reliable starter, Henry is a downright historic, game-changing rusher, Brown and Jones should be a deadly aerial pair…the Titans’ offense has something to prove. Coordinator Arthur Smith earned a head coaching job in Atlanta for his work over the past two seasons, leaving tight ends coach Todd Downing to take over. Downing previously won Pro Football Focus’ Quarterbacks Coach of the Year Award for his work with Derek Carr in Oakland.
How to Beat Them
-Jump the Defense
The Titans’ return to the national spotlight is reminiscent of their turn-of-the-century heyday. Back then, they had Steve McNair, Eddie George, and Derrick Mason. Nowadays, it’s Tannehill, Henry, and Brown/Jones pairing.
But there’s a difference: the former group’s offensive fireworks were accentuated by the equally effective defensive work of Jevon Kearse and Samari Rolle.
The Jets’ mission is thus relatively simple in the theory that they must force the Titans’ defense to win the game. By the time Tennessee comes to visit, the Jets will have had three games to build offensive chemistry. That’s obviously not the most experience together, but it can be enough to take advantage of a Tennessee defense that was already dealing with issues. They can’t let the Titans’ offensive arsenal decide the game.
Ronald Blair stuffs jet sweep. If 49ers offense-special teams didn’t struggle, the defense was handling the run early enough to be in this game. pic.twitter.com/kHDx5K133W
— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 22, 2018
-Take a Passing Interest
What Tannehill has been able to do in Nashville is inspiring and deserves to be recognized. After a seemingly endless streak of proverbial make-or-break seasons in Miami, Tannehill has forged a long-term NFL path as the Titans’ franchise quarterback.
Yet, he can’t fully bear the load of an offensive box score. Since he entered the league in 2012, Tannehill teams are 4-18 when he throws at least 40 passes. The Titans have taken note…only three of those instances have come in Tennessee.
Forcing Tannehill to win the game obviously then leads to containing Henry, the defending Offensive Player of the Year and 2,000-yard rusher. The Jets’ run defense should enjoy a boost from the return of Kyle Phillips, one of the team’s top run defenders during his 2019 debut before injuries ate up his sophomore season. Former Robert Saleh pupil Ronald Blair should likewise help keep the run game grounded, as he was one of San Francisco’s top rush defenders off the edge.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags