Jets vs. Titans: How New York Can Shut Down Chris Johnson

Erik FrenzSenior Writer IDecember 14, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 09:  Chris Johnson #28 of the the Tennessee Titans runs with the ball during the NFL game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 9, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The New York Jets have played an improved brand of defense over the past two weeks, but they haven't faced an opponent like the Tennessee Titans in that time.

That says more about the previous opponents than it does about the Titans, who rank 22nd in the league in scoring offense. The Cardinals and Jaguars make up two of the league's three lowest-scoring offenses.

The marginal success the Titans have enjoyed offensively has come from running back Chris Johnson, and the Jets' ability or inability to shut him down could make or break (respectively) their ability to win the game.

Just ask the Buffalo Bills, the team which set the stage for Johnson's remarkable turnaround. 

One particular skill Johnson has is his lateral quickness, which he put on display in his 16-yard touchdown run against the Bills—also his first touchdown run of the season.

The run started off as a simple handoff up the middle and was supposed to go behind fullback Quinn Johnson.

Instead, the Bills did a great job of closing up the gaps up the middle. That's when Johnson put his burst on display, quickly getting outside and following the blocks from his wide receiver and tight end as he sprinted for the pylon and lunged in for the score.

That lateral quickness could be the biggest problem for the Jets in defending Johnson. In fact, they have already had problems defending similar running backs this year.

On this 19-yard run, Dolphins running back Reggie Bush started off running to his right against the Jets' nickel defense, with linebackers David Harris and Demario Davis waiting at the second level.

Center Mike Pouncey gets out in front of the play very quickly, blocking Harris (orange) while guard John Jerry takes Davis (yellow) out of the play as well. That opens up a gaping cutback lane for Bush, who happily obliges as he takes the ball into the gap on the left side of the field as the Jets defense gives chase. 

The Jets experienced similar problems against the Buffalo Bills and running back C.J. Spiller in Week 1.

In that game, they gave up a 56-yard touchdown run and a 49-yard near-touchdown run to the third-year back out of Clemson.

On this run, the 49-yarder, Spiller got the handoff out of the pistol formation—a set commonly seen in college football and employed often by the Bills.

Jets defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson got great penetration on this play, but Spiller bounced it to the outside to avoid the tackle. Once again, we see Harris (orange) has an opportunity to make the play.

From there, Spiller galloped to the outside and vaulted over his own quarterback, who threw an ugly but effective block on safety LaRon Landry. Harris, despite a solid angle, was unable to get to Spiller before he was off to the races.

The Jets will get a little help due to a rash of injuries to the Titans' offensive line, with four of the starters down with injury.

That should allow the defensive line to get penetration, which will help prevent the linebackers from being exposed. When the Jets are playing solid run defense, it's usually thanks to a solid interior push.

Muhammad Wilkerson is having an All-Pro-caliber season and it's because of his ability to penetrate the line quickly and disrupt plays in the backfield.

He did it against the New England Patriots on Thanksgiving in one of the few positive plays for the Jets before everything came unraveled.

Stevan Ridley has made defenses pay when he gets to the outside this year and he thought he was going to have success running up the middle on this play, but Wilkerson had different ideas.

Just when it looked like Ridley might wiggle his way to the outside, Wilkerson got a hand on him and made the shoestring tackle.

The penetrating style of play from the defensive line can be the Jets' best friend in masking their lack of speed at linebacker, but it could also be their worst enemy if they're unable to bring the back down and lose containment, which would open the defense up for a big play.

Run defense is a team effort, but a sterling effort from the defensive line can make the linebackers' jobs that much easier. 


Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand or via team press releases.