Fast-forward to 2013, and the scenario is much different. Sitting at an unlikely 2-1 record, the Jets have a chance to really start to be taken seriously with a win over the Tennessee Titans this coming Sunday.
As bad as the Titans were last year, they too have been a much more competent team than anyone could have expected, manufacturing a 2-1 record. After a thrilling come-from-behind win over the San Diego Chargers last week, it is clear that Jake Locker is a much-improved player who will be a much greater challenge to defend than a year ago.
The Titans will hardly be the pushover many expected them to be on defense as well. Their seventh-ranked defense is a huge reason why they find themselves with a winning record.
Let's break down how the Jets should approach this week's game plan to get themselves to 3-1.
Contain Jake Locker
The most difficult aspect of Locker's game to slow down is his mobility. While he is far from being a polished player, Locker has always frustrated defenses with his willingness to take off on his own and make plays with his feet. He had 41 rushing attempts in 11 games last season, amassing 291 yards (a 7.1 average).
There are two different schools of thought that can be used against a dual-threat quarterback like Locker. The most common approach is to keep the quarterback contained with controlled rushes (and perhaps even a linebacker in a spy). The other is to blitz them so they get rid of the ball before he even has a chance to take off with his feet.
As much as it may go against Rex Ryan's aggressive philosophy on defense, playing a bit more coverage than normal is the best route to take against Locker, especially when looking at the strength of the Jets' defensive personnel.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Locker is actually a much better quarterback under pressure than when he is forced to sit in the pocket and deliver an accurate throw into coverage.
|Less than 2.5 secs to throw||2.5 secs or more to throw|
When you consider Locker's strengths and weaknesses from his days at the University of Washington, these statistics come as no surprise. Despite his strong arm and tremendous arm strength, Locker was consistently terrible when asked to drop back and throw from the pocket.
However, Locker has always been a much better player when on the move—his accuracy skyrockets when he throws on the run—giving the Jets even more of a reason to keep Locker in the pocket and force him to beat the Jets secondary with accurate throws into tight windows.
It's footwork/mechanics in pocket. So good on rollouts RT @FFB_Commish: Expectations of Locker have been overblown. Accuracy issues continue— Chris Wesseling (@ChrisWesseling) June 3, 2013
Also playing into the Jets' hands is that they have a favorable matchup on the interior of the line. The Jets produced eight sacks last week against the Buffalo Bills, with three of them coming from their two stud interior rushers, Muhammad Wilkerson (2) and Sheldon Richardson (1).
By utilizing four-man fronts that put Wilkerson and Richardson inside, they will be able to feast on the underwhelming trio of Andy Levitre (who has yielded seven quarterback hurries), rookie Chance Warmack (with two sacks and eight hurries to his name) and former Jets backup Robert Turner, the 32nd-ranked center in Pro Football Focus' rankings.
The Jets are built perfectly to get interior pressure on locker that, unlike edge pressure, does not allow room for Locker to step up and escape. Using a coverage-based scheme will still apply pressure on Locker that forces him to throw from the pocket, all without having to use extra rushers to blitz that would expose them to a long quarterback run.
Stack the Box
It would seem logical that Chris Johnson's speed would pose a bigger threat to a defense than Jake Locker's arm—but the San Diego Chargers apparently thought otherwise.
On this play, the Chargers come to the line of scrimmage with a light, seven-man box (although the safety on the left side is far enough away to almost be considered out of the box). Delanie Walker, lined up as a fullback in a split-I formation, will come across the line of scrimmage to even up the numbers on play side.
The Titans are able to get three terrific blocks on the play side to seal a huge hole for Johnson to run through.
For most running backs, this would be a good enough lane to get a good eight to 10 yards, but Johnson's speed and elusiveness generate even more.
He is able to easily shake Eric Weddle (an All-Pro safety) in the open field and add another chunk of yards to earn a 23-yard gain.
Johnson may not be the same dominant runner he was in 2009, but he is terrific at turning well-blocked runs that would result in sold gains into game-changing plays.
The answer for the Jets to combat this threat is simple—load the box with eight players and force Jake Locker to beat the Jets through the air. If Locker starts taking advantage of depleted secondaries, then the Jets will have to start making some gambles in the run game, but Locker needs to prove that he can deliver against Ryan's defense first.
Attack the Weak Links
The two starting outside cornerbacks for the Titans, Alterraun Verner and Jason McCourty, have been a pleasant surprise this season ranking in the top 10 of Pro Football Focus's rankings.
However, the middle of the Titans defense remains wide open for business.
Coty Sensabaugh has struggled mightily in the slot through three games, allowing a 121.0 quarterback rating when thrown his way. Jeremy Kerley should be able to abuse the 97th-ranked cornerback and give Geno Smith an easy target over the middle.
Meanwhile, Kellen Winslow has become mighty quiet since his seven-catch debut in Week 1, but he will have a great opportunity to bounce back into form this week if Marty Mornhinweg is able to get him in a favorable matchup situation against strong safety Bernard Pollard.
Pollard is the sixth-worst safety in coverage, according to Pro Football Focus. If Winslow cannot find a way to get open against Pollard, he won't be open again all season.
The encouraging news for Jets fans is that Mornhinweg has show the ability to identify and attack weak, unproven links of a defense. Last week, the Jets abused Justin Rogers for both of their long touchdowns to Santonio Holmes and Stephen Hill. Rogers is better suited in a backup role, but he has been forced into a starting job after Stephon Gilmore went down.
Both of these teams are somewhat similar in that they are surprising young teams with ascending quarterbacks that should make for a close game.
As with every Jets game, there will be an unknown element looming over their quarterback every week. Despite some hiccups, Smith has had a successful start to his NFL career, but all bets are off when it comes to a rookie quarterback. At any time, inexperience at the most vital position could ruin even the best game plan.
However, there are a lot of individual matchups that heavily play into the Jets' hands, and they will have to take advantage of these matchups in order to get their third win of the season.
Advanced statistics provided by ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required).