Here we go again.
Another must-win game, another formidable foe for the Titans.
While Tennessee and the New York Jets don't exactly share a storied rivalry steeped in bitterness, there are a couple of dubiously familiar faces that the Titans will see on the opposing sideline this weekend.
Rex Ryan, the former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator, is now the Jets' head coach. He also brought along linebacker Bart Scott, a seven-year veteran from the Ravens who, incidentally, engaged in a war of words with Tennessee fullback Ahmard Hall this week.
If familiarity breeds contempt, then Sunday's matchup pitting these two teams together could be very well billed as a bona fide grudge match.
But this Sunday's game promises to take the animosity and competitiveness up a notch. Simply put, there is genuine disdain here. Granted, Titans coach Jeff Fisher might not harbor as much enmity with Ryan as he did with, say, Brian Billick or Bill Cowher.
But the decade-long history between the two—Ryan was defensive line coach for the Ravens for years before he became the coordinator—is enough to merit the added intensity sure to be on display at the Meadowlands.
Sure, the coaches will say all the right things to the media.
"It's between the teams on the field."
"We're gonna prepare for this one just like any other week."
But you can bet that both are going to find a way to weave in some historical context to have their respective squads more amped than usual tomorrow.
The good news for Titans fans is that in both losses this season, the offense has looked good against decent competition.
While the Jets and all of their fabled, "exotic blitz" glory look to fare better than merely "decent," Tennessee presumably has the trump card: Chris Johnson.
The speedster has a penchant for making aggressive blitzing teams pay. Run-blitzing teams usually do better against more traditional running backs that aren't quite as shifty and lightning quick. If New York can't wrap him up properly, then rest assured all of the Rex Ryan hype will die down quickly, at least for a while.
As far as passing goes, if Tennessee plays smart and executes, it will be productive. Of course, considering the disappointing arc of this season thus far, that is without a doubt one of the biggest "ifs" ever written.
But perhaps the more intriguing matchup is the one getting less attention. How exactly will rookie phenom Mark Sanchez match up against a talented, hungry, and desperate Titans' defense?
His play thus far has been stellar; suffice it to say he's this year's Joe Flacco/Matt Ryan. But he's due for a rookie reality check. And that's not sophomoric trash talk, either; it happens to all first-year quarterbacks, historically.
"I'm very confident that that was a one-time deal; it won't happen again," linebacker Keith Bulluck told the media after the Houston game. "We were all embarrassed by it on the defensive side of the ball. We got it out of the way."
Now, if the Titans can just get a win out of the way, they'll be on the right track.