The 2-1 Tennessee Titans are riding a two-game winning streak as they head to New York to take on the winless Jets. Tennessee is a heavy favorite in this one despite having some injury concerns at the moment. Regardless, they are the superior and more experienced team in every aspect and anything other than a victory would be a massive disappointment.
With that said, let’s get into what are the five biggest storylines surrounding the Titans heading into the Week 4 matchup with the Jets.
Can Titans avoid playing down to the opponent and take advantage of struggling rookie quarterback?
Any Titans fan can tell you that Tennessee has a history of playing down to their opponents. Last week I insisted that if the 2021 Titans wanted to start proving to this fanbase that they’re different, they could start by beating the Colts at home. They did that last week, and now they have the opportunity to put another one of their demons to rest over these next two weeks. The Titans’ next two opponents are a combined 0-6. Starting this Sunday with the Jets, Tennessee can not allow this to be the week that New York gets on track.
The Jets haven’t scored a touchdown since Week 1 and have been outscored 51-6 over their last two games. Meanwhile, Rookie quarterback Zach Wilson has struggled mightily to start his young career.
Last week, the 22-year-old quarterback was held to just 160 yards passing on 19 completions with two interceptions. Wilson also currently leads the NFL in interceptions with seven, and he’s only completing 55.2% of his passes.
Wilson is clearly still adapting to the cognizant part of the game, his decision-making is extremely inconsistent which often leads to him holding the ball much longer than you would like.
Per NFL Next Gen Stats, the BYU product averages approximately 3.02 seconds between the snap and throw. That is slower than all but three starting quarterbacks at the moment (T. Bridgewater, J. Winston, L. Jackson).
The Titans must take advantage of a rookie quarterback who is still getting accustomed to the speed of the NFL game. Defensive coordinator Shane Bowen should have a field day when disguising blitzes and coverages all game long to set up the inevitable rookie mistakes. If the Titans accomplish this goal, they should comfortably avoid the letdown game regardless of who is missing on the offensive side of the ball.
Who starts at receiver for the Titans?
The Titans got some rather unfortunate news on Wednesday morning. NFL Networks Ian Rapoport officially gave Titans fans some clarity on why Julio Jones was on the sideline for the majority of the fourth quarter.
Jones is suffering from an apparent “leg injury” and is likely questionable this week, while Brown will most likely miss “a week or two”.
Obviously, you would like to have your superstar receiver out there on Sunday, and if Jones is healthy, he should play. However, if Tennessee’s medical staff gets even the tiniest concern that he could create a nagging injury for the rest of the season, they should trust that their team is good enough to beat an opponent who has lost by a combined score of 51-6 over their last eight quarters.
If Jones and Brown are both out on Sunday, look for Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, Josh Reynolds Chester Rogers, Cam Batson, and possibly Marcus Johnson to try and fill the void left by the two receivers.
With that said, if Tennessee’s top two receivers are in fact outcome Sunday, look for Derrick Henry to have a monster outing at MetLife Stadium.
Can Kristian Fulton continue a high level of play to help prevent the Corey Davis revenge game?
It’s no secret that Tennessee willingly allowed wide receiver Corey Davis to walk in free agency. The Titans ultimately replaced Davis with Jones therefore both parties ended up happy and got what they wanted in the end. With that said, I think we all know that Davis would love to stick it to his old team.
Fortunately for the Titans, like many of the Jets players, Davis has severely struggled over these last two weeks. Davis has only produced 49 yards on seven catches and his several unfortunate drops have led to him being virally called “Walmart D.K. Metcalf”.
Unfortunately for Davis, if he is going to get back on track against his old team, he’s going to have to do it against one of the best young cornerbacks in the league.
That statement is more fact than opinion after his first three weeks. Kristian Fulton is one of 24 cornerbacks who have been targeted at least 18 times yet, according to PFF, Fulton is the cornerback with the lowest percentage of receptions allowed when targeted (27.8%).
Thus far this season, the LSU product has only allowed five catches on 18 targets for 88 yards (27.8%).
If Davis is going to have the revenge game he is likely envisioning, he’s going to have to bring his A-game because the “Fulton County Jail” is looking for new inmates to lockdown.
Can the Titans’ offensive line keep Ryan Tannehill clean against the Jets?
Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill has played fantastically to start the 2021 season despite having a turnstile for an offensive line. Tannehill has been sacked 10 times on the season, five of which came from the same player in a disaster of a season opener.
Since then, the Titans have settled down and protected the quarterback much better, but they have allowed at least one sack in each game.
The really worrisome thing, it seems like the offensive line has at least one mental lapse a game which often leads to a free kill shot on the quarterback.
If Tannehill is going to survive the season, Tennessee must eliminate these B-lines towards the quarterback. The Titans’ offensive line must take advantage of a Jets defensive front that has only produced six sacks on the year in order to start building some momentum for the long haul.
Be on the lookout to see if this o-line unit is able to pitch their first shut out as far as sacks go come this Sunday.
Will the pass rush continue to flourish against a struggling Jets offensive line?
New York knew their offensive line was young and going to have some growing pains, but that only got amplified when they lost their anchor, Mekhi Becton, to a severe knee injury.
Without Becton protecting the blindside, George Fant has stepped in and done a nice job. According to PFF, Fant is currently their highest-graded offensive player through three weeks with a 69.2.
Unfortunately, that praise and recognition from PFF have produced minimal results on the field for New York. Wilson has already been sacked a league-leading 15 times, including another five last Sunday against the Broncos. Starting guard Greg Van Roten alone has allowed 15 pressures and two sacks in just three games. He is currently the 57th best guard according to PFF.
Van Roten might be the biggest individual liability on that offensive line at the moment, but that entire unit is a mess as a whole.
In 2021, Zach Wilson is being sacked at a rate of 12.5% of his dropbacks. For a natural comparison, Sam Darnold was sacked at a rate of 7.93% last season.
The combination of a putrid offensive line, suspect scheme, and hesitant rookie quarterback, often leads to a long year. Tennessee’s defense must do their part to help the Jets continue on that downward trend for 2021.
Fortunately for the Titans, their defense has noticeably improved since last season. Third-down defense in particular is where the team has made their biggest improvement. Last week alone, Tennessee held the Colts to 3-12 on third downs.
That puts them at 14-37 for the year (37%), which is currently 15 points lower than last year’s historically bad 52% third-down conversion rate.
The Titans’ pass rush is starting to heat up as well, led by Harold Landry. The Boston College product produced 12 quarterback pressures (career-high) on 32 pass rushes (37.5 pressure rate). Landry also produced a half-sack in the game and has 1.5 on the season. He is also the first player in the NFL with 10+ QB pressures in a game this season, per Next Gen Stats.
Tennessee has also gotten sack production out of Ola Adeniyi, Jeffery Simmons, & Denico Autry. The Titans are doing a much better job at impacting the quarterback, now they just need to start finishing more of those pressures into sacks. This week, they have the chance to start setting the tone for the rest of the season against statistically the worst pass protecting team in the league at the moment.
Tennessee should be able to get home on Zach Wilson in order to help contribute to his early rookie woes. Be on the lookout for how many times Tennessee’s pass rush influences Zach Wilson into a mistake.