JETS // TITANS OVERVIEW
The Jekyll and Hyde Titans return home off an embarrassing Monday night loss to their division rivals in Houston to take on a 3-8 Jets team that has lost five consecutive games and is playing out the string for a dead-in-the-water head coach. Unsurprisingly, this game does not pop off the page — with the Jets doing little on offense all year and the Titans typically showing up on defense against poor teams, and with the Titans’ offense offering little all year (ranking 29th in yards per carry and picking up the third fewest passing yards per game). The Titans rank 31st in pace of play and 29th in pass play rate, which will allow them to shorten this game against a Jets team that is unlikely to jump out to a big, early lead, and that ranks middle of the pack in yards allowed per carry. The Jets’ offense suffers three-and-outs at the second highest rate in the league, while the Titans rank 25th in this category when they have the ball. This is a game that should feature a decent number of punts and defensive stops, with guys who see volume and/or guys who generate big plays the only viable places to look. With neither team likely to pull away from the other in any significant way, this could turn into a slow-moving affair — as backed up by the early-week game total from Vegas of 41.0, with the Titans installed as 9.5 point favorites.
JETS PASS OFFENSE
Tennessee has been tremendous on defense after the catch, allowing the fourth lowest YAC/R rate in the league — but otherwise, they have been merely average, ranking middle of the pack in both aDOT and catch rate allowed. This has led to them ranking 12th in yards allowed per pass attempt. The Titans have allowed only 16 passing touchdowns to quarterbacks (just two more than league leader Minnesota) — but it is worth noting that they are the only team in the NFL to allow zero receiving touchdowns to running backs, and they are the only team in the NFL to allow zero touchdowns to tight ends…while they have given up 16 touchdowns to wide receivers — the fifth most in the league. Only six teams have allowed more receptions to wide receivers. Of course, all of this would matter more if the Titans were facing a better passing attack, with better wide receivers.
Right now, it appears that the Jets will hold out Sam Darnold for another week — which may not be a bad idea as this team aims to protect the confidence of the youngest quarterback in the league. McCown’s gunslinger mentality is likelier to produce quality wide receiver stat lines; floor and ceiling will be dented in this already-weak offense if Darnold is under center.
In McCown’s two starts, he has piled up 79 pass attempts, with targets among primary pass catchers shaking out as follows:
Kearse has caught only eight of his 17 targets from McCown, for 82 yards and a touchdown. He’ll primarily battle Logan Ryan in the slot — a matchup that is winnable in general, but not necessarily for Kearse.
Enunwa has hauled in eight of his 12 targets for 91 yards. He’ll see a decent amount of Malcolm Butler and Adoree Jackson — each of whom can be hammered for touchdowns and big plays, creating some price-considered optimism in this spot for the Jets’ most consistent receiver.
Anderson has five or more targets in seven of his last eight games. While he has topped 44 yards only one time all season, he is the only guy on this squad with the ability to score from anywhere on the field — keeping him in the tourney conversation.
Herndon will have a tougher time piling up yardage in this spot, and he’ll be looking to become the first tight end in the league to score a touchdown vs the Titans.
JETS RUN OFFENSE
The Titans have been perfectly average on the ground in yards allowed per carry — though their numbers in this area looked a whole lot better before Lamar Miller went 97 yards on a single carry against them in Week 12, as they came into that game shaving over 10% off the league-average yards allowed per carry. Consider this a tougher-than-average matchup, against a team that has allowed the second fewest running back touchdowns in the league.
The Jets’ backfield continues to split touches between Isaiah Crowell and Elijah McGuire, with Crow seeing touch counts of 14 // 9 // 9 since McGuire returned, and with McGuire going 10 // 9 // 7. Either player will need a broken play or a multi-touchdown game in order to achieve relevance. McGuire has not topped 30 yards on the ground since returning. Crowell has topped 49 yards only two times all season.
TITANS PASS OFFENSE
The Jets have been slightly above-average against the pass this year, ranking 11th in yards allowed per pass attempt while knocking almost 4% off the league-average catch rate and largely preventing coverage breakdowns. As explored repeatedly this season: the best way to beat this team is with crossing routes out of the slot (particularly downfield crossing routes out of the slot). The only wide receiver on this team who has carried actual upside has been Corey Davis, who plays 32% of his snaps from the slot. Matchup has hardly mattered for Davis, as he posted a strong game last week on only four targets against the stout Texans defense, and he is the only receiver this year who has gotten the better of Stephon Gilmore. Of greater concern for Davis is his attachment to a passing offense that ranks dead last in the NFL in pass attempts and 30th in passing yards. Marcus Mariota’s recent pass attempt numbers in games he has started and finished look like this:
26 // 15 // 32 // 29 // 24 // 23
With such low volume on this team, Davis’ number four ranking in the NFL in percentage share of team air yards obviously needs to be taken with a grain of salt (there are not many air yards in this offense, so soaking up 41.7% of those air yards is still leaving him a bit thin on bankable volume) — but we do know that Davis will be the first guy involved on this team through the air.
Behind Davis, Tajae Sharpe has topped 37 yards only once, while the speed duo of Taywan Taylor and Cameron Batson has only one game between them of more than 36 yards. If Taylor returns this week, he’ll see the two or three targets that this role yields, while Batson will return to the bench.
Production has spiked in recent weeks on Jonnu Smith — with three touchdowns in his last four games, and with a solid 6-44-0 line in the week without a touchdown — though a closer look reveals a lot of smoke and mirrors, with only one game all season north of three targets. Jonnu will do battle this week with Jamaal Adams, who has keyed one of the best tight end coverage units in the NFL. No team in the league has allowed fewer receptions to the position.
TITANS RUN OFFENSE
The Jets have essentially defined the league average in yards allowed per carry — ranking 15th in the league — but with this team struggling to maintain drives when they have the ball and regularly playing from behind, they have faced the fifth most opponent plays per game and the seventh highest opponent rush play rate, leading to this team facing the fourth most rush attempts in the NFL. This is good news for a Titans team that ranks fourth in the league in rush play rate. The Jets have allowed the eighth most rushing yards to running backs and the sixth most rushing touchdowns to the position.
Good news thins out a bit from there, as this team continues to struggle for production on the ground — ranking 29th in adjusted line yards and 29th in yards per carry. Derrick Henry has recent carry counts of 12 // 6 // 11 // 9 // 8, with only six catches across these five games — making him almost entirely touchdown-dependent. Dion Lewis has touch counts in this stretch of 19 // 23 // 22 // 11 // 14, with 20 of these touches (4.0 per game) coming through the air. The best bet for production here is to hope for a multi-score game from Henry, or to hope that Lewis breaks one of his receptions for a big play. The Jets have been boom/bust as a run defense, ranking third in Football Outsiders’ power rank, but allowing the most run plays of 20+ yards on the year.
There is nothing on the Jets that stands out to me this week, as this has been one of the five worst offenses in the NFL, and the Titans have been one of the best defenses in the league in spite of a couple games in which they have completely fallen apart. If Sam Darnold is under center, I’ll stay away from this unit entirely. If it’s McCown, I’ll give consideration to Enunwa and Anderson as salary-savers — with Enunwa the floor play, and Anderson the ceiling play — though neither is likely to end up anywhere close to my Main Build.
Corey Davis is intriguing from an upside perspective — though with the Titans likely to control this game against a team that already faces a high rush play rate, volume on this passing attack is almost certain to be a concern, making Davis more boom/bust than high-floor/high-ceiling. Behind Davis, this is one of the least attractive passing attacks in the league. I’ll be happy leaving it alone.
It won’t be surprising if one of Henry or Lewis posts a solid game here (with Lewis the likelier bet), but neither guy carries a high floor, and neither guy is particularly likely to hit. Volume should be on the side of this rushing attack, but the good news essentially ends there, as this volume will still be spread between two guys, and this run offense as a whole has been a dud this year.