The Tennessee Titans (2-1) head to East Rutherford in search of their third straight win as they take on the host New York Jets (0-3) at MetLife Stadium.
The Titans appear to be the only decent team in their division. Tennessee’s two wins are double that of the rest of AFC South combined just three weeks into the season. The Titans’ offense is still working out a few of the kinks under first-year offensive coordinator Todd Downing, but the team is still the front-runner to take the division crown again this season. I would not expect the Jets to stand in their way come Sunday.
The Jets are starting a third straight season with an 0-3 record for the first time in their franchise’s long, mediocre history. Sure, the Jets are in full-on rebuild mode with new head coach Robert Saleh and rookie quarterback Zach Wilson, but they’re also fighting with the Jaguars to see who can take the No. 1 overall pick in next year’s draft. New York's defense shows signs of promise, but the offense is nothing short of a calamity right now. I highly doubt that will change when the Titans show up on Sunday.
Tennessee (2-1) at New York (0-3)
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 3 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Titans -6.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Jets’ run D vs. King Henry
Three weeks into the season and Derrick Henry is already doing Derrick Henry things, like, dominating opposing defense. Henry, the back-to-back NFL rushing champ, is once again leading the league in attempts (80), yards (353), first downs (18), and rushing touchdowns (3, tied with five others). Last week against the Colts, he posted his second 100-yard game in a row and the 22nd of his career. Henry doesn’t appear to be relenting his crown as the game’s best back anytime soon.
This week, Henry and Titans’ offensive line will actually face a formidable opponent in the Jets’ defensive front seven, the only bright(ish) spot for Gang Green right now. Despite opposing offenses calling the 10th-most run plays against them, the Jets have been stout at stopping the ground game, giving up only 3.8 yards per carry. Last week, the Broncos ran the ball 37 times against New York with Melvin Gordon III and Javontae Williams, but the Jets’ D stayed strong (despite losing 26-0), surrendering a resilient 3.3 yards per attempt.
Honestly, the Jets' defense has been playing well enough to keep their team competitive this season. But how long can this unit hold up under such pressure with such a poorly operating offense? The Jets’ margin for error is Brooklyn-style pizza-thin – especially with King Henry coming to town.
2. Give the kid a break
If you’ve watched a single snap of the Jets' offense this season, you probably came away thinking the same thing I did: Zach Wilson looks lost. He hangs on to the ball too long, his pocket presence would be best described as timid, he’s too aggressive with throws, he hesitates with throws, he stares down his receivers, and he’s just flat-out inaccurate.
The rookie quarterback from BYU is leading the league’s worst offense, a unit that has scored just 20 total points in three games, averaging out to 6.7 points per (last in NFL), and 4.1 yards per play (30th). They’re dead last in trips to the red zone (3), touchdowns once they get there (1), and scoring percentage (11.4). Last week against Denver, New York's offense was exceptionally awful. The unit posted just 161 yards, 43 of those rushing, and didn't get inside the Broncos' 20-yard line once. No surprise the J-E-T-S left a giant Z-E-R-O on the scoreboard. It's hard to win games if you don't score any points, so I'm told.
But much like Sam Darnold before him, Wilson’s woes aren’t exactly all his fault. The majority of the Jets’ offensive failings start with their offensive line. This group is allowing the most sacks (15), quarterback hits (43), and the most pressure (38.5 percent) on Wilson’s throws. And those numbers would surely be higher if not for Wilson’s athleticism and ability to escape the constant flood of oncoming defenders. Many of Wilson’s poor throws and interceptions have come after being flushed out of the pocket and running for his life after his line collapses.
What also isn’t helping Wilson’s development is his receivers, or lack thereof. Yes, Wilson is still inaccurate. His completion percentage is a measly 55 percent (31st) and his 51.6 passer rating is the worst in the league. But his throws are on-target 73.5 percent of the time, which still isn’t great, but it’s a healthy leap from his "real" rate. And his adjusted completion rate — which takes into consideration drops, spikes, and throwaways — is 70percent. Again, not great, but much better than 55 percent.
The problem is, his receivers aren’t getting open. For example, Corey Davis, the Jets’ $37.5 million free-agent signee and alleged top target, is given almost six and a half yards of cushion from opposing defensive backs on average, yet, he’s getting less than two yards of separation during routes. And when receivers do get open, they aren’t always catching the ball. New York receivers have dropped a league-high 13 passes according to PlayerProfiler.com.
So, yes, a lot of the offensive struggles are the responsibility of the young Wilson, but throw the kid a bone, would ya? Or else it might be Darnold all over again.
3. So, about those Titans wide receivers…
Where are they exactly? Coming into this season, with the acquisition of Julio Jones, the Titans were in position to feature of the NFL’s most dynamic passing attacks in the league to complement Henry and the run game. But so far, it’s been Henry leading the way in the passing game, too, as he is tied for the team lead with 12 receptions. Tennessee ranks 21st in passing yards, 25th in points expected from the passing game, and has been held under 200 yards through the air in two of their first three outings this season.
So, what gives? For starters, Jones and A.J. Brown are not getting open. They rank 95th and 87th in the league in target separation. Second, neither of them may be fully healthy. Brown only made it eight snaps into last week’s game against the Colts before he was sidelined with a hamstring injury and is now listed as week-to-week. Jones also has been ruled out for Sunday with a hamstring injury of his own. That leaves Colts cast-off Chester Rogers and Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, a 2020 undrafted free agent who caught his first NFL touchdown pass last week, as Ryan Tannehill’s primary wideouts against the Jets.
Expect to see a heavy, heavy load for Henry as both a runner and receiver in MetLife Stadium on Sunday.
The Jets simply do not have the horses on offense to compete with the Titans. It’s that simple. Even if the Jets do find a way to slow Henry down, a short-handed and off-beat Tennessee offense should still be able to hold serve. It just might not be that pretty.
Prediction: Titans 23, Jets 15
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.