It’s obvious how the New York Jets must plan for the Tennessee Titans offense
The New York Jets‘ defense has been solid this season, entering Week 4 ranked 14th in scoring defense (23.3 points per game) despite receiving the worst average starting field position in the NFL (opponent’s 38.4-yard line).
With that being said, if the Tennessee Titans stormed into MetLife Stadium with a healthy pairing of A.J. Brown and Julio Jones, it would be hard to envision a feasible way that the Jets’ young and banged-up defense would be able to keep Ryan Tannehill’s attack in check.
Now that Brown and Jones are both set to sit this one out, we are in for a whole different football game.
Tennessee’s wide receiver depth chart will be spearheaded by Chester Rogers, Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, and Cameron Batson. All three players have a career yards-per-target average below the 2020 positional average of 8.2.
That trio is an astronomically easier matchup for New York’s inexperienced but rapidly improving cornerback unit of Bryce Hall, Michael Carter II, Brandin Echols, and Javelin Guidry, which has been among the NFL’s best this season.
The injuries at wideout leave the Titans’ offense looking extremely one-dimensional on paper. Derrick Henry is their lone strength.
Henry is up to his usual antics. He has carried the ball 80 times through three games and leads the NFL in rushing yards (353) and rushing touchdowns (3). With 12 receptions for 105 yards added to his name, Henry leads the league in touches (92) and yards from scrimmage (458).
For the Jets, the plan is clear as day: load the box until it overflows with humanity and make the Titans’ backup receivers win one-on-one against your thriving cornerbacks.
If the Jets play Henry straight-up and do not overload the box to an abnormal level, he will shred them. New York’s defense is a perfect matchup for Henry.
One of the Jets’ key linebackers is Jamien Sherwood, a 215-pound rookie who is in the midst of converting from safety. The same description applies to Hamsah Nasirildeen (although he did not play any defensive snaps last week) Quincy Williams also plays a featured role, and he is a missed tackle machine.
Additionally, the Jets coach their defensive linemen to play with an aggressive, one-gapping mentality that boosts the pass-rush but creates extra room in the running game, leaving the defense vulnerable against downhill runners like Henry. We have seen the Jets get gashed this season by delayed-handoff runs that exploit the defensive line’s approach.
Henry has 285 rushing yards after contact this season, according to Pro Football Focus. Joe Mixon is the only other running back in the league who has that many total rushing yards.
Only five other running backs in the league even have half as many yards after contact as Henry. Mixon’s second-ranked total of 208 yards after contact (through three games) sits 77 yards behind Henry, similar to the distance between Mixon and ninth-ranked Mark Ingram (133).
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So, yeah, letting Henry steam straight through the line of scrimmage against an attacking front is not a good idea. Henry will take on Sherwood, Williams, and the Jets’ defensive backs with a full head of steam on a regular basis, and the results will be ugly.
Henry went up against Seattle’s 4-3 defense in Week 2 and steamrolled them for 182 yards and three touchdowns on 35 carries. The Titans dropped 532 yards and 33 points on the Seahawks in their own building.
The only conceivable way for the Jets to stop Henry is to do it schematically. Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich must throw 8-man boxes at the Titans and force them to choose: either try to run on us with the entire state of New Jersey around the line of scrimmage or try to beat our solid cornerbacks through the air with your weakened wide receiver unit.
While the Titans’ banged-up wide receiver room is not dangerous on paper, the Jets’ young cornerbacks would still be faced with their stiffest challenge yet if the Jets do what they should and consistently load the box against Henry.
With defenders that would typically be helping out in coverage dropping down to play the run, the corners would be asked to win reps with less help than ever before. There would be a lot of one-on-one battles in space. Regardless of who you’re facing, winning on an island as an NFL corner in today’s offense-friendly league is difficult.
This is the Jets’ only sensible choice, though. If they hang back, Henry will most likely plow them. Then, they will over-adjust and leave themselves vulnerable to Tennessee’s excellent play-action deep attack.
Asking the young cornerbacks to get the job done with minimal help is a risky price to pay in exchange for minimizing Henry’s chances of success, but it sure beats the alternative.
It’s time to see what these intriguing cornerbacks are really made of. Scheme to stop Henry and see if your cornerbacks can win you the game.