The Tennessee Titans and New York Jets meet in Nashville this Sunday in a matchup between two of the more surprising teams in the league. After six-win seasons in 2012, both have jumped out to 2-1 starts in 2013 despite lowly expectations. Strong defense and solid play from young quarterbacks have been a theme for both clubs.
Meet the Titans
The Titans are an overtime loss to the Texans away from being 3-0. Although their wins over the Steelers and Chargers aren't anything to write home about, this team has certainly improved since last year. While they rank 29th in the league in passing offense, third-year quarterback Jake Locker is filling the game-manager role well and has limited turnovers (he has yet to throw an interception). Chris Johnson's per-carry average has increased every week, culminating in a 4.7 average in a 90-yard performance last week against the Chargers.
The defense has been a big factor in the strong start. They're currently ranked seventh in the league in overall defense and have limited opponents to 18.7 points per game. They've been particularly strong against the run, having yet to allow a one-hundred yard rusher on the season.
Meet the Jets
What was expected to be a flaming ball of wreckage in 2013 has, outside of a sloppy loss in New England, turned out to be a surprisingly solid 2-1 football team. That success begins with an increased consistency at the quarterback position thanks to rookie Geno Smith, who has thrown for 587 yards and three touchdowns in the two victories. With running back Chris Ivory injured, Bilal Powell burst onto the scene in Week 3 with 27 carries for 149 yards, while receiver Santonio Holmes turned back the clock with a 154-yard, one-touchdown performance.
The Jets defense ranks third in the NFL. Thanks to improved play from their secondary, the surprisingly mean green is limiting offenses to an average of just over 190 passing yards per game. The unit is led by linebacker David Harris, who paces the team with 21 total tackles and has added a sack, three tackles for a loss and a forced fumble.
Local Takes: Titans
Music City Miracles believes that Locker is better than his numbers suggest:
Stats will never tell the true story of a QB's poise and situational play very accurately. There is no denying that Locker was "on it" when it counted. Three 90+ yard drives in two weeks, primarily led by his arm and legs, is impressive. His instinct of when the run and when to pass has improved immensely. When breaking the pocket (which he is doing a much better job of by the way), Locker has kept his eyes down the field. That is what you want to see out a young guy at the position.
Local Takes: Jets
John B at Gang Green Nation explains that Smith's increased consistency against the Bills last week can be credited to offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg's decision to leave backs and tight ends in for pass protection:
The Bills were a defense coming off a six sack game and like to throw a lot of different looks. You could count on them trying to confuse and attack a rookie quarterback. By leaving the extra blockers in consistently, it made the quarterback's job easy. He had more resources to react to the blitz and didn't have to make decisions as quickly against fronts he had never seen before. With less receivers, his decision-making process also became relatively more simplified.
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This game is a perfect show in how these teams are using their QBs. Smith is being asked to do it all, Manuel is being very limited.— Gang Green Nation (@GangGreenNation) September 22, 2013
Don't look now, but Jake Locker's kind of on fire. He's got 572 passing yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions hidden away in Tennessee's "run the ball, play tough defense" approach. He added a rushing touchdown of his own in last week's win over the Chargers. For the Jets, Geno Smith's six interceptions still don't feel like Mark Sanchez's body of work.
The pick: Titans
The Titans opened as 6½-point favorites over the visiting Jets, though the spread has shrunk to 3½ in several of the major sports books, according to Oddsshark.