Published September 27, 2013
| Sports Network
Rex Ryan football coach, meet Rex Ryan gym teacher.
Struggling to find a way to discipline his team out of a proclivity for penalties -- his New York Jets have averaged a league-high 11 flags per game and committed a franchise-record 20 last week -- the fifth-year boss has gone old school to shame his players into a new efficiency.
The Jets were the first team to win a game, against Buffalo at home, with as many as 20 penalties since the Cleveland Browns did so against Chicago 62 years ago.
New York will visit fellow 2-1 Tennessee on Sunday at LP Field, and Ryan isn't expecting a repeat.
He's run practices this week with a new mandate. After every penalty in practice, the entire team -- and Ryan -- does 10 pushups. The entire team, that is, except for the player who committed the penalty.
It's a measure the coach says will increase accountability. And, if not, it'll help upper-body strength.
"I want him to notice who he's affecting," he said. "He's affecting all of us. That's where it's like, 'Oh, OK.' After you've done a few of those, you're like, 'Really? You got a penalty again?' And they'll get on each other."
Though the Titans and coach Mike Munchak haven't re-done the way they practice, the penalty bug is something they're dealing with as well. Tennessee was whistled 10 times in the first 30 minutes of a three-point win against San Diego last week and are the third-most penalized team in the NFL through three games.
Nonetheless, they picked up win No. 2 against the Chargers when QB Jake Locker hit Justin Hunter with a 34-year TD pass with 15 seconds to play.
"We're going to harp on them," Munchak said. "We're going to talk about them. We're going to learn from them. We're going to learn how to be smarter."
If not for the incessant flags, the Jets' seven-point defeat of Buffalo might have looked better.
New York racked up 513 total yards on offense -- its most in 13 years -- and sacked Bills quarterback EJ Manuel eight times, the defense's best number in 25 years.
Running back Bilal Powell was a career-best force, registering personal highs with both 27 carries and 149 yards after taking the full-time running load from Chris Ivory, who exited early in the game with a hamstring injury.
Ivory will not play this week in Nashville.
Powell's 226 yards through three games are second only to Tennessee's Chris Johnson in the AFC.
Johnson had a 94-yard TD run against the Jets in a December game last season, part of a 122-yard performance in a 14-10 Titans win in Week 15. That scoring dash was the longest in the league in 2012.
The game was also marked by turnovers. The Jets committed five, a trend that's continued this year with eight through three games. Tennessee, meanwhile, is one of just two teams with zero. The longest recent streak to begin a season was the 1995 St. Louis Rams, who did not have one until Week 5.
New York rookie QB Geno Smith threw two INTs last week against the Bills and has six on the season, along with one fumble. Still, he threw for 331 yards -- a Jets rookie record -- and two TDs against Buffalo and was not sacked for the first time in three games.
Improvement, while incremental, is clearly evident.
"His communication and level of expertise is just getting better," said right guard Willie Colon, who arrived from Pittsburgh in the offseason. "It's important for us to get him in a rhythm, keep his confidence high. The sky's the limit."
Along with its renewed pass rush, the Jets are seventh-best in the league against the pass through three weeks, holding foes to 190.3 air yards per game. That said, Tennessee has faced Houston and Pittsburgh already this season, the league's second- and third-best teams at defending the pass.
Wide receiver Kenny Britt is scheduled to play after sustaining what he claimed was a cracked rib against the Chargers. He's made just five receptions through three games for 43 yards, good for just fourth-best on the team behind Nate Washington, Kendall Wright and Delanie Walker.
"He's like anybody else," Munchak said. "We need him to continue to play better just like as an offense we have to play better."
Behind Johnson, ex-Jet Shonn Greene will not play after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery last week. Greene has just four carries for 18 yards this season after a four-year run with New York in which he twice exceeded 1,000 yards and scored 18 touchdowns.
"I know this one meant a lot to him," Munchak said.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Locker is another in a crop of mobile quarterbacks, and it's a quality he may need if the Jets continue their pass-rushing ways -- following a week in which they sacked another mobile passer, Buffalo's Manuel, eight times. Locker, though, is viewed as a better playmaker when he's forced to move, so it'll be interesting to see what pressure from New York results in.
Smith showed a prowess for throwing the ball down the field in the Week 3 defeat of the Bills, and he may have favorable matchups toward doing that again. While the Titans are strong on the corners, they're seen as vulnerable in the middle of the field, which could yield big things for tight end Kellen Winslow or for Powell out of the backfield in coordinator Marty Mornhinweg's West Coast scheme.
The big question heading into a matchup of two surprising 2-1 teams is which one's success is closer to reality and which is more likely a mirage. Were it not for a silly penalty on the final possession, the Jets would have lost to Tampa Bay, but had it not been for three fourth-quarter INTs from Smith, they may have beaten the Patriots.
Meanwhile, the Titans won a seven-pointer over winless Pittsburgh, lost an OT game to Houston and rallied to beat San Diego. Out of those six games, New York's smothering defeat of Buffalo was probably the most impressive, so that's enough to break the tie here ... barely.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Jets 18, Titans 17.