Rex Ryan remains rooted in running the football, and last week's win in Jacksonville -- spurred by 39 rushes to Mark Sanchez's measly 19 passes -- was the latest proof of his affinity for ground and pound.
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On Saturday, however, Ryan said, "[If] we have to throw it 40 times, so be it." But with so few healthy receivers, don't expect this to be the week the Jets (6-7) air it out.
In a playoff-elimination game for the Jets tonight at Tennessee, Sanchez will be without his favorite target, tight end Dustin Keller (ankle), and rookie wideout Stephen Hill (knee sprain). Both players, along with linebacker Bryan Thomas (chest) and cornerback Aaron Berry (hamstring), did not travel yesterday with the team.
That leaves only slot receiver Jeremy Kerley, backup tight end Jeff Cumberland and little-used Chaz Schilens to fill the void. Though Ryan is optimistic that recently signed receiver Braylon Edwards will be able to play, he has been limited by a hamstring injury.
Fortunately for the Jets, change-of-pace running back Bilal Powell (shoulder/toe) is expected to play alongside Shonn Greene.
The Titans (4-9), already eliminated from playoff contention, rank 26th in pass defense and 23rd against the run. But the Jets narrowly defeated Arizona and Jacksonville, two of the NFL's worst teams, the past two weeks. Now, in front of a national TV audience, the Jets will have to beat a more talented Titans team.
The Jets must have a win-or-go-home mentality to stay in the playoff hunt. The Colts (9-5), Bengals (8-6) and Steelers (7-7) are ahead of them for the two AFC wild-card spots.
Several Jets spoke about wanting to erase the memory of their last prime-time outing, the Thanksgiving night debacle against the Patriots.
Had Greene and Powell not totaled 155 rushing yards and two TDs, the Jets might not have beaten the Jaguars.
The Jets' formula for success under Ryan is a dominant defense, a strong running attack and Sanchez managing the game. It worked in 2009 and 2010 when the Jets reached back-to-back AFC title games. But while they have limited Sanchez's passing opportunities, the trend in the NFL has shifted toward airing it out.
"I'm not worried about other teams, really," Sanchez said. "I'm just concerned with what we're doing and when we get a chance to throw it, it's my job to be accurate. We have to get a high number of rushing attempts and a high number of completions and take care of the football and we'll be fine."
Sanchez's completion percentage, however, is 55.4, and in the past two games, he threw for only 208 yards.
"If you can pick your poison,'' Ryan said, "I think you'd prefer to run because that controls the clock and the game more than if you have to throw it every snap. [But] that doesn't mean we can't throw it."