No one can say it was a surprise.
New York Jets coach Robert Saleh talked last week about how aggressive he likes to get with his defense on third down, and Tennessee Titans coach Mike Vrabel expressed concern about how physical and disruptive the Jets’ defensive front could be.
Therefore, anyone could have – and maybe should have – seen coming what happened Sunday. The Jets sacked Tennessee quarterback Ryan Tannehill seven times in the Titans’ 27-24 overtime loss at MetLife Stadium. Five of the sacks came on third down, when New York routinely sent extra rushers. Two of those on third down forced the Titans to kick a field goal on the next snap, and one forced the offense out of field goal range.
“On third down, we play a much more aggressive style,” Saleh said Wednesday. “You see us on first and second down, and we kind of let the game come to us. And then on third down we get a little more aggressive with our coverages and the way we attack protection.”
The seven sacks are the most Tannehill has endured since he became Tennessee’s starting quarterback in Week 7 of the 2019 season, and the fifth time in his career he has gone down that often. The Jets got to him at least once in every quarter, including overtime.
As a result, Tannehill overtook Jets quarterback Zach Wilson for having been sacked the most of any quarterback thus far in 2021. Tannehill has gone down 17 times, 13 of them in Tennessee’s two defeats. Wilson, who the Titans got to just once, has been sacked 16 times.
“You never anticipate that,” Tannehill said following the contest. “Obviously, we had a ton of respect coming in for this front. The way they played on tape showed up. The way they pushed pocket and got after the passer.
“We knew it was going to be a physical, tough game up front. But you never go into a game thinking you’re going to take a bunch of hits like that.”
A rundown of the Jets’ sacks of Ryan Tannehill on Sunday:
• First-and-10 at the Jets’ 46: Loss of 6 yards
• Third-and-8 at the Jets’ 17: Loss of 9 yards
• Third-and-6 at the Jets’ 10: Loss of 8 yards
• Third-and-3 at the Titans’ 45: Loss of 8 yards
• Third-and-7 at the Jets’ 31: Loss of 7 yards
• Third-and-6 at the Titans’ 29: No gain
• Second-and-14 from the Titans’ 21: Loss of 7 yards
The Jets came into the game with just six sacks in their first three games combined. Six different players got at least half of one against a Titans offensive line that was without center Ben Jones, left guard Rodger Saffold and Taylor Lewan at various points because of injury issues. Jones and Lewan left briefly but returned. Saffold remained on the sideline after he was injured in the opening minutes of the second quarter.
“This will be one of the best, if not the best defensive fronts we will play this year,” Vrabel said Wednesday. “[Quinnen] Williams, [Folorunso] Fatukasi, [Sheldon] Rankins, [John] Franklin-Meyers, [Nate] Shepard, and they roam one after another.”
Three of the five he mentioned had a sack. Four of the five had at least one hit on the quarterback.
Under Vrabel, the Titans have now allowed five sacks or more 10 times. They have lost nine of those 10, which means the next time their head coach sees such a pass rush coming, he and his staff might want to do even more to scheme against it.