Tennessee Titans: Justin Blackmon
November, 7, 2013
AP Photo, USA Today Sports ImagesChris Johnson is coming off his best game of the season, and Cecil Shorts' role has just gotten bigger..
The Tennessee Titans fielded a lot of questions this week about taking the Jacksonville Jaguars lightly. The questions seemed silly given that the 2011 Titans lost their opener to the Jaguars (who finished 5-11) as well as a late-season game to the 0-13 Colts, and the 2012 Titans lost to Jaguars (who finished 2-14).
For the Titans to maximize the meaning of their Nov. 14 home game against the AFC South-leading Colts, they first need to beat the Jaguars on Sunday.
Meanwhile, the Jaguars have to believe they'll have a chance against the Titans given that two of their past seven wins came against Tennessee.
ESPN.com Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky and Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco chat about the matchup.
Paul Kuharsky: I know Gus Bradley and Dave Caldwell a bit and believe they can lead the Jaguars to a good place. It’s got to be eating them up to have so little talent and no positive results halfway through the season.
Michael DiRocco: Last week Bradley admitted that he didn't anticipate the season being as rough as it has been, but the Jaguars did face a brutal first-half schedule that included games against Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick. That being said, Bradley and Caldwell were expecting the team to at least be competitive. That the Jaguars haven't been is a clear indication that they have more work ahead of them than they may have originally thought. They're going to have to spend more money in free agency this offseason than they wanted because there aren't enough draft picks to shore up the offensive line, defensive line and linebacker spots in addition to finding another receiver and a franchise quarterback.
Speaking of franchise quarterbacks, it seems as though Jake Locker has really progressed in his development and appears to be the guy around whom the Titans can build. Do you agree?
Kuharsky: Yes. He’s not going to be Andrew Luck, but he’s not Christian Ponder or Blaine Gabbert either. Locker can be a winning NFL quarterback. He showed steady growth through the first four games, then got hurt. He has not been as good since he returned, but I would think they expect he can get back on track against the Jaguars. He’s got an arm, his speed is remarkable and he generally makes good decisions. And the margin for error is getting better. The win in St. Louis was the first Locker start the team has won when he has thrown an interception.
Is there anything that leads you to think Chad Henne can bust through with a big game in Nashville with Justin Blackmon on the shelf again?
DiRocco: Losing Blackmon is a big blow because he was the offense’s best playmaker, but the Jaguars do have a solid No. 2 receiver in Cecil Shorts (team-high 46 catches). One of the offense’s surprises has been the development of Mike Brown, a former college quarterback who has become a reliable No. 3 receiver. He missed four games with a back injury but has caught 12 passes for 212 yards in the three games since his return. Henne has played well but is really struggling in the red zone, where the Jaguars have scored just five touchdowns in 20 trips. He has made questionable decisions and some bad throws inside the 20. He may very well end up with 250-plus yards Sunday, but the majority could be garbage yards, coming after the game has been decided. He has compiled a lot of his yards that way this season.
Paul, Bernard Pollard seems to have made the biggest impact of all the free-agent signings on defense. The Titans’ pass defense ranks in the top 10 in the NFL. Is Pollard the key?
Kuharsky: He has been a solid player, one who influences the run and pass defense. But he’s not playing much deep coverage. That’s not his strong suit, and they’ve done very well getting him in position to do what he does best.
He has backed up his talk in a big way, disproving this preseason skeptic. He is the No. 1 attitude guy on a team that was sorely lacking in that department. The front is varied and there is plenty of blitzing, all of which is helping the secondary. Another veteran safety addition, George Wilson, has done some good work covering tight ends in nickel and dime packages. And as Gregg Williams has requested more man-to-man, Alterraun Verner has emerged as a top-flight corner.
What hope do the Jaguars have of slowing a run game that found a good rhythm last week in St. Louis if the offensive line plays well and Chris Johnson and Shonn Greene do what they are supposed to?
DiRocco: Honestly, not much. Although middle linebacker Paul Posluszny is playing very well, the Jaguars’ run defense ranks last in the NFL. The big problem is that the defensive line has been handled pretty easily, with the exception of tackle Sen’Derrick Marks, a former Titans player. He has had a solid season, and is by far the team’s best defensive lineman. However, the rest of the group has been pretty underwhelming. Tyson Alualu has been moved to end and is a two-down player; he’s making very little impact. Tackles Roy Miller and Brandon Deaderick aren’t holding ground or getting off blocks well, either.
Paul, you mentioned Chris Johnson. He has been a workhorse back and has had five consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Is he slowing down a bit?
Kuharsky: Not in terms of losing speed, I don’t think. But up until last week, the run game had been ineffective, and he was a major reason why. The blocking with a new interior line has been slow to come around, and the play calling has been suspect at times. Greene is a short-yardage specialist who missed a lot of time after suffering a knee injury in the season opener. He’s back now and should make a difference.