The 4-4 Titans will square off against the 0-8 Jaguars coming off a bye. This will be a great opportunity for the Titans to fix some lingering issues as they make a playoff push in the second half of the season.
The Titans need to build off of last week's performance on the ground. The potent attack fans had been waiting over 2 months to see finally come to fruition, and it will be a stake to the heart if they can't replicate that success against a woeful Jags defense. Beyond TOP issues that have plagued Jacksonville, their defenders have had problems tackling effectively, and it sort of reminds me of the Titans from just a year ago. PFF has absolutely obliterated the Jags defense overall, and it has shown why on the scoreboard. Before their much needed BYE, the Jags "hosted" the Niners in London and proceeded to give up 42 points...
They shouldn't get much of a reprieve this week, as the Titans running game finally looks to be clicking with all it's parts healthy. CJ looked rejuvenated against the Rams and flashed his speed and agility; a showcase of what he is capable of with great blocking. Greene also looked strong, hitting the hole for some good conversions, and really giving the Titans offense an entirely new dimension. While we are on subject, I wanted to point out just how good Collin Mooney has been so far. The Army Captain has been a force as a lead blocker, ranking as a top FB league-wide. His sealing block against the Rams in the 4th was the one that sprung CJ for the go-ahead score. When the Titans have had issues blocking this year, it hasn't been because of Mooney. We also got a glimpse of him ability to run with the ball; he is a human truck stick.
Kendall Wright also looks to be coming in to his own this year. He is on pace for 84 receptions for 1004 yards midway through the season, and that is including two games without his starting QB who no doubt has a preference for the Baylor product in the passing game. He looks to be primed for a big game against a Jags secondary that has struggled mightily over the course of the year. He is really showing his YAC ability of late, and more than once he burned the Rams secondary down the field. This game will also be Jake Locker's best chance to get back on track and for the team to fix any errors heading into the season's all-important second half.
Jurrell Casey has been a star this year. He leads the team with six sacks, and his forced fumbles have changed more than one game this season. His quickness at the snap and use of his hands to swim past lineman is almost scary. That aside, he will need to be diligent and physical against the Jags and Maurice Jones-Drew. More than once Casey was brushed aside in the running game against the Rams, and there really is no excuse for that at this point. Alongside him, Sammie Hill needs to start showing why the Titans ponied up the cash for him this offseason.
I'm also looking for two players to step up their game: Derrick Morgan and Zach Brown. Both have been solid and indeed Morgan has generated some good pressure, but after fast starts to the year, both have been quiet over the past four games. Morgan will need to get home a little more often, and improve his leverage against the run in particular. The Titans need both of these guys to be the difference makers that they are capable of being. They won't get a better chance to shine than against a Jags offense led by Chad Henne that has been flat, and heavily reliant on a running game that has struggled to produce.
Marcedes Lewis has been a validation to the Titans on their plan to not resign Jared Cook last offseason. Both players have tons of athletic ability, but both will never scrape it. Lewis has a single catch for six yards and struggled to run block effectively against the Niners two weeks ago. That makes his $34 million dollar contract look foolish. The Titans have had the face a series of pretty good TE's of late, so it will be worth watching how they handle Lewis.
Finally, we come to the secondary, which has been leading the way for the Titans this year. Verner and McCourty will have their hands full with Cecil Shorts, but without Justin Blackmon, I think it will be all the easier for them to focus on Shorts and shut him down. The Jags have placed a focus on the short, quick passing game, and hopefully Gray and Williams dial up some more aggressive coverages to disrupt the timing patterns and give the pass rushers a chance to get home. This will put some added pressure on Coty Sensabaugh on the inside nickel spot. It will be a step forward to see him have a solid game against the Jaguar's slot receivers. On the back end, Pollard shines brightest when given the opportunity to come into the box and make plays on the ball carrier, and has also shown great savvy when blitzing. I hope to see more of this going forward. To top it off, Griffin's return should make things easier schematically, as there were apparent limitations on the play-calling with SS Wilson filling in.
The Jaguars are always up for a good battle with the Titans, and the match-ups are always physical and hard-fought. I don't think this Titans offense is capable enough to blow anyone out at this point, but if the running game results are akin to the Rams game, I don't think it is out of the question. This will also be a big factor on how effective Locker will be the rest of the year; a strong running game will take the heat off of him and allow him to shine, especially on the play-action looks and pistol formations Loggains trotted out there against St. Louis. It will definitely be a battle, but I think it is one the Titans win. They will need to build momentum and move to 5-4 before taking on the Colts on an increasingly important Thursday Night Football match-up.