The Titans come into EverBank Stadium sporting a 1-5 record over the past 6 games, against a Jags team that has gone on a 4-2 win streak since notching their first victory of the season against the boys in blue.
EverBank Stadium, Jacksonville, Sun 1:00pm
It has been noted this week that despite Ryan Fitzpatrick posting similar numbers per game as Carson Palmer of the Arizona Cardinals, that the two teams have experienced vastly different win-loss records during their respective tenures under center. Fitzpatrick's play has been unspectacular for the most part, mixed in with games of brilliance as well as games of absolute tragedy. That said, since Locker was lost for the year, the lack of victories cannot be pinned on Fitzpatrick alone. His time at the helm has revealed the lack of balance on this Tennessee Titans team. The team has failed to establish any kind of production on the ground, once a hallmark of this franchise year in and year out. Putting the entire offense on the shoulders of journeyman Fitzpatrick was never going to yield positive results in the long run.
That aside, Fitzpatrick's play last week was admirable. Though not perfect, the QB engineered an impressive comeback effort, made even more notable since he was without Justin Hunter out wide to stretch the defense. This week Fitzpatrick and these Titan wideouts will be facing a much less lauded defense, but one that dogged them the last time they met.
Since the initial meeting, Kendall Wright has turned up the notch, and his 150 yards on 12 catches (including 8 for first downs) last week was a thing to behold, especially since he was running against Patrick Peterson for most of the day. With a statistical line that matches Wes Welker when he's playing from the slot, Wright will be matched up against Mike Harris, who's sporting a healthy 108.4 QB rating allowed when passes are lofted his way. That is a recipe for success on the Titans side of the game.
The offensive line was as pitiful as usual last week, with the worst performance coming courtesy of declining Right Tackle David Stewart (-2.1 per PFF). Both Schwenke and Warmack had issues as well. They will have the pleasure of facing former Titan Sen'Derrick Marks and Tyson Alualu this week, who have been terrible against the run this season. That is good news for a Titans unit who is averaging just 111.5 yards a game on the ground, and even that number seems high for what the offensive line has produced lately. This team will definitely need to address RT in the upcoming draft and/or FA, but improvement is needed all across the board as far as coaching up the talent already on the team up front.
Chris Johnson and Shonn Greene will need to produce more than they have this season so far if the Titans want to come away with a win in Jacksonville. The Jaguars have had issues defending the run outside of Linebacker Paul Posluzny. If they can't get the run game going against the Jags, I don't know what to say. Chris Johnson is also apprently nursing an ankle/foot injury, so we'll have to wait and see how the Team plays him early in this match-up.
Jurrell Casey is a monster...seriously. He was a consensus first pick among NFL analysts at the Defensive Tackle position this year, and that is saying a lot of a Tennessee Titan. Last week's 2 sack performance gave him 11 on the year, most among DTs and the only Titan DT to record double digit sacks since 1992. He will be playing across from Uche Nwaneri this Sunday, who just happens to be the competition who gave Casey the most trouble this season. Last time, Casey was well-controlled for most of the day, except for one particular disruption which led to an ATV interception. He will need to step up against a unit that dinked and dunked against the Titans defense the last time around. If Casey and co can stem the Jags rushing attack, it will allow the team to play more aggressively on the edges.
Derrick Morgan and Ropati Pitoitua will need to be diligent containing the Jaguar running backs as well as Chad Henne, who was able to escape interior pressure often the last time around by rolling out into the flats to find an open man.
What can I say about this position group today? Only one player in the entire unit has a positive grade against the run, that being Akeem Ayers with a +9.0 overall. Zach Brown has apparently been benched for poor play, which continued to baffle me. Despite people claiming he was benched due to words spoken to the media, he played very little in the last two match-ups, replaced by rookie Zaviar Gooden, who hasn't fared much better in his place. They will need to react quickly in this one, as the Jags will no doubt focus on the short passing game, especially over the middle on shallow crosses and slants. I also expect that they will also continue to do what has worked against the Titans for most of the year: plenty of delayed screens to running backs both over the middle and in the flats.
If you think the Titans have been bad on the ground this year, you must not have seen many Jags games in 2013. They are sporting an anemic 82.5 yards per tilt in the running game, so there is little excuse if the Titans fail to contain them in that aspect of the game. That said, I completely expect the Jags to run well, especially since they are short their primary rusher in Maurice Jones-Drew, who's injury has given way to Jordan Todman. Call it "the Donald Brown effect."
In the secondary, the Titans should* have the upper hand. The cupboard is fairly bare in the Jacksonville WR room, especially with 1st Rounder Justin Blackmon suspended indefinitely. Cecil Shorts continues to play well despite having no help at the other wideout spots or much as QB either, and he gashed the Titans the first time around. Look for Chad Henne and the sparkle kitties (can I even joke about this anymore?) to target the slot where Coty Sensabaugh's injury has dictated that Wreh-Wilson be injected into the lineup. Verner and McCourty have been playing very well all season long, and QB's have stopped targeting them so much. Last week Carson Palmer attempted only a single pass of over 20 yards, and it was incomplete. It just goes to show how good this defense could be with some competent coaching...but that it a different story. As long as Marcedes Lewis doesn't break 20 tackles on a single play like the last game, I will be happy.
I have hope that Washington can continue to help this team with it's earlier field position problems. The Titans should have an easier time covering kicks against the Jags, but they will need to make sure Bironas comes through with points to make every drive in opposing territory count.
The Titans are now facing the pendulum of winning games vs better draft position. On one hand, I really want Munchak gone, and if they lose this game, I would be happy with that happening on the spot (or better yet at the game so he would be walking home). From a vacuum, I see two teams who that, despite a marked disparity of roster talent, have been heading in very different directions. Can the Titans pull out a late season victory? I don't know, but if they play like they did in Arizona, I would say so. This team has been anything but consistent though, and I fear the continued lack of gameplan alterations at half time coupled with a now ingrained inability to run the ball will be the ultimate downfall. Unless they surprise me, the Sparkle Kitties will have swept the Titans for the first time since 2005....yeah, let that sink in.