The Tennessee Titans will try to right the ship against their AFC cellar counterparts, the Jacksonville Jaguars at LP Field on Sunday (12pm CT).
Jake Locker may or not play, and that leaves the Titans in yet another awkward position. Do they play Charlie Whitehurst? Probably. Should they turn it over to the youngster, Zach Mettenberger? Maybe. The only thing that's clear is that the Titans have more questions than answers at the quarterback position.
The Jacksonville Jaguars have some nice pieces on defense, but they have yet to play a complete 60 minutes, and they have talent and inexperience in bundles. Not that I'm endorsing it, but now would be an ideal time to start a guy like Mettenberger. If the Titans want to see what they have in him before the season's over (something I most definitely endorse), a softer level of competition might be a sensible place to start.
The Titans receivers have been disappointing to say the least thus far this season. After exploding out of the gate last week, things looked to be changing, but a second half worthy of the hall of shame erased all that goodwill by the time the clock read 0:0. Kendall Wright has a distinct match-up advantage this week, lined up against Dwayne Gratz or Allan Ball, two young defenders who have plenty of upside, but figure to struggle with Wright's savvy and quickness. Likewise, Justin Hunter could be a threat to blow the lid off of a defense that has been poor against the deep ball.
Delanie Walker, who has no doubt been the team's top weapon this season, will likely see the coverage of Geno Hayes or the less experienced JT. Thomas. For the record, I don't think they are an ideal answer to Walker. He should be in for another big day.
Everything aside, all this is conditional upon the guy passing the ball.
The Titans lost one of their own this week, as the stalwart veteran, LT Michael Roos, was lost for the season. There is now a ton of pressure on Taylor Lewan to step into his shoes and compete at a high level. While many stated Roos had not been playing as well as in the past, you can't argue that he was a big part of the success the Titans have had when they've gone to ground game this year. This is even a bigger compliment when you consider his neighbor to the right, Andy Levitre, has struggled mightily.
Beyond Lewan getting the likely nod, Chance Warmack and Brian Schwenke have some redemption to achieve over the coming weeks. They have struggled in important situations, notable in the short yardage scenarios. While the Titans playcalling is also a factor here, these two big guys can't be getting out muscled at the point of attack. This will be a factor against a Jacksonville that has some serious talent on the line; former Titans Sen'Derrick Marks, Red Bryant, and Chris Clemons are a formidable group any way you spin it.
For all the complaints in the pre-season, from myself as well, Michael Oher has suddenly become the least of the Titans worries...
As stated, the running backs have been good...when the Titans have opted to give them the ball. While stating that the NFL is now dominated by pass happy rosters and rules, the best teams are still those with an undeniable ground game that can pick up the slack when nothing else is working. I have already lamented, along with my colleagues, the Titans utility of Dexter McCluster (or lack thereof), but the bright spots from Bishop Sankey give hope that all is not lost with this offense.
Shonn Greene has been serviceable, as expected, and even pretty good at times. He's never going to blow you away, and backs like him always go underappreciated by fans. For what it's worth, we would be singing his praises far more if he was being used in situations that he was brought to Tennessee to play in.
Moving to the defensive side of the ball, the Titans have been equally despondent of late. Teams have been quick to double team Jurrell Casey on the inside, and his teammates have been unable to take advantage of the increased one-on-ones. For three straight weeks the Titans have been hopeless in putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and when they have finally dialed up the blitz, teams have adapted and forced the run.
Last week the Browns stuck with their running game throughout, despite not hitting the home run. I expect the Jaguars to attempt the same approach. With Toby Gerhart and Denard Robinson, the former of whom has been losing carries to the latter lately, the Jaguars will try their best to take the heat off of Blake Bortles. They have little success in doing this so far, and Jacksonville have managed a paltry 67 rushing yards per contest this year.
The Jacksonville offensive line has been a sincere mess, possibly the worst unit in football at any position group. If the Titans can't take advantage of the favorable matchups here, they won't be doing so for the rest of the season.
Similarly, the Titans need increased production from their outside backers. Derrick Morgan and his veteran counterparts, Shaun Phillips and Kamerion Wimbley, have been less and less effective through five weeks. Akeem Ayers has been this season's invisible man; and it bears wondering if he will see any time this week in the starting lineup.
On the inside, Avery Williamson has been the only consistent player, though admittedly he has seen less time having only been worked into the rotation over the past few games. That said, he is the only Titans linebacker who has shown the mentality and ability to fit the run; identifying the hole and playing down hill. Wesley Woodyard's range is typically ideal for taming opposing tight ends, but even the underneath coverage has been poor so far this year. He will match up against Clay Harbor, who had a big game last week.
Can the Titans turn things around as they acclimate more to Horton's 3-4 defense? Or is it going to take an infusion of schematically ideal players to make the desired impact? Only time will tell, but I would lean to the latter.
Just as Tennessee has failed to generate pressure up front, the secondary has suffered the fallout. Beyond Jason McCourty (who will have his hands full with a newly healthy Cecil Shorts), the Titans are relying on Blidi Wreh-Wilson to turn around his game. Despite their youth at the position, the Jaguars have some athletic talent who have flashed enough to give the Titans pause. Allen Hurns and Marquise Lee will make a mark on the Tennessee defense this Sunday if the pass rush isn't improved.
With Bernard Pollard lost for the season, George Wilson will likely be seeing the field a lot more. He sealed a win against Jacksonville last season with a last minute interception. Beyond him, it would be a great opportunity to see Daimion Stafford earn some significant snaps; coming off an excellent pre-season.
Much like the rest of the squad, the special teams unit has left much to be desired. The return unit has yielded no big plays, and field position has been poor as a rule. You'd expect more from Leon Washington and Dexter McCluster, as well as their return mates.
Despite one poor game, Ryan Succop has been reliable enough. The Titans should fare well against a poor Jacksonville red zone defense, so hopefully he won't be called upon as much. That said, it's always good to have a quality leg when you need it.