It is hard to imagine facing two more dissimilar opponents in back to back weeks than the Raiders and the Jaguars. I wouldn’t expect anything about this game to follow the same patterns we saw last week. Hopefully the outcome is different as well.
The Raiders wanted to spread the Titans defense out and accentuate the strength of their wide receivers and Derek Carr’s brilliance when it comes to diagnosing a defense and finding matchup to exploit. The Jaguars — especially without star wide receiver Allen Robinson who suffered a torn ACL last week — will want to hide Blake Bortles and the passing game as much as possible. You can bet the Titans base defense will be on the field for a lot more than 8 snaps this week.
On defense the Titans are dealing with a different group as well. Where the Raiders defense featured the best pass rusher in the NFL and a strong set of safeties, the Jaguars feature a talented and balanced defensive line and one of the best cornerback pairs in the league (assuming Jalen Ramsey plays).
With that general back drop, here are the three matchups I am most looking forward to watching on Sunday.
Dick LeBeau vs. Nathaniel Hackett
The Titans defense against the Jaguars offense will be interesting to watch. Hackett owes his job, at least in part, to the Titans 2016 beat down of the Jags at Nissan Stadium. Former offensive coordinator Greg Olson was relieved of his duties following LeBeau and the Titans defense dismantling Bortles and Co. on the way to a 36-22 win that was nowhere near as close as the final score would suggest. Hackett was promoted after the game and has held the job ever since.
When the Titans defense faced Hackett in Week 16 we got a hint of what he might like to do. One specific thing that hurt the Titans was the screen game. Chris Ivory finished the game as the Jaguars second leading receiver behind Allen Robinson hauling in 4 catches for 69 yards and a crazy 17.2 yards per reception. The Jags used their running backs extensively last week against the Texans as well. They only threw 19 passes total, but 6 of those targets went to running backs. This is something that I expect to see a ton of from Jacksonville this week as it allows them to get the ball in their best playmakers hands hides both their quarterback and their offensive line.
Last year the Titans were among the most blitz-happy teams in the NFL as LeBeau’s defense sent 5 rushers more often than any other team. That tendency plays right in to the hands of the screen game. I will be interested to see how the Titans approach this game defensively. I would guess we see a fairly conservative approach as the Titans should have a pretty distinct advantage up front against a poor Jaguars offensive line.
During their last meeting the Jaguars took advantage of a Titans cornerback group who had no answer for Allen Robinson. He turned in his best game of the year with 9 catches for 147 yards. Without Robinson, the Jaguars still have a couple good targets in Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee, however neither of those guys is the dominant player that Robinson is. They like to use Hurns in the slot and my guess is that he draws coverage from Logan Ryan which is a great matchup for the Titans. We saw Adoree Jackson stationary on the left side of the defense last week and I don’t expect that to change. He will draw Marqise Lee most of the day in a matchup of former USC Trojans. I expect the improved secondary to perform much better against the Robinson-less Jaguars receivers than we saw at the end of 2016.
Overall, this appears to be a great matchup for the Titans defense. The Jaguars run heavy attack plays right in to the Titans strength. The one concern for me is the poor tackling we saw against Oakland. Fournette is a load and the Titans will need to get him on the ground much better than they did with Marshawn Lynch last week. They will also need their linebackers and/or Kevin Byard to be constantly on alert for screen passes coming out of the backfield. I suspect we see Byard near the line of scrimmage most of the game with Searcy playing deeper. His play in the box last year was outstanding and without Cyprien, the Titans will need him to show up big.
Titans Offensive Line vs. Jaguars Defensive Line
This is the biggest strength of both teams so this will be a heavy weight fight in the trenches when the Titans have the ball. We’ve all heard more than enough about "Sacksonville" and the Jaguars 10 sack performance against Houston in Week 1. After seeing the Texans offensive line turn the Bengals in to "Sacksinnati" Thursday night, I feel safe saying that the Titans offensive line along with Marcus Mariota’s mobility and pocket presence will present a tougher test than Savage and the Texans did. The Jaguars boast 6 talented players up front though in Yannick Ngakoue, Malik Jackson, Calais Campbell, Dante Fowler, Sheldon Day, and nose tackle Abry Jones.
The Titans counter with one of the best offensive line units in the NFL, but they will need to find a way to get the running game established early to take some of the sting out of Jacksonville’s pass rush. If this Jaguars front has a weakness, it is stopping the run. Abry Jones and Calais Campbell are both capable run stoppers, but the rest of the Jaguars front leaves a bit to be desired against the ground game. I’d like to see the Titans try to spread the Jags out and run it at them a little bit during this game. That gets Jones off the field and gives the Titans line more of a shot to get up to the 2nd level against the Jaguars linebackers. It also keeps the pass rush from pinning their ears back as soon as they see a 3rd WR come on the field.
This is probably the most important matchup for the Titans to win in Sunday’s game and it will also be the toughest.
Corey Davis vs. Jalen Ramsey (or Bouye)
As of this writing Ramsey is questionable for Sunday’s game with an ankle injury so it is unclear if he will be able to go on Sunday. If he does go, we will get a first look at what could become one of the AFC South’s premier biannual matchups between Titans rookie wide receiver Corey Davis and Jaguars corner Jalen Ramsey. Both are top 5 draft picks with big expectations. Ramsey was outstanding by the end of 2016 and is poised to build on that to become one of the premier shutdown corners in the league.
Davis finally made his debut last Sunday and did not disappoint, putting up 6 catches for 69 yards while showing off his crisp route running, athleticism, physicality, and contested catch ability that made him the #5 overall pick in this year’s draft (thanks Rams!). He made some rookie mistakes too, but he will grow from those. He also should be closer to 100% physically with another week removed from the hamstring injury that held him out of camp. If Ramsey plays that is a decidedly bad thing for the Titans but the football fan in me really wants to see Davis vs. Ramsey even though we will probably have plenty of chances to see it over the next few years.
Even if Ramsey doesn’t go, we still get to see Jaguars free agent addition A.J. Bouye matching up with Davis and Rishard Matthews throughout the day which should be fun. Bouye is a hyper-physical corner who the Titans were also reportedly interested in. He’s a good player, but also was among the top 5 corners in the league when it came to getting penalized for defensive pass interference and he started 2017 with the same problem as he was whistled for 3 DPIs last week against his former team. The Titans may want to test him deep Sunday and see if Ed Hochuli’s crew will give them a call.