The last seven days have been strange for the Jaguars. Once again they forced an away game into overtime, this time against the best team in the AFC. The Jaguars scored 37 points and gained 458 yards (both team records this year) but in the same time the defense allowed a franchise high 640 yards (Matt Schaub threw 527 yards – 2nd best in NFL history) with 5 TDs, while Andre Johnson caught 14 passes for 273 yards and the game winner. This week, head coach Mike Mularkey named Chad Henne the starting QB based on performance and 2 days later the team put QB Blaine Gabbert on injured reserve along with WR Laurent Robinson. So it’s fair to say it has been a hectic week for the franchise. Now they will face another divisional rival (3rd in a row), the Tennessee Titans, in the Jaguars’
House of Horrors Everbank Field. Can Chad Henne be a legit starter in this league? Can the Jaguars offense be as effective as they were in Houston? And can this team stop the Titans offense, which has suddenly started making plays? Let’s dig deeper.
It’s fair to say that the Jaguars offense will face a lower level challenge this time, because the Titans defense isn’t very good. Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray’s unit is near the bottom in a number of categories. That is a similarity with the Jaguars. The worst for them, and the most promising for the Jaguars, is that both teams are in 31st place in allowed points. But 2 weeks ago, before their bye week, the Titans held the Dolphins to just 3 points in Miami which is a major warning sign. They had 4 turnovers, including interceptions from every staring linebacker, one was a pick-six by Colin McCarthy. So that is a pretty clear warning for Chad Henne and the offense.
On defense the Titans are average at best, but in all 3 parts they have at least 1 play maker the Jaguars must avoid/block. On the defensive line that is DE Kamerion Wimbley (their biggest catch in free agency this year). Among the linebackers it’s 2nd year player Akeem Ayers In the secondary CB Jason McCourty can be a major headache for quarterbacks. Wimbley is leading the team with 3.5 sacks which isn’t as productive as they would like from their high priced pass rushing specialist. Oppsite him is former 1st round pick Derrick Morgan who is still trying to fulfill expectations. The other DTs (Sen’Derrick Marks and Jurrell Casey) are average so the Jaguars offensive line should protect Henne well in the middle and could bring some spark to their dead last running game this week. New starting RB Jalen Parmele had a promising week against the Texans running for 80 yards on 23 carries. He should repeat those numbers this week as well.
I think the strongest unit in the Titans D are the very young linebackers. Akeem Ayers is becoming a force in his second year. Zach Brown, the Titans’ 2nd round pick, got his first interception against Miami and is becoming better every week. 2nd year player Colin McCarthy has also been coming on as a starter this year. The unit is supported by veterans Will Witherspoon and Tim Shaw.
The secondary has issues. Although McCourty is playing well, the others have been kind of disappointing. I thought Alterraun Verner, the other starting CB, would become a playmaker based on his rookie year. But since then he has not been very good. FS Michael Griffin got a new big contract before the season, but he is not playing at the contact’s level too often. Jordan Babineux is so “good” that almost every Titans fan wants to draft a S in the 1st round next year. The only positive surprise is rookie CB Coty Sensabaugh who is quite good at nickel.
Because I think the Jaguars can limit the pass rush (Wimbley will face Eugene Monroe while Cameron Bradfield must handle Derrick Morgan), TE Marcedes Lewis can be a factor in the passing game again. With the Titans safety issues he can be a red zone target and a threat in the middle. But the biggest threat will be Justin Blackmon who has found a rythm with Henne much more than with Gabbert. Since Verner and Babinaux are playing on an average level, he might have another 100 yard game.
I’m also curious about how the Jaguars receivers will perform this week. One of them is Cecil Shorts, who has had chemistry with Gabbert (but he has found the endzone twice with Henne as well). Last Sunday it looked like Blackmon is Henne’s go-to target. I hope Shorts can be that as well. Since Laurent Robinson became the ’12 “unlucky high-price FA with major health issues” (in ’10 that Aaron Kampman, and in ’11 poor Clint Session) and now is on IR, some receivers must step up. Before the week started I expected Michael Spurlock to be that guy, but Mike Mularkey thought otherwise. Kevin Elliott will have to be that guy and fill in at the X position. Even more exiting is the signing of Jordan Shipley. The former Bengal lead the AFC rookies with 600 yards in ’10, but an injury on Week 2 in ’11 became career threating for him. He has become a journeyman since. If he is healthy he can become a contributor for this offense. Helping his chances is the presence of Bob Bratkowski, who was his offensive coordinator in Cincinnati back in ’10 as well.
Two more really interesting questions are left on offense. One of them is Henne. The other is a new approach in the passing game.
Henne is a decent starter and played well in 3 quarters in Houston but he has many flaws as well. He will go deep more often than Gabbert, and most likely he’ll threw more interceptions as well. Also he is very similar to David Garrard in the consistency. You really never know which Chad Henne will show up. He can be so effective, like in the Houston game, but he can play as bad as he did in Oakland or be as ineffective as he was at the very end of the Texans game (2/12 – although one of those was a nice pass which earned a 1st round in a 4th & long situation). So that is something we should keep an eye on.
The approach to the passing game is changing later in the season. Mike Mularkey and Bratkowski used isolation routes in the first 9 games for receivers. That means more pressure on the WR to get open and none of the receivers’ routes will combine to work off one another. That is a big help for defenses because it is easy to identify and tends not to work when the talent level of the receiving corps is not very high. We didn’t see that last week. Remember when Mularkey said before the Texans game that the Jaguars were going to try to pass deep more? The Jaguars used pick plays to open things up deep and underneath. This gave the receivers a bit more help. If the Jaguars continue to use that, it will be interesting to see the results. The Texans were surprised but the Titans will be prepared for that. If the offense still produces good numbers and points that is a good sign and means Mularkey and Bratkowski should continue using these pick plays instead of the isolation routes.
The Titans offense represents a much bigger challenge. Not just because the Jaguars defense is quite awful, but because Mike Munchak can count on plenty of playmakers. With Chris Johnson returning to form the offense is far more potent. After a very sloppy start (In Week 1 Peyton Manning had more rushing yards than Johnson…) he has become much more productive. He has had three 100 yard games since week 5 and has not had less than 91 since week five as well. Although the Jaguars run defense limited Arian Foster very well last week (90 yards on 28 carries), they have still surrendered 14 TDs this season on the ground and opposing runners have a 4.2 yards/carry average. I have the feeling that Johnson will be quite productive on Sunday…
The Titans passing game is just more bad news for the Jaguars. Although Jake Locker had quite a day in his return in Miami (122 yards, 2 TDs), I expect the bye week will boost his confidence and he will be effective. He has 4 really good targets in Nate Washington, Kendall Wright, Kenny Britt and TE Jared Cook. Although this time we will not see a duel of elite RBs, with Maurice Jones-Drew still sidelined by his foot injury, we might see the 1st game of another rivalry. Before the draft many experts thought Justin Blackmon and Kendall Wright were the Top 2 receivers to come out for 2012. Until last week only Wright had proved these analyst right. Blackmon’s monster performance in Houston put the Jaguars’ rookie receiver 1st in receiving yards and 2nd in catches among rookies. It will be interesting to see who will have a better day. The other threat is Cook, who has the second most receiving yards on the team after Washington. Luckily for the Jaguars, Dwight Lowery might return to FS so he and Landry can limit Cook. Of course in the past few years the most dangerous threat has been Kenny Britt, but he is not the same after his ACL injury last year. Still, with so many other threats he can easily have a big day against this defense. The Texans torched Russell Allen, Aaron Ross and Dawan Landry last week. That can easily happen this week as well.
The Jaguars could make things a bit more difficult by rushing the passer because Jake Locker tends to perform worse when under pressure. According to Pro Football Focus, his accuracy is only 51.9% when he gets pressured this year. The Titans have 2 really good tackles in Michael Roos (who has regressed) and RT David Stewart (who is maybe their best lineman). The biggest signing on offense was All-Pro guard Steve Hutchinson who is past his prime but is still pretty good as a run blocker. The 2 players where the Jaguars (to be exact C. J. Mosley and Tyson Alualu) can win duels and put pressure on Locker is through C Fernando Velasco and RG Leroy Harris. With Rashean Mathis and Daryl Smith still out, the back seven really needs some help from the defensive line. Also the 12 total sacks are just awful. 3 players (Von Miller, Aldon Smith and JJ. Watt) have recorded more sacks than the entire Jaguars defense this season! By the way all 3 were drafted last year in the first round. Talking about impact players…
I hope the Jaguars ST unit will have a decent game finally. Rashas Jennings may finally be the effective returner the team has missed all season. Since the Jaguars are having major issues covering returns this year, stopping Darius Reynaud will be a big challenge. This has hurt the Jaguars all year and erases almost every impact from Bryan Anger’s great punts. Last week’s TD saving tackle was a nice moment for the rookie punter but another warning to the rest of the bunch.
Yet another problem for the Jaguars is that they will be playing this game at home, which is a nightmare. The Jaguars haven’t lost by more than 11 points on the road, and their QBs have yet to throw an interception, yet they are terrible at Everbank Field. The smallest margin of loss at home has been 17 points (against the Bengals in Week 4 & the Colts in Week 10) and the team has been outscored 44-153 in total. Gabbert and Henne have thrown seven interceptions, three returned for touchdowns. If the Jaguars don’t produce at least 2 good home games with victories, they might face another tough year selling tickets.
I don’t know what to expect from this game. First because this will be the 1st start for Chad Henne as a Jaguar, who can be red hot and ice cold. Then there is the home/road factor. After every good performance on the road the team laid an egg at Everbank Field. But this Titans team is maybe the weakest the Jaguars have faced at home thus far, with major problems on defense. But that defense kept the Dolphins offense at 3 points in their last trip to Florida 2 weeks ago. If the Henne from the Texans game shows up, I think the Jaguars will win. If Henne from the Oakland game shows up then the Jaguars may be in for another blowout loss. I expect a performance somewhere in between, and quite frankly I don’t know if that is enough for a win. We will see. But if the Jaguars lose this, they will set a new franchise record with 8 consecutive losses. Don’t let that happen, Chad!
Prediction: Jaguars 24- Titans 21
– Zoltan Paksa