It’s official. The Jaguars will have their worst record in franchise history. Black Monday is upon us and it’s almost certain we will see heads roll. The Jaguars appeared in yet another game where nobody would give them a chance to win it, yet they went down to the wire against the New England Patriots. In the end they failed to make it again. Now, in the end of their horrible journey, they face a team they have already beat. The two franchises are eerily similar. The Titans have QB and head coaching issues, and are going through a disappointing season with 0 wins within the division. Some say the two Mikes’ (Jaguars HC Mike Mularkey and Titans HC Mike Munchak) fates will be on the line on Sunday. This is the last audition for a lot of people to convince the two owners – the furious Bud Adams and the mysterious Shad Khan – to give each of them one more chance for the ’13 season. Let’s dig deeper…
The Jaguars won the first game against the Titans 5 weeks ago 24-19. Since then a lot of things have changed. The Titans fired their offensive coordinator, Chris Palmer, right after the game and replaced him with then-QB coach Dowell Loggains, but the results are far from good since Jake Locker appears to be taking steps backward instead of forward. Their offensive line looks like another patchwork job, just the like the Jaguars’ but with much less success. Although the defense had some nice moments against the Jets, they were torn apart by Aaron Rodgers and the Packers with their biggest margin of victory in almost 20 years. The 2 best TEs will not play, even Chris Johnson is banged up, and everybody can see why the Jaguars have a pretty decent shot to finish their dreadful season with a victory.
Speaking of the visitors, the Jaguars have changed a lot in the last 5 weeks too. They claimed former Titan DE Jason Babin from Philadelphia and lost their biggest play maker on offense in Cecil Shorts to a concussion (by the way I’m still stunned Patrick Chung didn’t get fined for that). In week 12 the starting and the Nr. 2 RBs were Rashad Jennings and Jalen Parmele. Now both are on IR and the Jags have gotten a little more consistent production from Montell Owens who is paired with Richard Murphy now. 5 weeks ago only 2 WR were on the roster from the current squad, and that was the first game for Jordan Shipley. Now the Jaguars will give the other starting WR position to either Tony Clemons (1 in his career) or Mike Brown (no catches thus far). The Titans will see 3 new starting offensive linemen compared to the week 12 clash. The Jags also lost Dwight Lowery (who had the game clinching interception 5 weeks ago) but also got back Daryl Smith. And these were just the most significant changes for the 2 teams in 4 weeks!
In the two match-ups I really like the Jaguars defense against the Titans offense. Locker is struggling mightily and now Tennessee is facing the same questions as the Jaguars: did we pick the wrong guy? He has regressed in the past few weeks, and the best example was the Packers game when Locker was simply horrible. When Green Bay led 41-0, Locker was 7/20 for 66 yards and 2 picks. Of course his offensive line was abused by B.J. Raji but Locker could be blamed for some of the 7 sacks as well. If the Jaguars can repeat last week’s pass rush, Locker will be in trouble. Sure, Michael Roos will protect him from the left side, but I’m not so sure about the same with RT Byron Stingily. He is the 2nd best player on the offensive line, but he will face Jason Babin and Daryl Smith on occasion. But the real problems are at the middle. G Mitch Petrus was so bad that he was benched, and Fernando Velasco must move back from center to guard. Since Ken Amato and Kevin Matthews are out, Kyle DeVan will start at C, Velasco at LG and Deuce Lutui at RG. Until recently, only CJ Mosley showed some flashes from the Jaguars DTs, but Tyson Akualu has come to life lately (leading the team in sacks with 3.5 – yeah I know it’s a bit embarrassing in Week 17) and Terrance Knighton is starting to become better. The Jaguars created 3 sacks and 13 QB hits last week against the patriots offensive line and Tom Brady. If they play with the same effort, they could get even better results this time.
The Titans are starting to run out of play makers on offense, which could be an advantage for Mel Tucker’s defense. Taylor Thompson will be starting at TE, Damian Williams will most likely miss the game, Chris Johnson is banged up with an ankle injury, but expected to play on Sunday. He was limited very well by the Jaguars defense in the first game, and, with Daryl Smith and Jason Babin, the front 7 has gotten better since then. After missing last week’s game, Kendall Wright will play as well. Other than Wright, the most dangerous weapons will be Nate Washington and Kenny Britt. I expect another strong performance from Derek Cox (this game will be his last before hitting free agency), so he can take away 1 from the Britt-Wahsington-Wright trio. I know the Titans players will be fired up (or will be fired….) after last week’s disaster, but the Jaguars defense might limit them enough for a win.
Of course, the Jags’ offense must play better. Until the Jets game the Jaguars always scored in the red zone. In the last 10 visits inside the 20 yard line they are 1-out of 10. Missed opportunities are a major problem. Tom Brady and co said they were lucky last week to have a tie at halftime. They were right, the Jaguars could have lead 28-13 easily, but because of lack of offensive execution, they settled for 3 FGs – 1 of them was missed by Josh Scobee. Since the team will be without Cecil Shorts III it will be even harder to find the end zone. The problem is the Jaguars are in a worse situation than against the Jets 3 weeks ago. Back then Kevin Elliott was Blackmon’s partner at WR and Jordan Shipley was their primary backup. Now Shipley is still Blackmon’s 1st backup, which means we will see a totally inexperienced rookie (Clemons or Brown) start next to Blackmon. However, being the primary target might be a blessing in disguise for the Jaguars’ 1st round pick. He is leading all rookies in receiving yards (786, 20 more than Cleveland’s Josh Gordon) and he is 2nd in receptions behind Kendall Wright (the Baylor product has 62, Blackmon has 58 at this point). So at least this will be something to watch.
Just like the Titans, the Jaguars have a patchwork offensive line. 5 weeks ago Mike Brewster, Cameron Bradfield and Uche Nwaneri protected Henne, with minimal success- they allowed a season high 7 sacks to the Titans. This time Kamerion Wimbley and co will face Guy Whimper and an UDF rookie in his 3rd start (Austin Pasztor is actually looking promising at LG) and Steve Vallos. One of the key matchups will be Derrick Morgan against Whimper. The former 1st round pick played pretty well last week, which should be another warning on the right side of the offensive line. Jurrell Cassey, Sen’ Derrick Marks and rookie Mike Martin will test the Jaguars’ interior offensive line as well.
I also wonder how the running game will perform on Sunday. The Jags have won twice out of four games with over 100 yards on the ground. Since the the LB unit is banged up and Montell Owens and Richard Murphy have been quite effective lately, it could be another 100+ yard game on the ground.
I’m sure the two teams will show up to play for different reasons. Bud Adams is threatening jobs in Tennessee while the future of the Jaguars is equally uncertain. Many people are suggesting Shad Khan should blow the team up after the worst season in franchise history. Almost everybody is expecting GM Gene Smith to be dismissed on Monday. If the new regime opts for a blow up, we will see plenty of Jaguars greats playing their last time for Jacksonville. Brad Meester, Rashean Mathis, Greg Jones and Daryl Smith could be among them. Gene Smith’s first draft class is essentially doing a final job interview for the 32 teams. As I wrote earlier, the two head coaches are sitting in very hot seats at the moment and a victory could help make their case for another year staying at their current jobs.
One thing is for sure. The Jaguars are facing maybe their most important post season yet. It might be the worst (especially if someone named Tebow comes to town). But tomorrow players and coaches can make their case for the last time before their owner evaluates their work. Even with a victory, many will feel Khan’s wrath.
Prediction: Titans 17- Jaguars 20
– Zoltan Paksa