Another Big Test: Game Preview for the second Titans’ Matchup
By Zoltan Paksa
The Jaguars will travel to Nashville to face the Titans once again. LP Field has been an unfriendly destination for Jacksonville as of late; since the Del Rio era started they have won there only twice (’05 & ‘07) and neither of those victories was with David Garrard as the signal caller. David is 0-3 in Tennessee as the Jaguars starting QB, so if you thought this was going to be an easy game, just because the Titans have major issues – think again!
Yeah, I know since Jeff Fisher’s team humiliated the Jaguars on Monday night, they have lost 4 games in a row. Injuries have ravaged the Titans in every area. They lost Vince Young for the season (and he is possibly done in Nashville). The atmosphere around the team is dysfunctional at best (Cortland Finnegan’s on the field behavior and the Young-Fisher battle) and to crown their horrible month, the Titans were just shutout in Houston against one of the weakest defense in the league. Rusty Smith’s underwhelming debut may share part of the blame, but Chris Johnson was held to just 5 rushing yards in 7 attempts. The team looks lost, frankly, and that is what scares me most about Sunday’s game.
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Because Jeff Fisher is the master of “How to bounce back from this situation?”. Jaguars fans could be having an eerie feeling of déjà vu, because the last time the Titans were shutout (0-59 against the Patriots in Week 6 of ’09, the Titans’ sixth consecutive loss to start the season), they snapped out of it and beat the Jaguars in Nashville 30 -13. Chris Johnson had a monster game (228 rushing yards and 2 TDs), Vince Young looked like a very efficient QB, and the Jaguars (other then Maurice Jones-Drew) looked horrible. So there is a legitimate reason why this game makes me worry.
It gets worse, because Kerry Collins will return as the starting QB of the Titans. Remember him? He ripped apart the Jaguars secondary on MNF. And back then, a WR named Randy Moss was not a member of the Titans. Moss and Nate Washington could be deadly weapons for the aging veteran. And there is a small chance that even Kenny Britt will play, although local sources reported on Friday that he is not expected to play. Add Bo Scaife and Chris Johnson to the mix and it makes sense the experts’ predictions for Tennessee to win this game make sense.
I’m not going to lie, this will be a very tough test for the Jaguars. David Garrard, despite taking 90% of the snaps at practice and throwing according to Dirk Koetter, will be playing hurt. And let’s not forget that the Titans defense is responsible for the concussion Garrard suffered in their first matchup this year! As I pointed out earlier, he has never won a game in Nashville. Here’s the good part – unlike the the first game, the Jags’ running game is red-hot. Vince Manuwai is playing like it’s 2007 all over again. Maurice Jones Drew is looking like a Pro Bowl caliber RB. And right now, they must be lickin’ their chops, because the Titans D-line is pretty banged up right now. We saw what the Jacksonville running game was capable of against the Giants’ defense – and I rated those guys a bit higher than the Titans run-stoppers. If Maurice is successful on the ground, the Titans will load the box, which is not a good idea, in my opinion. The Titans secondary may be the best in the AFC South right now, but if the Jaguars and Dirk Koetter are smart they can use them to their advantage. That starts with their ticking timebomb of a cornerback, Cortland Finnegan. The only reason he’s playing this week is because the league didn’t want to suspend Andre Johnson for the Texans’ primetime game against Philadelphia on Thursday. They will be watching Finnegan extremely closely on Sunday; I think Mike Thomas can handle him, and if he does, look out!
Now let’s discuss the Jaguars’ defense in this ball game. I think if they can limit or stop Chris Johnson (which they actually did on MNF for most of the game), they have a much better chance to win this game. I know Randy Moss can be a dangerous playmaker, but he looks like a complete stranger in this offense. He has only 4 catches and 49 yards with the Titans – in three games! I expect that he will make plays (especially if Britt doesn’t play), but I think the Jaguars can limit him. The real challenge I for the secondary will be limiting Nate Washington and Bo Scaife. Washington is the #1 WR since Britt got injured and Scaife is a solid TE and we all know the trouble the Jaguars have had with them.
So what will be the key for the Jaguars to win this game? It’s simple: repeat the first half performance of last week and build a double-digit difference for the half time and of course, not turn the ball over in the first play of the second half. Why is that the key to succeed? Because that’s what the Texans did and the Titans completely shut themselves down in the second half. Let’s not forget, they’re on a 4 game losing streak. I expect them them to play with the same desperation in the first half that the Giants brought last week (particularly in the second half). The first half will be another dogfight, but the injuries at the Titans D-line might give the Jaguars the ability to repeat last week’s offensive performance.
This is a big test for the head coach, as well. It is the first December game of 2010 and like it or not, his teams have been notorious for collapsing in this phase of the season. The Jaguars will hope to repeat their late-season success in 2007, which produced the strongest finish the Jaguars have had under Jack Del Rio. This game looks like the perfect trap game, which the Jaguars have fallen victim to time and time again under Del Rio. If he can guide them to a win, he not only boosts the Jaguars’ playoff chances, but takes a major step toward staying in Jacksonville. Meanwhile, another loss for the Titans may push owner Bud Adams to stick with Young instead of Fisher (which would be a dumb move; if I had to choose between the two, I would unquestionably stick with Fisher).
If the Jaguars win this game, the division title is comes down between them and the Colts. The Texans are out. If they lose for the 5th time in a row, it will be safe to count the Titans out too. And if you’ve seen the Colts recently, they are not in great shape either right now. With a win, the Jaguars can become the (only) hot team of the division, and can mark the calendar on December 19 as the game where the AFC South will be decided! I think the Jaguars cannot miss that opportunity. This is most definitely a “Must Win!” game for them. And I think in the end of a very hard fought game, the Jaguars will come back from Nashville with a win!
Prediction: Titans 23, Jaguars 24