NFL Week 1 Game Preview: Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Tennessee Titans

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After the shocking switch at QB on Tuesday, it’s time to move forward and focus on the regular season opener against the Tennessee Titans. I think replacing David Garrard with Luke McCown doesn’t change much about this matchup, because I think, this game could be and old fashion ‘run the ball, stop the run’ game. That means once again that most likely Chris Johnson and Maurice Jones-Drew must have a great game to help their team to victory. I see some other key battles as well, so let’s dig little deeper about this game.

Like every Titans-Jaguars game lately, the battle of the lines will be the biggest battle of this game for me. I think their role might get even bigger in this game, because both QBs are less mobile like for example Vince Young and David Garrard were. Also worth to note that when you put pressure on new Titans starting QB Matt Hasselbeck, he is much less effective, then without pressure. The Titans offensive line is traditionally very good, starting with premium LT Michael Roos, but now they face off with the new Jaguars front 7. If Tyson Alualu and Aaron Kampman are 100% healthy and ready to go, they can win their match up against C Eugene Amano and RT David Stewart (Kampman will play at LDE most likely a lot) most of the time. If that happens, Hasselbeck will be under pressure which will be good news for the Jaguars secondary. But if the defensive line will be once again passive, I think the Jaguars are in big trouble. Sure Hasslebeck is not so dominant as a passer then he was a couple of years ago, but I still remember how he tea red apart the Jaguars defense with broken ribs in Week 5 ’09, when the Seahawks knocked out the Jaguars 41-0. And Hasselbeck has his weapons this time too. Titans go-to-guy in the passing game is WR Kenny Britt who healthy again and was not suspended for his off the field issues. Nate Washington also can do damage. And Chris Johnson can catch short passes and can make big plays with them too. That’s why it matters so big how much pressure the defensive line can create.

Speaking of Chris Johnson, after finally got paid and ended his long holdout, he is expected to get the same load of carries this Sunday as he usually gets. That will be a perfect test for the Jaguars run defense. I wrote many times during the last couple of weeks, that I expect huge things from the defense in this area. In the preseason they were really good against the run, it seems in that area the team are on the same page. Terrance Knighton, Paul Posluszny, and Dawan Landry are all considered really good run defenders and Daryl Smith and Clint Session also know Johnson quite well. I think if they can keep Johnson under a 100 yards rushing that will boost the Jaguars chances to win this game. The Titans most likely will play without his backup, Javon Ringer, and 3rd string RB Jamie Harper will take some carries to rest Johnson a bit. Also must note, that the Titans will bring a new FB, Quinn Johnson (he came via trade from the Packers just days ago), because they suspended their FB Ahmad Hall for 4 games. Although Johnson is a good player, I expect that the connection between him and Chris Johnson will be not that perfect in run blocking in some plays. That could be another (small) advantage for the Jaguars.

And they need every advantage, because the Jaguars offensive line versus the Titans defensive line will be a battle where I expect some problems for the home team. We all saw how shaky (to say the least…) was the Jaguars O-line in almost every preseason game – besides the 3rd against the Buffalo Bills. Eben Britton’s status is still unclear, most likely he will miss the game and it seems Guy Whimper get his second career start on Sunday (he was not bad against the New York Giants last year, but he knew pretty well – he came from that team to the Jaguars), and that will be not the case this time. Eugene Monroe struggled throughout camp, but fortunately has a pretty good track record against AFC South pass rushers. Last year he was quite effective against Jason Babin (now a Philadelphia Eagle). This Sunday it will be William Hayes, who he’ll face, and must keep a non-factor. Whimper will face Jason Jones, who is now playing as a DE instead of a DT. I wonder why the Titans made that switch, because Jones played really well as a tackle. Also he is battling with an injury, so that may help Whimper. But I’d put a blocking TE (Zach Potter) next to him just in case… The Titans front 7 will be full with new players (4 rookies – DT Jurrell Casey and Karl Krug, LB Akeem Ayers and Colin McCarthy, and veteran FA Barrett Ruud from the Buccaneers).If Maurice Jones Drew is really 100% healthy and pain free as he said all preseason long, he should have some (big) plays against them. How will the Jaguars’ run support look in this game? Vince Manuwai was a key contributor for Maurice Jones Drew’s great 100+ rushing yard series in the middle of last season. Now he is gone, and a rookie from Lehigh, Will Rockley took his place at LG. He will face Shaun Smith which will be not easy. I think in the early games C Brad Meester and Monroe must look after Rackley time after time. I hope very soon he can do his job on his own very, very soon. By the way, protecting Luke McCown is I think will be as crucial to the win as pressuring  Matt Hasselbeck. I think the new starting QB of the Jaguars is bit better passer then Garrard was, but I think he is less durable then David was. I hope the Blaine Gabbert era is not so long away, but for now I want to see McCown on his feet then on his back after the passing plays, and 100% healthy for a while…

If the offensive line will give enough time to Luke McCown then we can watch another interesting battle – the Jaguars receivers versus the DBs of the Titans. I think Tennessee has the best defensive backfield in the AFC South with CB Cortland Finnegan, FS Michael Griffin, and SS Chris Hope. For this season they made a switch at the other CB position and replacing last year’s rookie surprise Alterraun Verner with Jason McCourty. It will be a great test for the young wideouts (and freshly paid TE Marcedes Lewis) how big factor they can be with McCown under center: I hope from the Cecil Shorts – Jason Hill – Jarrett Dillard trio somebody starts to prove that the Jaguars have good WR depth, even if they don’t have the sexy names in that group.  And how will Mike Thomas perform? This year he is the Jaguars Nr. 1 WR (although even he would say, he is more of a multifunctional tactical weapon then a true X). In the last 2 season being the Jaguars Nr. 1 wideout was an unpleasant role. Just ask Torry Holt in ’09 and Mike Sims-Walker last year. Now Thomas have that role, and although he has different skill set, then Sims-Walker, I wonder how he will perform now that defensive coordinators will trying to limit him as priority Nr. 1. And I have the feeling Marcedes Lewis will get the same treatment as well after last year. I really looking forward how these 2 will handle this situation, and who will benefit (like Mike Sims-Walker in ’09, and Mike Thomas in ’10) from the Jaguars WR corps this time that opponent defenses will focus on Lewis and Thomas? My money is on rookie (sensation?) Cecil Shorts (and- if he can stay healthy- keep your eye on Jarrett Dillard).

The two special teams are considered among the better units in the NFL. Both team had very good and reliable kickers (Rob Bironas and Josh Scobee), solid punters (Brett Kern and Matt Turk) and dangerous kick returners (Marc Mariani and Deji Karim). If 1 one these units can make a big play (forcing a turnover or scoring a TD) then can decide game (because I think it will be extremely close). So Russ Purnell and his unit must once again prove themselves as one of the best ST teams overall in the league.

Bottom line is I think it could be another ‘run the ball, stop the run’ games, where 2 among the NFL’s best backs have another showdown. I expect a little rust in Chris Johnson as well as Maurice Jones-Drew. But if that knee is really health, I think the Jaguars have a slight advantage in that area, because Maurice actually practiced together with their teammates. Another key will be how the 2 teams can protect their QBs. If the Jaguars can’t rush the passer, Hasselbeck can turn this game into something really ugly. Also Luke McCown must get much better protection then Jaguars QB’s got in most of the preseason. Also I hope we will see the huge investment of the defense staring to paying off. They must help out this offense making some plays – I hope that 43(!) game streak of no score by the Jaguars defense will end sooner than later! I don’t know and don’t think heat will an issue in this game, because the Titans played very often in Jacksonville in 1 pm games in the recent past. I have lot of concerns toward this game, and once again I think it will be a really close game, and the difference will be for sure within 7 points, maybe even 3. The Titans started a new chapter; the Jaguars are entering year 3 of the rebuilding. I hope Jack Del Rio’s team will show on Sunday that the Jaguars are at least a little bit ahead of the process.

Prediction: Jaguars 20 – Titans 19

Zoltan Paksa