Winners of two in a row and currently occupying first place in the AFC South, the Jaguars have traversed the depths of the NFL only to return to relevance in just two weeks time. Confetti should return to storage, however, as the rest of the South – Houston, Indianapolis and Tennessee – also sit at 3-2, and the Titans certainly plan on claiming conference supremacy, or at least a piece of it, Monday night when they travel to EverBank Field to take on the Jaguars.
The Jags again are fortunate in matchup, as the team’s defense no doubt has more success against run-oriented football teams, and Tennessee is certainly that. Now that doesn’t mean the Titans aren’t explosive on offense; quite the contrary, quarterback Vince Young can be extremely dangerous both rushing and throwing the football and Chris Johnson is arguably the game’s most explosive running back. And the statistics bear proof: The Titans put up 38 points against Oakland, 29 against the Giants, and 34 just last week on the road against the talented Cowboys.
Then, without further ado, we take a closer look below at what should be a stiff Monday-night challenge for the Jaguars.
KEYS TO WEEK 5:
As I alluded to above, on defense Jacksonville must contain the run. Of course, that can be said going into just about any football game, but it’s that much more true when defending the Titans.
On the other side of the ball, Tennessee struggles mightily defending the pass and is just about mediocre when it comes to stopping the run. Its front seven is respectable, though, and will no doubt focus on taking away Jacksonville’s main strength: the run game.
Now let’s take a closer look at how things will unfold, on both sides of the ball.
Ball in Hand:
Unlike some of the NFL’s elite teams, Jacksonville’s offensive game plan is dictated by its own limitations rather than by the opponent it is playing each week. Teams that can attack the Titans through the air surely do, as the team ranks 29th in the league when it comes to defending the pass. Jacksonville, however, is greatly limited in the passing department and is forced, then, to feature the run each week because it’s what it does best.
Tennessee has been mostly solid against the run, allowing just a single 100-yard rusher this season, though it came last week against a back – Felix Jones – clearly inferior to Maurice Jones-Drew. Jacksonville’s three receiving threats – Mike Sims-Walker, Mike Thomas and Marcedes Lewis – should all find favorable matchups down the field, so the passing game should be explored on a consistent basis.
As is usual with Jacksonville, however, establishing the run against a respectable Titan run defense will be key to scoring points, keeping an explosive Tennessee offense off the field, and winning the game.
On the Defense:
Tennessee is 3-2 this year and, thus far, as Chris Johnson goes so go the Titans. In Tennessee’s three wins thus far, Johnson is averaging 133 yards rushing to go along with two touchdowns. And he’s been consistent on each of these days, rushing for at least 125 yards and two scores in all three games. In Tennessee’s two losses, however, CJ has averaged just 43 yards rushing and hasn’t scored a single touchdown. Notice a pattern?
Simply put, the statistics don’t lie: Receivers Nate Washington and Kenny Britt scare no one and, as a result, the Titans are entirely dependent on the running game. In the end, stop Young and, more importantly, Johnson and you more than likely stop the Titans.
When it’s all Said and Done:
Jacksonville is no doubt feeling good about itself having won its last two football games and, surprisingly, has gotten things more than going on offense, scoring 67 points in the last two weeks after being held to just 16 combined points in the two games prior. Conveniently, the Titans have been pretty generous to opposing offenses, giving up the 14th-most points in the league this year.
Defensively, the Jaguars have actually competed quite well against the run, and will need to put forth their best effort this weekend against a top-five rushing attack. I expect Jacksonville to move the ball and score some points, but none of that matters if it can’t stop the Titan run game. Furthermore, Young is at his best throwing the football when his team finds success running it, so stopping Johnson is certainly focus No. 1 for Jacksonville.
It may sound a bit simple, but the game should bowl down to which team is stingier defending the rush. Jacksonville is at home and riding momentum, and both factors should definitely count for something, but Tennessee has been the more successful team this year when it has come to both featuring and defending the run. As a result, I think Tennessee’s success in the run department, on both sides of the ball, will be the difference in an offensive showdown under the lights of Monday Night Football.
Prediction: 31-27, Tennessee
NEWS AND NOTES:
From the team: Monday Night Football is coming to Jacksonville on October 18th when the Jaguars host the AFC South Division rival Tennessee Titans at EverBank Field. Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton has declared the day “Teal Monday” in Jacksonville and is encouraging all citizens and companies to show their team pride by attending the game, wearing teal and closing businesses early in time to watch the game.
A number of pre-game events will be taking place in downtown Jacksonville and around EverBank Field leading up to the 8:30 p.m. kickoff. For more information, visit Jaguars.com.
BEATING THE SPREAD:
Just for kicks, each week I will pick against the spread in my three favorite games, using the opening lines from the USA Today Newspaper as my reference. Feel free to do the same; we can even compete, if you don’t mind losing (Zing!).
I’ve got to admit, I’m beginning to get a bit frustrated, as I’ve now finished 2-1 three weeks in a row, and still remain without a perfect, 3-0 week. This one, then, will be all about redemption and my quest for an undefeated performance.
For real this time, I present my LOCKS of the week:
DETROIT at New York, Giants, +11: Last week I called Detroit the league’s best winless team, and it proceeded to embarrass the Rams, 44-6. I’d now call the Lions the best 1-4 group in the NFL and, though the Giants are in the midst of playing some really good football, Detroit is good enough to at the very least keep the game close. Give me the 11.
BALTIMORE at New England, +2.5: New England has had two weeks to prepare for this showdown between NFL elites, and that is unquestionably a huge advantage for a heady coach like Bill Belichick, but that doesn’t make up for the loss of Randy Moss or for the fact that New England’s defense has been well below average this year. With that said, give me the points and the NFL’s best team.
MINNESOTA vs. Dallas, -2: While it’s not a must win for either team, both are still pretty desperate for a victory. The acquisition of Moss has to help and, even in losing, Minnesota has looked better and more competitive than Dallas this year. Plus the Vikings are at home and are giving less than three. Consider me sold.
So, that’s all I’ve got for today but, as usual, be sure to visit this space on Monday night/Tuesday morning for post-game Jaguar analysis and more. Until then, be good and keep reading.
Janovitz can be reached at Scott.Janovitz@gmail.com
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Written by Scott Janovitz