The Jacksonville Jaguars (4-8) hit the road to Music City for a prime time Thursday Night Football battle against franchise rivals Tennessee Titans (6-6) at 8:20pm EST.
That means we get Troy Aikman and Joe Buck on the FOX call, unless you are watching on Amazon Prime and want to switch to the Hannah Storm/Andrea Kremer audio, or my favorite, the dulcet tones of the U.K. feed.
John Parry will be on the whistle, who hasn’t called a Jaguars game since the 2017 regular season game in Pittsburgh where the Jaguars won 30-9 at Heinz Field.
Referee for Jaguars at Titans @NFLonFOX @NFLnetwork — John Parry— Fᴏᴏᴛʙᴀʟʟ Zᴇʙʀᴀs (@footballzebras) December 4, 2018
UNIFORM WATCH: Spoiled milk.
All white on Thursday Night Football.@PPG | #DUUUVAL pic.twitter.com/FxC7a8DkWR— #DUUUVAL (@Jaguars) December 4, 2018
So much has changed since the Jaguars lost a 9-6 snoozer to the Titans in week three, but a similar score for this upcoming game isn’t out of the questions despite all those differences. Although not quite yet mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, the Jaguars essentially have nothing to play for except pride and to prove they can beat their franchise nemesis. To Doug Marrone and the Jaguars credit, they are still playing with exceptional effort, and that enthusiasm should be dialed up to ten with an opportunity to deal their arch-rivals a crushing blow to their playoff hopes in their own house.
Offensively, the Titans haven’t blown the doors off of anyone this season, but have routinely come up in clutch moments this year to deliver the win. Just last week, Mariota led the Titans on a late fourth quarter drive with a game-winning touchdown to Corey Davis to avoid a Jets upset. Jaguars fans are all too familiar with how well Mariota plays against this squad, and his mobility and ability to escape pressure is a terrible matchup for this defensive line. After watching the Cowboys play the Saints last Thursday, the difference in pure speed between the Jaguars and Cowboys defensive line is staggering, and as dominant as Calais Campbell is in run defense, his lack of speed painfully shows up whenever he’s in the open field against a mobile quarterback. Todd Wash needs to consider sending an extra rusher, whether it is Leon Jacobs, D.J. Hayden off a nickel blitz, or Ronnie Harrison from the safety spot, which worked out beautifully last week. If the Jaguars limit Mariota’s scrambling ability, they have a chance, especially since tackles Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin haven’t played particularly well this year (Ereck Flowers is actually rated higher in the PFF grades than Conklin).
Defensively, the Titans are in for a big day against the Jaguars. Ereck Flowers and Patrick Omameh performed admirably last week against the Colts, but Jurrell Casey is going literally be a huge problem for them this week. The Titans’ “other” defensive lineman Austin Johnson and DaQuan Jones are also playing at high level, feeding off of Casey’s energy, and they have a nice mix of youthful promise and grizzled experience on the edges with Harold Landry and Brian Orakpo respectively. As if the pass rush didn’t pose enough of a problem for the sitting duck Kessler, Jayon Brown is having a Pro Bowl caliber season at inside linebacker, and while Kevin Byard may not have the high volume of interceptions at the safety spot that he had last year, he is still affecting the game on every play. The area of weakness for the Titans could actually be their cornerbacks, as both Adoree Jackson and Malcolm Butler have largely underperformed this season, especially Butler. The Jaguars wide receivers need to show up for this game and win their individual match ups.
For more information about the Titans, check out Ryan O’Bleness’ all-time series history.
To tank or not to tank?
That’s the question. The coaching staff and front office are going to do everything in their power to win every game from here on out, and they absolutely should. With that said, fans find themselves in a weird cheering purgatory for the remaining four games of the season as the Jaguars, who are in obvious need of a franchise quarterback, need to help themselves as much as possible in terms of draft position.
My message — don’t worry about that.
I have a feeling that no matter what the final record is and where they end up in the final draft order, this team is going to be incredibly aggressive in trading up to the top of the queue to get their franchise quarterback moving forward. While many see the Jaguars upcoming salary cap predicaments as a cumbersome burden, I see trade ammunition for a potential move up to save draft collateral. With so many teams (especially in the top ten) with an enormous amount of projected cap room for 2019, all of a sudden players like Malik Jackson, Jermey Parnell, Carlos Hyde, etc. look like attractive bargaining chips to move up. Hello, Jon Gruden.
Can Cody Kessler win his second consecutive game as the Jaguars starting quarterback? That’s another major storyline this week. Kessler wasn’t very good last week, and the offense was largely inept in moving the football down the field. This week, they will have the boost of franchise fulcrum Leonard Fournette returning to the lineup from suspension and another week with Scott Milanovich at the play calling reigns, so let’s see if there is any improvement. Kessler knows these final four games are a tremendous opportunity for him to audition as the Jaguars bridge quarterback in 2019, and for a <$900k salary next year, you can bet the Jaguars are rooting for him to show enough to serve in that capacity so they don’t have to pursue a costlier Tyrod Taylor-type veteran. As bad as the Bortles dead cap is, the potential of Kessler playing at that wage severely swings the pendulum back in the direction of around $8 million average salary between the two, and that’s a much easier pill to swallow when the Band-Aid is ripped off.
And then there’s Fournette. Will his presence provide another spark to the offensive game plan? At the very least, it should stuff the box, giving the receivers some more room to operate in their routes. Whether or not Kessler will see them and hang tough to make a throw is a different story. If Carlos Hyde has another game hovering around five touches this week, expect some more discontent from his side and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Jaguars explore moving him and his $4.75 million salary in 2019 to recoup some of the value they gave up in trading for him if he is going to be unhappy in Jacksonville.
Jalen Ramsey vs. Corey Davis
It looks like Ramsey will be up this week after yet again eating T.Y. Hilton’s lunch last week on one knee, and this week he lines up against Corey Davis. Despite being a top five pick, Davis isn’t at the top of most people’s dominant receiver lists, and Ramsey has taken sound care of him in their all-time series. In three career games against the Jaguars, Davis has been targeted 9 times for a pedestrian 3 catches and 38 yards. With that said, Davis looks like he made some huge strides over the last several games under offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur and could give a gimpy Ramsey a little run for his money this week.
While you’re reading this, make sure you’re voting the King and the Mayor into the Pro Bowl.
Two Jaguars rank in the Top-10 for Pro Bowl voting at their position through Dec. 3:— #DUUUVAL (@Jaguars) December 4, 2018
• Up 1 spot to 3rd for CB // No. 2 in AFC: @jalenramsey
• Up 1 spot to 9th for DE // No. 3 in AFC: @Campbell93
Fan voting remains open until Dec. 13
RT to #ProBowlVote pic.twitter.com/ky1PMi0hXD
Calais Campbell vs. Jack Conklin
As mentioned, Conklin has had some struggles this year and Campbell should have his way with him this week in their individual match up. But what about after he beats him? Campbell needs maintain his gap integrity this week and make sure Mariota at the minimum does not escape his pocket to extend plays. Campbell might be better suited trying to hold the point of attack on his C gap this week to contain Mariota and allow a Ngakoue or a blitzer to get home.
Ronnie Harrison vs. Marcus Mariota
Harrison had a stellar debut as a starter last week sans one silly personal foul penalty, and the addition of his speed, range, and physicality in the secondary has given this unit new life. Harrison can be a tremendous X factor for the Jaguars this week as his skill set allows him to be deployed in a variety of ways, whether it is in coverage or blitz disguises. Maybe he can even get his first pick.
Telvin Smith Sr. vs. Dion Lewis
Derrick Henry hasn’t done much this season and has been relegated to the Titans RB2, but that doesn’t mean their stable doesn’t present a danger for the defense. The shifty water bug Dion Lewis could be a huge reason that the Jaguars lose this game, especially on screens and dump offs if Todd Wash decides to go heavier on the blitz this week. Myles Jack and Telvin Smith played their best game of the season last week and they need to continue that momentum to mitigate the impressive run after catch ability of Lewis.
Donte Moncrief vs. Malcolm Butler
Moncrief is still adjusting to a quarterback who can accurately place a six yard slant, and hopefully we see that chemistry amplified moving forward. My guess is the incendiary Adoree Jackson mans up on the speedy Dede Westbrook this week, allowing the bigger bodies of Butler and Moncrief to duke it out on the other side. Moncrief has struggled with contested catches this year but has been sneaky good with the ball in his hands in space, so hopefully he can shake Butler on the line and gets the ball in his hands on slants and drags, similar to what the Jaguars wanted to see from Marqise Lee.
Yannick Ngakoue vs. Taylor Lewan
This is one of my favorite match ups ever and we are blessed to see it twice a year. We all know Lewan is an extremely fiery player who lets the emotions get the best him, and Ngakoue is very good at getting under player’s skin. Is this the week they finally throw punches? If so, I am very excited to see Fournette fly in from the sidelines to get in the action. All jokes aside, we are very lucky to have Yann in Jacksonville and I, for one, cannot wait to see him get paid.
Only NFL players with at least 27.0 sacks through their first 44 career games since 2014:— Tad Dickman (@TDickman89) December 2, 2018
• @YannGetSacks91 (27.0)
• Khalil Mack (29.0#ProBowlVote
Look, to be the guy, you’ve got to beat the guy, and the Jaguars simply haven’t been able to beat this Titans consistently. Mobile quarterbacks continue to plague the lack of speed on the Jags defensive line and that likely continues this week. My guess is Fournette finds the end zone once and the Titans will struggle in the red zone, allowing kicker Ryan Succop to win the game for them with four field goals. I will not pick them to beat the Titans until they do. They haven’t earned it.
Titans win 12-10.