It’s rivalry week for the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans. The Jags will look to remain perfect to start the season and improve to 3-0, while the 1-1 Titans have an opportunity to move past .500 here in the early season. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. on Sunday inside of TIAA Bank Field.
It’s no secret that Jacksonville has struggled against Tennessee recently. Let’s find out why that is, and get a better picture of what the Titans are as a team for the 2018 season. I spoke with Jimmy Morris of Music City Miracles — SB Nation’s Tennessee Titans experts — to learn more about what to expect from that team from Nashville.
1. The Titans are dealing with a lot of injuries. Most importantly, Marcus Mariota, Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin (Go Green!). Are you expecting those three players to be active against Jacksonville? If Mariota doesn’t play on Sunday, do you think the Titans stand a chance with former Jaguar Blaine Gabbert under center? He did beat his former team last year with the Arizona Cardinals.
Jimmy: Taylor Lewan is most likely going to play. He was in the last step of the concussion protocol on Wednesday. As long as there wasn’t a setback after practice he will be out there on Sunday.
Jack Conklin is still recovering from a torn ACL last January. He has been limited in practice the first two weeks, but was a full go on Wednesday. It sounds like he has a chance to play, but my guess is that it is still a week or two before he plays.
Marcus Mariota is still dealing with an ulnar nerve issue. It appears to have gotten better, but he was still struggling to push the ball down the field by all accounts yesterday. We probably won’t know for sure until Sunday on Mariota, but it seems like he is a long-shot to play as well.
As for can the Titans win with Blaine Gabbert, I would say they can, but their chances are much better, obviously, with Marcus out there. The Titans came out with a perfect game plan against the Texans last week when they were without their starting QB and their top-three offensive tackles. I worry that they expended their full bag of tricks last week, but I have a lot of faith in this coaching staff. They can come up with a plan that gives the Titans a chance. We will see what happens from there.
2. Despite the injuries, the Titans were able to beat the Houston Texans in Week 2. What was the game plan like that allowed this to happen, and do you think a similar game plan work against Jacksonville?
Jimmy: The Titans basically just took the ball out of Gabbert’s hands. They went run heavy, and when Gabbert was asked to throw they were short routes that might have been pre-determined reads. Again, that is what made the most sense with all of the injuries they had. They even ran a couple of series with Derrick Henry in the wildcat. Oh, and it helped that the Texans stacked 10 men on the line of scrimmage that allowed a 66-yard fake punt touchdown.
I would expect a similar game plan this week, but they will have to come up with some new wrinkles because the wildcat won’t be a surprise this week. As I said above, I have faith that this coaching staff can come up with something to keep the game close. It will then be up to the players to make plays.
3. What are your thoughts about new head coach Mike Vrabel through two games? Is there confidence amongst the fanbase that Vrabel, and the new coordinators Dean Pees and Matt LeFleur, are the right men for the job?
Jimmy: I love Mike Vrabel. The confidence is sky high in this staff after seeing the game plan they came up with last week. By all accounts they completely switched course on the game plan on Friday after it became apparent they were going to be without Mariota and back-up tackle Dennis Kelly. The staff here last year would not have done that. They would have just lined up and tried to run what they run.
4. Despite Jacksonville’s success in 2017, the Titans had the Jaguars’ number. Why do you think that was, and do you expect more of the same in 2018?
Jimmy: Warren Sharp did a nice job of breaking it down here. Basically the Titans prehistoric offense was effective against the Jaguars defense that was really, really good. Now the Titans are a different team this year, but this staff seems committed to studying a team and trying to attack their weaknesses. That seems like a really simple thing, but that wasn’t what the staff here last year did. I expect this staff to spend a lot of time looking at what made the Titans successful last year and try to emulate it.
5. Putting rivalry biases aside, do you buy the Jaguars as a legitimate Super Bowl contender? Why or why not?
Jimmy: I absolutely do think they are a legitimate contender because of that historically good defense. They would have made the Super Bowl last year if not for getting so conservative in the second half against the Patriots. I would be legitimately concerned about the Jags had they acquired Alex Smith this past offseason, but instead they committed to Blake Bortles. I think that is what ultimately keeps them from winning a Super Bowl.
Bonus: Final score prediction?
Jimmy: Titans 17 Jaguars 10