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Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Tennessee Titans primer: Key matchups, storylines, predictions, and more for Week 3

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The Jacksonville Jaguars try to atone their winless 2017 record against the Tennessee Titans at TIAA Bank Field at 1:00pm EST.

UNIFORM WATCH: White tops and teal trousers for Sunday.

Opponent

The 1-1 Titans have played at an 0-2 caliber to start the season and first year head coach Mike Vrabel had to dig deep into his bag of tricks to score on a fake punt from his own territory to sneak a win against the Houston Texans last week. The Jaguars will need to be extremely conservative on special teams to make sure that this doesn’t happen, as this is really the only way I can see the Titans stealing a win this week, a la the Rams game last year.

Offensively, the Titans are somewhat in shambles under first year offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur. We still don’t know whether Marcus Mariota or Blaine Gabbert will get the start this weekend, but Mariota has looked so lost in the new system that Jags fans should almost be hoping he gets the nod from a tactical aspect. There has been absolutely no chemistry with the wide receivers (especially last year’s fifth overall pick Corey Davis), and their most targeted playmaker from last season in Delanie Walker has already been sidelined for the rest of 2018 with an ankle injury. What was once the exotic smash mouth running game now actually resembles Smash Mouth singer Steven Harwell trying to tote the rock, and Derrick Henry is averaging less than three yards per carry with Dion Lewis getting the majority of snaps. Most notably, the Titans usual stalwarts at offensive tackle in Taylor Lewan (concussion) and Jack Conklin (ACL) have been sidelined due to injury, but both returned to practice this week and will return on Sunday. Yannick Ngakoue will be anxious to knock the rust out of them.

Defensively, the Titans may not have top shelf personnel across all eleven positions, but they have certainly taken on the gritty persona of their head coach. The unit plays hard and could be boosted with rookie linebackers Rashaan Evans and Harold Landry playing meaningful snaps after being hampered by injuries. Along the defensive line, Jurrell Casey has been a problem for this franchise but has yet to face former first team All-Pro guard in Andrew Norwell. Blake Bortles will need to stay away from throwing at impressive free safety Kevin Byard, who had eight interceptions in 2017.

For more information on the Titans, check out Ryan O’Bleness’ crossover piece with Jimmy Morris of Music City Miracles.

Storylines

With last week’s signature win against New England, the Jaguars have now won their last seven consecutive home games, and Blake Bortles has become the first Jaguars quarterback to begin the season 2-0 since 2006. Midweek reports indicated that there were still around 5,000 tickets still available for purchase, and the team will need our support to give the players the home field advantage that they thrive off of:

Another popular storyline that has surfaced among the fan base this week is whether or not the Jaguars offense is better off without Leonard Fournette, and a general feeling exists that Fournette hamstrings the creativity of Nathaniel Hackett and his personnel packaging and play calling. We’ll see this week, but Bortles’ answering of the bell last week has inspired increased confidence from his teammates and the rest of the media, and we may have seen a critical turning point for the offense. If it were up to me, I would study the different ways that Sean McVay uses last year’s AP Offensive Player of the Year Toddy Gurley and use Fournette, a much better pass catcher than given credit for, in a similar capacity.

Most importantly, a two game lead in the division is at stake and a win could really help the Jaguars start to pull away as the leader in the AFC South after just three games. The Colts have a tough match up this week against a Philadelphia Eagles team with Carson Wentz returning and the Texans square off against a hungry and winless New York Giants team, so this could really give the Jaguars some wiggle room which could allow them to rest some key veteran starters late into the season if they can clinch the division early.

Key matchups

Josh Wells vs. Brian Orakpo

One of the few match ups that worry me, Wells will need to step up in the wake of Cam Robinson’s season-ending knee injury and give Blake the time he needs in the pocket. Wells played exceptionally well in spot duty last week but the Titans now have a week to prepare for him and Brian Orakpo is the type of veteran pass rusher who can exploit Wells’ weaknesses with a variety of rush moves.

Andrew Norwell vs. Jurrell Casey

Briefly referenced above, Norwell will need to earn his big game check this week going against the Titans’ best defensive player. Casey has been a thorn in the Jaguars side for the last several years and Norwell will have to flash that mean streak in the run game to move Casey off his spot and create some seals for Fournette.

Keelan Cole vs. Malcolm Butler

Keelan Cole turned the heads of everybody in the league last week with his spectacular one handed catch, but his job doesn’t get much easier this week going against Malcolm Butler. Butler plays a much more physical brand of football than Stephon Gilmore or Eric Rowe did last week and he will have to show his strength to beat press coverage and win at the point of attack. Expect the Titans to play lots of man press coverage and speedster Adoree Jackson to shadow Dede Westbrook on the other side.

Yannick Ngakoue vs. Taylor Lewan/Jack Conklin

Ngakoue has zero sacks and fans are overreacting about it. Taylor Lewan won’t be quite himself after getting a little Windmill Wisdom knocked into him by Andre Branch in week one and Yannick has absolutely owned Conklin all the way back to the Maryland/Michigan State days. Nsackoue comes back this week, folks.

Blaine Gabbert vs. Jaguars Fans

I mentioned earlier that Mariota may be a more attractive option from a tactical perspective for the Jaguars, but where’s the fun in tactics? Not only are Jaguars fans scorned by the aloof persona and lack of ROI from Gabbert’s era in Jacksonville, but there is extra salt in this wound after losing on the road to Gabbert’s Arizona Cardinals last season. If Gabbert does play, the roar of the crowd whenever he gets hit or knocked down will be deafening. Even if he doesn’t play, I would ask the equipment manager for some earmuffs or noise-cancelling headphones sitting on the bench if I were him. He don’t want this smoke.

Final prediction

If it were any other team outside of the Titans, I would be incredibly leery of a hangover following an epic win like the one they had this past week against Brady and the Pats. Due to the animosity woven into the fabric of this rivalry, I sincerely doubt that this will be the case. This team has gone on record to say that the Titans were simply more physical than them in both losses last season, and I fully expect the defense to punch them in the mouth regardless of takes that first snap under center.

This team doesn’t forget. This team will embarrass you.

Jaguars win 35-13.