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My 5 storylines: Jaguars vs Titans

Five plots to watch as the Jaguars host the Titans.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Jacksonville Jaguars Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Well then. Started this on Monday before the Jalen Ramsey trade news consumed the new cycle. It surely changes the collective narrative of tomorrow night’s game, but it is not sole plot to follow.

Jacksonville rarely gets a prime time game, but when they do you can bet it will be the Titans. The history, both past and present, has kept the fires burning in the fields for Jaguars fans. Look no further than the three game sweep of 1999 and the Derrick Henry Massacre of 2018.

Tennessee holds a 29-20 advantage, with the Jaguars being swept the past two season. Their last win was the day before Christmas, 2016, in Jacksonville. Jason Myers was 2/4 on extra points, but 4/4 on field goals in a lopsided 38-17 win. Jalen Ramsey also returned an interception for a touchdown.

It is a short week for a critical AFC South divisional battle. Both the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans are coming off bitter defeats to the other divisional teams; the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts respectively. Going 0-2 in the division this early could be the first nail in the playoff coffin, especially for a Jaguars team who would fall to 0-3 overall.

Minshew and the offense are an ongoing given, so I am looking at other areas of interest.

Looking at this Thursday’s matchup, these are the 5 plots I will be following.

Will the Jaguars defense embarrass or empower?

After the Waste Land that was the Kansas City game, the Jaguars rose to the challenge against the Texans. While not as potent as the Chiefs offense, Todd Wash still had his hands full with DeShaun Watson, DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller V, and Kenny Stills. Those three receivers combined for only 118 yards on 11 receptions, and no touchdowns.

Apart from the Jalen Ramsey and Doug Marrone altercation on the sideline, the defense looked to have forgiven and forgotten their performance from the previous week. They committed only one penalty, a holding call on defensive tackle Abry Jones.

Then Monday happened. Now the conversation spins around when will Jalen get traded, should the Jaguars play him, and how will he perform on the field. If we trust the information that he and coach Doug Marrone have yet to speak, then tension could be high.

How thin a line are they, or for the greater part the team, walking? If Ramsey is the professional he claims he is then he will need to keep himself in check. Marrone will need to execute his best coaching job ever to keep everyone focused.

The Gardner Minshew led offense will need the defense to discipline their intensity, and their focus must be on vegenance for last year’s embarrassment. Limit penalties. No ejections. No team distractions. Make the Titans earn every yard.

Yannick Ngakoue, Myles Jack, Jalen Ramsey, and Josh Allen must lead by example.

And Taven Bryan needs to keep moving that needle up.

Can the Jaguars defense stop the run?

This one is obvious.

While the Jaguars were stout against the pass against the Texans, their run defense was another story. Ex-Jaguars Carlos Hyde found great success running against the Jaguars front four. His total for the day was 20 for 90, with a long of 14. 9 of those runs were for five yards or more.

I will not get into Henry’s stat line from last year, but it was historic.

After two weeks into the 2019 season he does not appear to be losing that end of season momentum.

  • Tied for 2nd in the league with 90 yards after contact. Averaging 2.7 yards per carry after contact.
  • Averaging 4.9 yards per carry. Against the Browns he was 19/84/1 and a 4.4 avg. Against the Colts he was 15/81/1 and a 5.4 avg.

Offensive coordinator Arthur Smith was criticized for not riding Henry more often, which could be a signal the workhorse back will see in excess of 20 touches. Historically, Derrick has not required more than that number of carries to hurt the Jaguars, usually seeing around 17 attempts. His last and only time carrying a >20 touch load was the final game of the 2017 season where he was 28/51 for a 1/8 avg.

But it’s not just about big number 22. Quarterback Marcus Mariota has also been a big thorn in the paw.

  • December 2016: 9/112/1
  • September 2017: 6/24
  • September 2017: 10/60
  • September 2018: 7/51

While his stats from the first two games are not run heavy, 3/24 and 5/32, his run average is an impressive 7 ypc.

It is a Jaguars defense yielding 119.5 yards per game against a Titans team achieving 123 yards per game. Together, Mariota and Henry average just under 6 ypc.

After the Kansas City game, defensive coordinator Todd Wash had the defense running live tackling drills the Thursday before the Texans game. The Jaguars appeared to have improved some, but they are not where they need to be. On Tuesday Wash stated, “We have a tackling plan...We have to do what we can scheme-wise to try and keep him between the tackles.”

Well, Carlos Hyde found success between the tackles, and with an undersized MLB in Myles Jack (don’t get me started on playing guys out of position so to not optimize their talents), so I am curious as to how Wash’s plan will fare.

Can the Jaguars special teams be special, again?

For me this was an area of concern for week 1. (Old account)

The Kansas City game was an aberration considering how bad the defense played. A different story in Houston, specifically the Jaguars punter.

Logan Cooke punted 6 times for 288, with a net average of 47.2 yards per punt. With a long of 54, and more impressively 4 of those being inside the 20, Cooke forced DeShaun Watson to drive the field. Tyler Ervin was only given one kick return option, but he maximized it for a 20 yard return. The Jaguars punt return game was absent at 2.3 yards per return, but at least they held onto the ball. I’m looking at you Dede Westbrook.

Jacksonville has yet to see any significant value from their punt return team, 2.3 per return, but Ervin’s 19.3 average per kick return is a highlight. The Titans are averaging 19 yards per kick return, and 13 per punt.

Josh Lambo continues to be automatic, 4 for 4 on FG, so if this team wants to find any advantage it may be a short field for Lambo and a long field for Mariota/Henry.

Can the Jaguars win the turnover battle?

Jalen Ramsey drops a possible pick-six. Calais Campbell fails to fall on a fumble. Gardner Minshew fumbles three times, losing one.

Yes winning the turnover battle is always critical, but some teams can overcome that disadvantage. The Jaguars offense is still getting its sea legs strong. Consider that last weeks loss to the Texans was predicated on that dropped interception and lost fumble. A 14 point swing.

In two games the Jaguars have forced zero fumbles, and have a similar number of interceptions. The last time the Jaguars recovered a fumble was the last game of 2018, against the Texans, and the last interception the week before at Miami. Telvin Smith returned a Ryan Tannehill pass for a 33 yard touchdown.

Giving the fans a glimpse of the turnover Dyson that was the 2017 defense will help focus the mood away from “unintended” distractions. It will also give a much needed shot in the arm to a defense trying to regain its identity.

Will the fans inspire the team?

This storyline is simple. Will the fans ignore the Jalen vs Jaguars crisis and focus solely on giving the team a ferocious home field advantage? I don’t need to share with you the myriad of positions flying around Twitter, Facebook, and the many media outlets. I wrote about some of those positions here.

Some have argued the fan base will boo Ramsey, though if social media is any indication there will be many who may see this as is farewell game and will want him to thrive under the spotlight and the affirmation.

I get that booing him will afford fans a cathartic release, but that is selfish of the fans. These same fans who loathe Ramsey because they think he is being selfish. What the fans should care about are the team getting their first win of the season against a hated rival, not falling behind two games against divisional teams, and showing that the team is more important than any player.

Oh, and on a national stage, erasing the memory of the 99 yard run.

What storylines have your attention?