The Jacksonville Jaguars bring the curtain down on the 2023 regular season with a road game against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. With postseason football on the line, here are three key matchups to look out for:
Parker Washington vs Roger McCreary
Roger McCreary has allowed only a 66.2 completion rate which is 3rd best on the team out of 19 eligible guys.— Cody Weith (@2Tone_TurtleMan) December 26, 2023
He’s allowed the 4th lowest QB rating of ANY slot in the NFL with as many snaps as him. pic.twitter.com/chNTYd5Lh8
Despite the return to practice in a limited capacity for both Christian Kirk (groin) and Zay Jones (knee/hamstring), it would be a big surprise to see either receiver suit up for the Jaguars on Sunday. Add to that Jamal Agnew, whose season is over after sustaining a lower leg fracture against the Panthers, and it looks like rookie Parker Washington is in line for a healthy amount of snaps this weekend.
Washington has featured in 15 of Jacksonville’s 17 games so far this season, recording 121 yards and a pair of touchdowns from 15 receptions. His breakout moment came in the overtime loss to the Cincinnati Bengals back in Week 13, and there is confidence in him from the coaching staff that he can be a consistent contributor on both offense and special teams in Agnew’s absence. He may be moved about a bit more in light of a mini-injury crisis at receiver, but Washington works best from the slot. Expect him to be a heavy target for CJ Beathard - or even Trevor Lawrence, should he himself make a miraculous recovery.
With the Titans thankful for outside corners Sean Murphy-Bunting and Tre Avery returning to full participation in training on Wednesday, it looks like Washington will be lining up opposite nickel corner Roger McCreary this Sunday. McCreary backed up a quietly impressive rookie year with similar stats in 2023, racking up seven tackles for the past four weeks. The Titans like to turn games into dogfights, and moving the chains consistently will be key to winning - if Washington can own the middle of the field against McCreary, the Jaguars will be in good shape.
Josh Allen vs Andre Dillard
Tennessee might have the worst offensive line in the NFL right now - just ask Will Levis, who has taken his fair share of punishment this season and will be watching his team’s 2023 finale from the sideline. The Titans have given up the third-most sacks in the NFL this year (62) - and things are getting worse; over the last three games, they have averaged 6.3 sacks allowed per contest, more than one and a half greater than the next team (New York Giants, 4.7). They haven’t been aided by the absence of second-year tackle Nicolas Petit-Frere (IR), but in starting bookends Andre Dillard and Dillon Radunz they at least have experience with guys selected in the first two rounds of the draft. Simply, they need to be doing a better job of protecting the quarterback.
That quarterback on Sunday will be Ryan Tannehill, stepping in for the aforementioned Levis. He’ll be fearful of Josh Allen, who has become a sack machine in his fifth year in the NFL. With just one game to go, Allen (who recently earned his second Pro Bowl invite) has 16.5 takedowns this season, only half a sack behind leaders TJ Watt (Pittsburgh Steelers) and Trey Hendrickson (Bengals) - and considering the porous pass protection facing him this weekend, he’ll be confident of adding to that tally.
This one is simple - if the Titans want to play spoiler and beat the Jags, they need to stop Allen. Good luck with that.
Travis Etienne vs Marlon Davidson
The Titans have, by their own standards, fallen short of expectations in 2023. Many factors have contributed to that, but struggles down the stretch can at least partially be attributed to injury on the interior of their defensive line. With starters Jeffery Simmons and Teair Tart both on IR, Tennessee have seen their usually robust run defense become more vulnerable - in the last three weeks, they’ve averaged 106 yards allowed on the ground per game, a far cry from their league-leading 76 yards from 2022.
Having only started two games this year, Marlon Davidson looks set to feature against the Jaguars. The former second round draft pick was released by the Atlanta Falcons in the offseason, and has just seven tackles for the Titans this season. Him and Jaleel Johnson aren’t expected to be the dominant force that Simmons and Tart were, but they will still need to be serviceable if Mike Vrabel and his team want to finish the season on a high note.
Looking to take advantage of this patchwork defensive line is Travis Etienne, a running back who has had his own struggles this year. Etienne finally broke 100 yards on the ground last weekend for the first time since Week 5, slaying the Carolina Panthers for 102 yards and 2 scores. Knowing the value that a complementary run game can offer to an offense, Doug Pederson and his staff will be keen to see Etienne maintain that standard as the Jaguars have one eye on the postseason - particularly with the status of Trevor Lawrence in some doubt.
Which matchups are you looking forward to watching in Week 18?