The Jaguars know what to expect. "It's a copycat league," middle linebacker Mike Peterson said, referring to a spread-offense attack Peterson expects the Atlanta Falcons to employ this Sunday.
Tennessee spread the field and ran for 282 yards in a 13-10 win over the Jaguars this past Sunday. The Titans' strategy was such a whirlwind success that it left no doubt the Falcons will try the same.
"Any time you show vulnerability in this league, you can count on that being checked out. That goes without saying," head coach Jack Del Rio said at his Wednesday press conference.
The Jaguars have prided themselves in their run-stopping ability since midway through Del Rio's first season as head coach, 2003. Sunday's collapse was so shocking that most observers immediately decided it was a fluke; that wasn't the Jaguars defense.
"It was us because it happened," Del Rio said. "We don't want that to be what we're known for, but what happened did transpire."
So, the big question Del Rio and his defensive players faced on Wednesday, the first day of preparations for this week's game against Atlanta, was: Do you believe you have the problem fixed?
Del Rio did not fire back with an emphatic yes. Instead, he came back with a we'll-see kind of response.
"You get an opportunity to go out and earn what it is that day. I've never gone in and assumed something was going to happen. You gotta prove it. We have to play better and we all know that," Del Rio said.
The Jaguars will be facing an Atlanta team whose opening-day, 24-3 loss in Minnesota was indicative of the Falcons' summer-long troubles. The situation in Atlanta has gone to the dogs, but Del Rio knows the Falcons have the talent to rebound at any time.
"Very good team speed. Their defense has some really good pass-rushers," Del Rio said of the Falcons. "They were in the game and didn't pull it out. We're both hungry for a win."
If the Jaguars can fix their run-defense and rush-offense, and if quarterback David Garrard and the Jaguars' pass-defense play up to their opening-day standards, the Jaguars should be able to get back on track and even their record. The Jaguars have the league's number one pass-defense after week one of the season, and the pass-offense is a respectable 14th, 10 spots higher than where it finished the 2006 season.
"Just keep improving as a football player and help us win," Del Rio said of his expectations for Garrard this week. "You can see signs of where he improved and we think there are things he is going to do better with experience."
Garrard certainly wasn't the problem against Tennessee. He threw for 204 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions and an 88.8 passer rating, and had two passes dropped. One of those was a potential touchdown.
"We've got to play better and get a win," Garrard said. "It's important to go out and win ballgames. That's what we're here for."
The lone criticism of Garrard's performance against the Titans is that he failed to move the ball in the Jaguars' final two offensive possessions, needing only a field goal to tie. One of those two possessions was victimized by a dropped pass that, had it been caught, would've sustained the drive.
"I saw some decent things. I saw some passes where I could've hit some guys. We had some opportunities in the red zone to hit some passes and score more points … guys who were open that I didn't get to," Garrard said.
Tennessee used a lot of man-to-man coverage that allowed the Titans to move the safeties closer to the line of scrimmage to support against the run. Garrard is expecting more of the same by Atlanta.
"It's too early in the season to get down in the dumps," he said.
If the Jaguars don't win this game, next week won't be too early.