The Jaguars will come front and center this Monday night with the team that started all of the Jaguars' troubles. Clearly, the Jaguars haven't been the same since the Tennessee Titans' 33-14, AFC title game win in Jacksonville on Jan. 23.
Two weeks shy of the midway point in the 2000 season, the Jaguars have won only two football games since the Titans ended the Jaguars' 1999 season. Those two wins have come against Cleveland and winless Cincinnati. If ever the Jaguars need a win against a quality opponent, it's now, and a win over Tennessee would give the Jaguars the greatest of lifts in their "hour" of greatest need.
Those who maintain that the Jaguars have yet to recover from that AFC title game loss may, in fact, be correct. That day, the Titans used a defensive strategy that teams are using successfully against the Jaguars this season. Opponents are disregarding the run and focusing most of their energies on eliminating the Jaguars' big-play passing attack.
Titans coach Jeff Fisher used that strategy to hold the Jaguars to 216 yards passing despite 38 passing attempts. Though running back Fred Taylor rushed for 110 yards and the Jaguars averaged 6.3 yards per rushing attempt, Fisher banked on the Jaguars' insistence on striking through the air. It paid off, as Mark Brunell was intercepted twice and sacked three times, once for a safety that clearly turned the game in the Titans' favor.
Most recently, the Bengals, Colts, Steelers and Ravens have loaded up against the Jaguars passing game, and the Jaguars have been unable to take advantage of the strategy. That's the level to which the Jaguars running game has sunk, with Taylor still showing the effects of his early-season knee injury and the offensive line depleted of personnel.
"What they're doing is saying, 'Let's see you run the ball,' " coach Tom Coughlin said of the strategy, which has come into full flower since the Jaguars' 36-point effort in Baltimore in week two, when Brunell threw for 386 yards.
Now, the Jaguars are set to travel to Tennessee, the only team to have beaten the Jaguars last season. The Titans did that three times. If anybody knows how to defense the Jaguars, it's the Titans.
"Yesterday was a good beginning to the week," Coughlin said of the Wednesday practice for Monday night's game in Adelphia Coliseum, where the Titans have never lost.
The Jaguars may have middle linebacker Hardy Nickerson back in the lineup. He practiced Wednesday, after missing a game due to a hamstring pull he suffered in the first half of the loss to the Steelers.
Meanwhile, outside linebacker Lonnie Marts (abdominal strain) is not practicing and is not likely to play against the Titans, and reserve running back Stacey Mack was placed on injured reserve today after fracturing the ring finger on his right hand in practice yesterday. Mack underwent surgery on the finger today. He has been replaced on the active roster by tight end Ryan Neufeld, who was moved up from the practice squad.
"If people want to take away the big play, the long-gainer, you've got to become more consistent," Coughlin said. Of course, that puts a major emphasis on the performances of Taylor and the offensive line this Monday night, though all eyes will be on Brunell, following his benching in the fourth quarter of this past Sunday night's loss to the Ravens.
Asked if his team has found its identity, yet, Coughlin said: "No, I think we're still searching for it."
If they want to beat the Titans, they better identify their need for a successful running game.