The Titans defense will challenge the Jaguars offense to make plays down the field on Sunday. The question confronting the Jaguars is: Can they make those plays?
"They challenge you to throw the ball deep," Jaguars Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter said on Thursday. "They are one of the teams that can get pressure with a four-man rush. They don't have to blitz to get pressure. They have the type of corners who can sit on routes. They don't get beat much."
In Jeff Fisher's early years as Titans head coach, his teams played a lot of "46 defense," a high-pressure, blitz-happy strategy that's intended to sack the quarterback before he can find an open receiver. It was all high-pressure stuff, including press, man-to-man coverage by the cornerbacks.
These Titans don't play much "46" but their defensive principle is still the same, pressure. The Titans force the issue on defense and rely on tight coverage from a secondary that has within its ranks three defenders with four interceptions each.
"They try to force you to be one-dimensional," Koetter said, referring to an emphasis on stopping the run, getting a lead and then forcing the opposition to pass. That's when the Titans tee off on opposing quarterbacks, who they've sacked 24 times this season.
David Garrard was the victim in seven of those 24 sacks, in a nightmarish season-opening defeat in Nashville that included two interceptions. One of those interceptions was by Cortland Finnegan on an underthrown deep ball.
The Jaguars had gone into that game with the belief they could throw the ball deep against the Titans. On the throw for Troy Williamson that resulted in Finnegan's interception, the Jaguars got the defensive look they wanted but the play was foiled by a heavy pass-rush that forced Garrard to move his feet and throw late.
"We got off to a horrendous start and we got Dave hit far too many times," Koetter said. "Any quarterback, when they get hit that much, they're going to get rattled. I probably asked Dave to do too much in that first Titans game. Take that game out and I think Dave has played pretty consistently."
The Jaguars know that any chance of beating the 9-0 Titans on Sunday rests with the offensive line giving Garrard time to throw and allowing for balance between run and pass. Against defensive backs who like to sit on routes, the Jaguars probably still believe they can take some shots downfield, but only if Garrard has time to throw.
"Protect the passer, get the ball out of our hand, don't turn it over and score one more point than they do," Koetter said of keys to victory for the offense. "They pressure you and outnumber you in the run-game," he added, referring to a lot of single-high safety the Titans play that allows them to get eight men up against the run.
"We played as bad as you can play and we were still in it at the end," he said of that season-opener. "The season isn't over. Jack (Del Rio) said it best. 'We're all in for right now.' I think we're getting better offensively. We have to prove it on the field and what better team to prove it against than Tennessee."