In the beginning, Tom Coughlin targeted the Pittsburgh Steelers. Now, in this new era of Jaguars football, the Tennessee Titans are the standard by which the Jaguars will measure themselves.
Coach Jack Del Rio announced that fact at this afternoon's press conference, as Del Rio welcomed back reporters from a weekend of inactivity. Del Rio pronounced his team rested and energized from its bye week, and ready to host a game this Sunday against the Titans that will go a long way toward defining where the "new era" is and how far it still has to go.
"This has been the most successful team in our conference the last five years. This is clearly the team we'll have to beat to have success around here," Del Rio said of the Titans, who are 4-2 and coming off an impressive thrashing of previously undefeated Carolina.
So, here it is, Titans week. This is the game that gets Jaguars fans' hearts pumping. Of course, it all goes back to 1999, when the Jaguars only lost to one team all season. That team was the Titans, who beat the Jaguars three times; the final time in the AFC title game in Jacksonville.
Since then, the Jaguars have fallen on hard times -- three consecutive losing seasons and a 1-5 start this year -- while the Titans have continued a run of success that has taken them to the playoffs twice in the last three years and to the AFC title game, again, last season.
Indianapolis may lead the AFC South standings, but Del Rio knows the Titans are the team to beat. They're the class of the AFC South, just as the Steelers were the class of the AFC Central when the Jaguars were an expansion member in 1995. Then, the Steelers were the team Coughlin had targeted. Now, it is the Titans on whom Del Rio has focused.
So, how much of a gap is there between these two teams? Is it, as coaches suggest, the fine line in the NFL between winning or losing? Or is their ground to be closed?
"I feel like we've got some ground to close and we need to take a step toward closing that ground this weekend," Del Rio said. "I know you can't beat Tennessee without being physical. I still believe deep down they want to run the ball, and we understand there has to be a degree of physicality," he added of the Jaguars' need to be physically forceful against a team most believe has dominated the Jaguars in that department.
The Titans won both meetings between the two teams last season, marking the first time since '99 the Jaguars had been swept by their rivals.
"I thought their front handled our front (on both sides of the ball)," Del Rio said of his assessment of last year's two games between the teams.
The Titans still play a physical brand of football on defense. They are third in the league against the run. But on offense, they bear little resemblance to their former selves. A team that once relied heavily on the running game is now 27th in the league in rushing. These days, the Titans do it in the air. They are third in the league in pass-offense and quarterback Steve McNair is the hottest player in the league.
By comparison, the Jaguars would seem to match up physically. They are fourth against the run and 18th in rushing.
Time will tell and we only have to wait six days for our first answer.
"I believe you have to have a certain presence on the field to have a real good football team. We're becoming a more physical football team," Del Rio said.
Starting middle linebacker Mike Peterson practiced today and Del Rio said Peterson (ribs) may not be included on the Wednesday injury report. Cornerback Kiwaukee Thomas (groin) practiced and his condition was described as "fine," while Keith Mitchell (head and neck), Jimmy Redmond (foot) and Jason Craft (knee) did not practice.