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Opponent Focus: A Pre-Game Conversation with Jim Wyatt, Titans Senior Writer/Editor

Opponent Focus - Week 11

JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2023 regular season will speak with a writer or media member covering the Jaguars' opponent.

Up this week:

Titans senior writer/editor Jim Wyatt about Sunday's 2023 Week 11 game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans at EverBank Stadium.

Question: The Titans, after back-to-back AFC South titles in 2020 and 2021, enter Sunday 3-6 in fourth place in the division with a 20-6 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this past Sunday. What's the Titans' mindset entering Sunday?

Answer: I think outside expectations were higher and I think in-house expectations were higher. A lot of people going into this year felt like the Titans were kind of in rebuilding mode. Granted, this team still has a ways to go to get to where it feels like it has a competitive team and roster, but reality is you should be better than 3-6. If you win a couple of close games, then things look completely different heading to Jacksonville where you potentially could be playing for a division lead. That hasn't happened. The Titans have lost some games they probably could have, should have, won. As a result, you're sitting at 3-6 and disappointed by the way things have gone certainly.

Q: The perception outside the organization is that rookie Will Levis is the Titans' quarterback moving forward. Is that accurate? And what's the assessment so far?

A: I think they want to give him a chance to show what he can do and prove that he can be this team's franchise quarterback moving forward. Now, can you figure that out if he's not getting protection and time that he needs to operate? That's going to make it tough to evaluate him. I thought in his first start against the [Atlanta] Falcons, they protected him well. He had a great game and threw for four touchdowns. Against Pittsburgh, his second time out … he showed some promise there, too and made some big throws in a hostile Thursday Night Football environment in Pittsburgh. But on Sunday in Tampa, the Buccaneers were credited with 13 quarterback hits and he got sacked four times. He had people in his face very quickly on a lot of his drop backs. It's hard to evaluate a guy when he's getting hit all the time. When you say he's the guy until he is not, you just don't want his season to end because of injuries and they're going to have to protect him better so they can get a long look at him.

Q: Derrick Henry, long one of the NFL's best running backs, has rushed for 625 yards and four touchdowns this season. Assess his season to date.

A: He has shown he's still capable of producing some big games and getting the tough yards like he always has. Unfortunately for him, he's on a team that is now finding itself playing from behind a lot, which means he's not on the field a lot and he is not getting the opportunities to run the ball or wear teams down. He's sharing carries with and snaps with Tyjae Spears, the team's rookie running back, and it has just been a different year for him. He has not been the workhorse. When I look at him, I don't look at him and say, "This is a guy who's done." I look at him and say, "This is a guy who needs more opportunities and he just isn't getting them for one reason or another."

Q: Outside of Levis and Henry, what is this offense when it's right?

A: They haven't been right on enough Sundays to know. When they're going well offensively, they're playing complementary football and running effectively – which kind of opens up the pass – and they're protecting the quarterback and giving him time to throw and they're able to make play action work as a result of that. But when you're behind in games and you're getting in long down and distances too many times, it's a recipe for disaster. That has kind of been the problem a lot of Sundays. They have been taken out of what they want to do because of ineffectiveness early and because they have fallen behind and had to abandon what they want to do.

Q: Defensively, where are they? What are they?

A: They have had some issues stopping the run since Week 5. They have not generated the type of pressure that they need to in recent weeks as well. They have not been able to get off the field on third down and they've not really been able to just close teams out and win a game. Unfortunately, it's a defense that's having to play perfectly too many Sundays because of an offense that is not capable of scoring a whole lot of points. When that happens, you start feeling the pressure about not being able to give up a certain amount of points and have a chance to win. Just like the offense, it just hasn't good enough on a lot of Sundays.

Q: The Titans under Head Coach Mike Vrabel always have been a tough team that finds a way to contend in most games – and most seasons. Is there still something ahead of this team this year?

A: It's hard to say that based on what we just saw in Tampa. This team is 0-6 away from Nissan Stadium this year. They still are a tough-minded team that plays hard and plays physical. The best way to predict the future is to look at the past and based on what we've seen so far, this team is going to have a hard time finishing this season with a lot of momentum unless something changes quick. They have to protect the quarterback. That's the No. 1 thing. They have to be better up front. You hear games are won in the trenches and that's become very evident for this team this year. If they're going to turn things around, they have to figure out a way to not only give the quarterback time to work, but to open up some holes in the running game that make it easier on the quarterback on third down where he is not dropping back on third-and-12. That's the biggest thing for me that has to change.

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