JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2022 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 2022 Week 14 game between the Jaguars and Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn.
Question: The Titans are 7-5 with back-to-back losses to the Cincinnati Bengals (20-16) and Philadelphia Eagles (35-10). They remain three games ahead of the Jaguars (4-8) and Indianapolis Colts (4-8-1) in the AFC South. What's the state of the Titans entering Sunday?
Answer: Right now, it's kind of a frustrated group. You lose two games to start the season, then you win five straight – and seven of eight – and you feel like you're hitting your stride … then the last two weeks they just haven't played very well. They're coming off a really bad performance Sunday. [Titans Head Coach] Mike Vrabel said he feels like this team is at a crossroads. We'll kind of see where it goes. I feel like the Titans feel like they need to step it up. If not, even if you find a way to win the division, you're not going to put yourself in a great position going into the postseason if you're not playing your best football.
Q: Is there anything that defines this team as different from past Titans teams?
A: They're still looking for offensive playmakers. You can't ignore the fact that [wide receiver] A.J. Brown is gone [having been traded to the Eagles). [Rookie wide receiver] Treylon Burks has shown some promise in his rookie season, but he missed a four-game stretch with an injury and left Sunday's game early against the Eagles after dealing with a concussion. That's certainly not his fault, but in his absence, they have struggled to find guys who can consistently make plays and take some attention off [running back] Derrick Henry. They have had trouble up front offensively. The line has dealt with injuries and they just haven't found consistency there. That certainly affects what you can do as a unit. A lot of things need to get better with this team moving forward, especially on offense.
Q: When the Titans have been good this season, what have they done well?
A: The defense has carried them a lot of weeks. The loss to the Eagles was the first time since a game against the [Las Vegas] Raiders on September 25 that they had allowed more than 20 points. Even if your offense isn't playing great, if you're not giving up more than 20, you've got a great chance to win. But this week the defense didn't play very well, and the offense certainly didn't do its part to keep up. When things have gone well, they have run the ball well, they have played good defense, they have forced turnovers and they have generated pressure on the quarterback. When things have not gone well, all that stuff has not happened.
Q: It sounds like they're pretty good defensively for the most part.
A: They have been good, but they have shown some leaks over the past couple of weeks. Some of that is injury-related. They desperately miss [outside linebacker] Denico Autry, who got hurt (injured knee) a couple of weeks ago in Green Bay. They have not been able to generate pressure like they did with him in the lineup, then this past week they lost [cornerback] Kristian Fulton early. They also lost [linebacker] David Long [to a hamstring injury] early. The pass rush has just not been as good the last couple of weeks. They have the makings of having a good defense and they have shown that, but they need to get some guys back and they need to generate more of a pass rush if they're going to have success.
Q: Is the offense strictly Henry?
A: A lot of weeks it has been. In the last couple of weeks when the running game hasn't had a lot of success, they haven't had answers to find a way to win. That has to change. Teams have always focused on slowing down Derrick Henry. Sometimes, they have been able to do that. A lot of times, they haven't been able, to. But in the last couple of weeks when the running game has struggled, they haven't been able to generate enough offense in other ways to win. They have to get better across the board. Some of that hinges on Burks and his health. Vrabel is always cautious and conservative with players coming off head injuries and concussions, which certainly puts his status for Sunday in serious doubt. Without Burks, this offense certainly has shown it has some issues. There's a lot to be determined here.
Q: The Titans typically play well through adversity under Vrabel. Does this feel like that sort of Titans team?
A: It's a tough question coming off a back-to-back loss – even though they're to teams that could end up being the best in their respective conferences. These last two weeks have been tough. Do I think they have the right leadership to spark a turnaround? Yes. That's what Mike Vrabel has proven since he has been here. They have other veteran leaders on this team who will do everything they can to right the ship and to get this team playing better going into the postseason. But a lot remains to be seen from an injury standpoint and from the standpoint of how players are going to respond. This is a game the Titans need to win Sunday to start that process.