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 18 game between the Jaguars and Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium in Nashville. Tenn.
Question: The Titans, after back-to-back AFC South titles in 2020 and 2021 and a second-place finish in 2022, enter Sunday 5-11 in fourth place in the division with a 26-3 loss to the Houston Texans this past Sunday. What's the state of the Titans entering Sunday?
Answer: They're finding just enough ways to lose some of these games they used to always win in the past. That's what's so perplexing and so frustrating about this year, is that the Titans are winning games that they have won over and over again in the past. They're not winning because of a couple plays here and there. That's why you're sitting here at 5-11 and not in the thick of things with the rest of these teams in the AFC South.
Q: Is there an identity to the Titans when they're playing well this season?
A: It's to play tough, hard-nosed, physical, smart football – and being able to run the ball and control the clock – then kind of wear you down on defense. That's what Titans [Head Coach] Mike Vrabel's teams have always done. Now, that's not the way things have been most of this season. They have not been able to run the football consistently. They haven't been able to get off the field on defense when it matters. They have made mistakes in different facets of the game on a consistent basis. Instead of finding ways to win, they're finding ways to lose. It has been different than what we've seen around here over the last several years and I think that's the challenge even going into the last week: Can you find some glimmer of hope to end this season?
Q: Titans rookie quarterback Will Levis sustained a foot injury in the loss Sunday, and Vrabel on Tuesday did name a starter for Sunday. Veteran Ryan Tannehill will start if Levis can't play. Assess the Titans' quarterbacks this season.
A: It has been frustrating because they really haven't been able to sustain anything at the quarterback position for a number of reasons – in large part because of health. Ryan Tannehill played the first six games and then got hurt when he was sacked against the Baltimore Ravens. Levis started the next eight games and then got hurt when he got sacked. He misses a game, came back and is hurt again. It has been kind of a merry go-round. The only thing that has been consistent at quarterback is the quarterback getting sacked. They have given up on the season a total of 62 sacks and the quarterback hasn't had enough time to stand in the pocket, get comfortable and make throws down field. That affects a lot of things when you can't protect the quarterback.
Q: The offensive line has really defined the season, then?
A: They've had all kinds of trouble protecting the quarterback. They have plugged in different guys and nothing has worked consistently. Left tackle has been an issue from the very beginning. They just have not had great consistency across the board protecting the quarterback and that's something they have done well under Mike Vrabel up until the last couple of years. It was an issue last year and it's an issue again this year. That's part of the reason this team is 5-11 after ending last season with a seven-game losing streak to finish 7-10.
Q: The Titans rank 17th in the NFL in yards allowed and 16th in points allowed. Where are they defensively?
A: There was a point that the Titans were the only team in the NFL with two players with double-digit sacks. Outside linebacker Harold Landry has 10.5 and defensive lineman Denico Autry has 11.5. That's a pretty remarkable stat for defense that has not been consistently good. They have played the last four games without [Pro Bowl] defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons [because of a knee injury] and they just have not been great on the back end. They have not gotten stops when they really needed them at the end of a couple of games where they could have closed the team out and they just don't have the same swagger and shut-down approach they have had in some other years. It just frankly hasn't been good enough.
Q: The Jaguars enter Sunday needing a victory to clinch the AFC South. How much incentive do the Titans have considering this is a rivalry game?
A: I think more than anything they just take an approach that they want to win a game. They have been so few and far between. They've lost three games in a row and four of the last five. After ending last season on a seven-game losing streak, you don't want to end this year on a four-game losing streak. There just aren't many guys around that really have that hatred for Jacksonville or have the thought of, "Hey, we're looking for payback." It's such a new roster. When this season started, the Titans had 24 new players on the 53-man roster from last year – the biggest number in the Titans era – so a lot of those guys haven't been around for some of those other games against the Jags. It's just a team that's kind of limping to the finish line and just would like to win a game more than anything else.