JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton offer quick thoughts on the Jaguars (4-8) as they prepare to play the Tennessee Titans (7-5) in a 2022 Week 14 game at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn., Sunday
John Oehser, Jaguars Senior Writer
- A really big one. Sunday's game is huge for the Jaguars, perhaps their biggest of the season. Yes, Sunday's loss to the Detroit Lions likely cost them a chance to push for the postseason; even with two games remaining against the AFC South-leading Titans, three games is hard to make up with five remaining and four of those games against contenders such as the Titans, New York Jets (7-5) and Dallas Cowboys (9-3). But even if the Jaguars can't catch the Titans, a victory in Nashville Sunday absolutely would matter – for the present and the future. The Titans have finished with a winning record six consecutive seasons and have made four of the past five postseasons. They are the two-time defending AFC South Champions, winning five consecutive games in the series and nine of the last 10. The Jaguars have lost eight consecutive games in Nashville and four of those games – 2016, 2018-2019 and 2021 – were some of their worst losses of the last half-decade. If the Jaguars are going to contend for the division title, at some point they must be able to compete in Nashville – and win. How big would it be to establish that Sunday? It might be the biggest thing the Jaguars could accomplish this season.
- Tough, tough test. Sunday is big for the Jaguars, and it's really big for the offense. While the defense is under deserved scrutiny after allowing eight consecutive scoring drives and not forcing a punt against the Lions, Head Coach Doug Pederson was right early this week when he said the offense also had issues in Detroit. Not only did running back Travis Etienne Jr. lose a fumble on the game's second play, big drops by players such as wide receiver Zay Jones and tight end Evan Engram ended drives that could have kept the Jaguars within range at halftime. The offense is the Jaguars' strength, and with quarterback Trevor Lawrence developing quickly and impressively – and with the defense seemingly needing some significant additions – the group figures to need to reach a level that can carry the team and win shootouts consistently. The group also needs to prove it be effective against the better defenses in the NFL. While the Titans at 7-5 aren't as strong as they have been in recent seasons, they are a very good defense that hadn't allowed more than 17 points in a game in eight consecutive games until a 35-10 loss to Philadelphia Sunday. This will be a tough test for the Jaguars' offense in a difficult environment. For the Jaguars to have a chance Sunday, the unit needs to pass that test.
Brian Sexton, Jaguars Senior Correspondent…
- The Titans are a great example of how to build a team. They're on the cusp of a seventh consecutive winning season and about to hang their third consecutive AFC South banner at Nissan Stadium. Titans Head Coach Mike Vrabel has presided over four consecutive playoff seasons and is about to join rare coaching company with his fifth consecutive winning season to begin his head coaching career. They have a strong identity, draft well, make limited use of free agency and are extremely well-coached. The Jaguars finally have the right head coach to do the same in Jacksonville and would do well to establish an identity – which Pederson is doing – then sell out to support that personality at all costs. The Titans, like the Pittsburgh Steelers, don't care what you think about their style of play; they're almost Neanderthal about their offense and there's nothing exotic about how they play defense. They just beat the hell out of the guy in front of them. It takes a strong inner monologue to come up with a plan and stick to it regardless of what other people think. My hope is that's exactly the road Pederson and General Manager Trent Baalke have started down.
- I expect a radically different performance by the defense Sunday. I expect the Jaguars to be dialed in defensively like they haven't been since early this season after the way the Lions exposed and embarrassed them. This is an easy opponent to prepare for because the Titans line up and try to beat you up with running back Derrick Henry. Every man on the Jaguars' defense must be ready because the Titans will challenge your manhood on every play. I have no doubt the film of Henry running over the man in front of him play after play will have this team ready. I might just show the film of his most recent two games against the Jaguars, in which he's run for 345 yards and five touchdowns. The Jaguars have spent big in free agency and the draft to stop the run, and they have been pretty good there this season. Only two running backs, Miles Sanders of Philadelphia and Saquon Barkley of the New York Giants, have run for more than 100 yards against them, and five of their 12 opponents didn't crack the 100-yard mark for the entire game. They're allowing 113 rushing yards a game, which is 13th in the NFL, and their 4.1 yards-per-carry against the run ranks seventh in the league. They can regain a measure of their dignity with a strong performance against Henry, who has made this franchise look bad since 2018. I expect the Jaguars' best defensive performance since September. Let's hope they bring it in Nashville on Sunday.