JACKSONVILLE – Here's this week's Setting the Table: Storylines and stuff to watch as the Jacksonville Jaguars (0-8) prepare to play the Tennessee Titans (4-4) at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn., Sunday…
That has been the goal all season for the Jaguars, and if the prospect became tougher late last week, it doesn't make the objective any less important.
The Jaguars are 0-8, coming off two of their most one-sided losses of the season – 24-6 at home to San Diego and 42-10 to the San Francisco 49ers in London – and late last week, they received news that made their situation all the more difficult:
Wide receiver Justin Blackmon won't play again this season.
Blackmon, the No. 5 overall selection in the 2012 Draft, emerged as the Jaguars' best player in the four games he played since returning from a season-opening suspension. He gave a struggling offense a lift, and accounted for nearly 30 percent of the team's offense during that span, but last Friday it was announced that Blackmon has been suspended indefinitely, without pay.
That means the Jaguars will play Sunday without their last three first-round selections in the starting lineup, with Blackmon having been suspended, offensive tackle Luke Joeckel (No. 2 overall, 2013) out for the season with a broken ankle and quarterback Blaine Gabbert (No. 10 overall, 2011) backing up Chad Henne.
Henne is expected to make his sixth start of the season, and his fourth in succession. His first four starts this season came with Gabbert out with injuries, but he started against San Francisco in London with Gabbert healthy enough to play. That's expected to be the case again Sunday.
Henne has completed 132 of 218 passes for 1,450 yards and three touchdowns with five interceptions this season.
The Titans (4-4) have been inconsistent since a solid start, but a 28-21 victory at St. Louis on Sunday kept them within range of the AFC playoff chase. The Titans' fortunes this season largely have depended on the availability of quarterback Jake Locker, the No. 8 overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft who has developed into a solid starter this season. The Titans won three of four games with Locker playing early, and lost to Kansas City and Seattle when he missed the starts with a hip injury. They have split their last two games since his return, losing to San Francisco and beating St. Louis. He has completed 107 of 174 passes for 1,232 yards and eight touchdowns with three interceptions. The Titans also rank 14th in the NFL in rushing and 12th in NFL in total defense, with a plus-six turnover differential.
The game at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn., at 1 p.m. Sunday will be broadcast regionally on CBS and locally on WTEV-TV CBS-47. Bill Macatee will be the play-by-play voice with analysis from Steve Tasker.
Early matchup to watch
Titans running back Chris Johnson versus Jaguars middle linebacker Paul Posluszny. This isn't a true one-on-one matchup, but Posluszny will be part of a group of Jaguars players concerned with stopping Johnson Sunday. The Titans running back isn't always consistent, but he is one of the NFL's best big-play running backs. He can turn any missed tackle into a touchdown, and if the Jaguars have had a glaring weakness in recent weeks, it has been allowing missed tackles that turn into explosive plays for the opposition. That has to change this week. If it doesn't, Johnson – who has rushed for 516 yards and two touchdowns on 138 carries this season – can turn in a huge game quickly.
Player to watch
Maurice Jones-Drew. The three-time Pro Bowl running back has yet to reach the consistency he showed while leading the NFL in rushing in 2011, but he had three of his best games of the season shortly before the bye. With Blackmon out, that trend needs to continue, as the Jaguars will need more productivity from the running offense against a Titans defense that ranks 27th in the NFL against the run. The Jaguars' offensive line has improved as a run-blocking unit as it has gained continuity in recent weeks. That could be tougher in the coming weeks, with defenses no longer having to be concerned with containing Blackmon.
What to watch
*The Jaguars will be without Blackmon for at least the rest of the regular season, which moves first-year veteran Mike Brown into the starting receiving role opposite Cecil Shorts III. Brown has caught 13 passes for 226 yards and caught his first career touchdown pass against the 49ers in the Jaguars' last game….
*Wide receiver Stephen Burton also could get more work in Blackmon's absence. A third-year veteran acquired off waivers from Minnesota shortly before the season, he missed four games with a concussion and was inactive against San Francisco, but Jaguars Head Coach Bradley said this week the team is intrigued by Burton's size and speed and he will get opportunity in the coming weeks. Burton caught seven passes for 65 yards in the first three games of the season.
*Denard Robinson has moved into the Jaguars' backup running back position, having started the season third-team while also working at receiver, Wildcat quarterback and returning kickoffs. He moved into the backup role against the 49ers, rushing four times for 15 yards. Look for Robinson to get more carries as the Jaguars look for ways to utilize his speed and breakaway ability.