JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines key players, matchups and storylines as the Jaguars prepare to play the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee, Sunday
Another week, another storyline.
For the Jaguars (4-7), this week's storyline isn't as full of hope and optimism as last week's – not after a disappointing loss to the San Diego Chargers this past Sunday at EverBank Field.
The 31-25 loss in which the Jaguars squandered multiple opportunities not only prevented them from entering December on a rare three-game winning streak, it dropped them two games behind Indianapolis and Houston in the race for the AFC South title.
Did the loss end the Jaguars' playoff hopes? Not officially, but it made the prospects dimmer, and it left them focused on fixing issues that have plagued them in recent weeks.
Those issues include season-long issues with red-zone offense, as well as a pass rush that has struggled much of the season to get pressure with four down linemen. The Jaguars also rank 27th in the NFL with a minus-6 takeaway-giveaway ratio.
The Jaguars beat the Titans, 19-13, two weeks ago at EverBank Field. The Titans, who have lost nine of 10 games since a season-opening victory over Tampa Bay, are 0-6 at home this season.
The Jaguars snapped a 13-game road losing streak with a victory at Baltimore November 15.
The Titans enter December struggling as much as any team in the NFL.
Tennessee, which is 4-23 since the beginning of the 2014 season, are 2-9 this season with losses in nine of 10 games. Since winning the first game under interim head coach Mike Mularkey after firing Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt, the Titans have lost three consecutive games.
Rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota, the No. 2 overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft, has been a bright spot much of the season – and his potential and development provides hope for the future. He has thrown 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions this season.
Another – and often overlooked – bright spot for Tennessee this season has been the defense. While the offense ranks 30th in the NFL in total yards, the Titans' defense is ranked No. 7 in the NFL. The unit is led by Jurrell Casey, one of the NFL's top three-technique defensive tackles, and linebacker Brian Orakpo.
Matchups to watch
*Jaguars wide receiver Allen Robinson versus Titans cornerbacks Coty Sensabaugh and Perrish Cox.With the status of second-year wide receiver Allen Hurns (concussion) uncertain, Robinson could be the focus in a game in which he needs 73 yards to become the first Jaguars wide receiver since Jimmy Smith in 2005 to surpass 1,000 yards receiving in a season. Sensabaugh plays left cornerback and Cox plays the right side, so Robinson will likely be covered by both extensively. Cox and Sensabaugh both have three pass breakups this season.
*Jaguars safety Johnathan Cyprien and linebacker Telvin Smith versus Titans tight end Delanie Walker.The Jaguars' recent issues covering tight ends continued Sunday against San Diego, with veteran Antonio Gates catching two touchdown passes in rapid-fire succession late in the first half. Just two weeks ago, Walker caught eight passes for 109 yards in prime time against the Jaguars.
*Jaguars middle linebacker Paul Posluszny versus Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota.This isn't a true one-on-one matchup, but how Posluszny and the Jaguars' front seven handle Mariota's mobility will be a factor Sunday. Mariota hasn't run a lot this season, and he's developing as a pocket passer, but when he runs he's dangerous – as evidenced by his 23-yard touchdown run in Jacksonville two weeks ago.
Jaguars to watch
*Blake Bortles, quarterback. Bortles' storyline has been the same much of the season. He continues to show real improvement statistically, throwing 22 touchdowns and 13 interceptions through 11 games, and he continues to make errors of inexperience at critical times. He threw two touchdowns in Sunday's loss to the Chargers, but an interception by Chargers linebacker Manti Te'o led directly to a late first-half touchdown that gave San Diego a 21-9 halftime lead. The Jaguars also failed to score touchdowns on the first three of their four red-zone opportunities.
*Julius Thomas, tight end.The veteran free agent on Sunday had his biggest game since joining the Jaguars in the offseason, catching nine passes for 116 yards and a touchdown. He and Bortles have worked to develop chemistry. Now, the focus will be to have Thomas consistently productive, which would add an element the Jaguars' offense hasn't had in recent memory.
*Marqise Lee, wide receiver.This could be an important game for Lee, particularly if Hurns is unable to play. Lee missed eight of the first six games of the season because of a hamstring issue, and he has caught just two passes for 11 yards in three games since. He has been targeted once in the last two games. The Jaguars need to know if Lee can be the deep threat they need offensively. Sunday could be the start of learning for sure.
Keep an eye on …
*Hurns is in the concussion protocol after being injured late against the Chargers. His status will be updated Wednesday, and he has not been ruled out for Sunday.
Starting Otto linebacker Dan Skuta missed Sunday's game with a groin injury. His status likely also will be updated Wednesday. …
*Safety Craig Loston (ankle), running back Bernard Pierce (calf) and wide receiver Neal Sterling (illness) all missed Sunday's game. …