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Setting the table: Key matchups, players for Titans-Jaguars


JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser sets the table by examining key players, matchups and storylines as the Jaguars prepare to play the Tennessee Titans at EverBank Field in Jacksonville Thursday

The buzz

Time is short.

With two games remaining, that suddenly is true of the Jaguars' 2014 season, but it's particularly true this week as they prepare for their lone prime-time game of the season.

The Jaguars (2-12) will play host to the Tennessee Titans (2-12) on Thursday four days after one of their most physical games of the season – a 20-12 loss to the Ravens in Baltimore Sunday.

The difficulty of playing an NFL game four days after the previous game is real. Players will tell you it's difficult to recover and play at a high level in the next game, particularly if you are dealing with an injury – and 14 games into an NFL season nearly every player is dealing with an injury on some level.

For the Jaguars, the difficulty is accentuated by the aftereffects of playing the Ravens, a team with a physical offensive line and physical defensive front.

The Jaguars enter the game with similar storylines as recent weeks. The defense continues to play well enough to win, having held the Ravens – who entered the game as the NFL's fourth-ranked run offense – to 93 rushing yards and one offensive touchdown.

The offense has struggled since a Week 10 bye week, scoring just two touchdowns in the last four games. The Jaguars' offense has allowed a league-high 62 sacks, and the Ravens sacked Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles eight times Sunday.

The Opponent

The Titans enter Thursday's matchup struggling, too.

Not only have they lost eight consecutive games, they are one of four NFL teams with two victories this season with the others being the Jaguars, the Buccaneers and the Raiders.

The Titans this past Sunday lost a late lead to lose to the New York Jets, 16-11, at LP Field in Nashville, Tennessee.

The Titans in Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt's first season have dealt with injuries at quarterback. Zach Mettenberger, a rookie who has played in seven games this season and who earned the starting position, likely is out for the season with a shoulder injury. Jake Locker, the No. 8 overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft who began the season as a starter, sustained a shoulder injury while starting against the New York Jets this past week. The Titans placed Locker on injured reserve Monday.

Charlie Whitehurst finished the Jets game and is expected to start Thursday. He has played in five games this season, including a 16-14 victory over the Jaguars in Nashville on October 12 in which he completed 17 of 28 passes for 233 yards.

Three matchups to watch

*Jaguars safeties Josh Evans and Johnathan Cyprien versus Titans tight end Delanie Walker.Walker is the Titans' top target this season with a tight end franchise record of 793 yards on 52 receptions. He has four touchdowns receiving and a 15.3-yard average, having caught three passes for 57 yards against the Jaguars earlier this season. The Jaguars have struggled this season at times against tight ends, improving that area in recent weeks but also allowing Ravens tight end Owen Daniels four receptions for 59 yards and a touchdown Sunday.

*Jaguars left guard Zane Beadles and right guard Brandon Linder versus Titans defensive tackle Jurrell Casey.Casey's sacks total has dropped from 10.5 sacks in the Titans' 4-3 scheme last season to five in the 3-4-based scheme of first-year coordinator Ray Horton.  Still, he remains one of the NFL's more underrated pass rushers, and is credited with 14 quarterback hits and 27 hurries by Pro Football Focus. Casey lined up opposite both Beadles and Linder in Tennessee earlier this season. He registered two sacks, with one coming when Bortles ran into Casey trying to escape the pocket and the other coming when Linder handed Casey toward right tackle Austin Pasztor before Casey beat Pasztor for the sack.

*Jaguars pass rush versus Titans quarterback Charlie Whitehurst.The Jaguars have been effective rushing the passer this season – enough so that the Texans and Ravens the past two weeks have focused on quicker, shorter routes to counteract the Jaguars' line. Titans quarterbacks have been sacked 42 times this season, and pressuring Whitehurst into mistakes will be a priority.

Jaguars to watch

*Bortles, quarterback.The rookie remains the team's most-critical story, though his status is uncertain entering the short week because of a foot injury. Bortles had one of his better first halves of the season in the loss to the Ravens, but struggled as the Jaguars' offense was shut out in the second half for a second consecutive week. While the line contributed to the eight sacks, Bortles also struggled with decision-making and getting rid of the ball in a timely fashion.

*The Jaguars' offensive line.Yes, the entire line is worth watching this week. The Jaguars have allowed an NFL-high 62 sacks this season, and though Bortles needs to make better decisions and get rid of the ball more quickly, the line must be stouter, too. Gaining strength will be an issue for this group in the offseason, but for now the priority is keeping the Titans' rush off Bortles and give the rookie a chance to succeed. The Jaguars have allowed at least one sack in every game this season, with Bortles being sacked at least four times in each of the last five games.

*Cecil Shorts III, wide receiver.The fourth-year veteran responded from a two-catch, three-yard performance against Houston two weeks ago with six receptions for 76 yards against the Ravens. That was an improvement, but as was the case against Houston, Shorts' performance was marked by a critical drop – this one on third-and-10 from the Ravens 44 with the Jaguars trailing 17-12 late in the third quarter. The Jaguars have targeted Shorts 29 times in the last three games, so he's going to get his chances. The Jaguars need him to make plays when they're there.

Keep an eye on …

*Bortles sustained a mid-foot sprain in his right foot Sunday and wore a protective boot after the game and again Monday. He is considered questionable for Thursday.

*Defensive end Andre Branch is considered doubtful for Thursday. The Jaguars remain hopeful he can play against Houston in the regular-season finale. He missed six of the last seven games with a groin injury, including the last two.

*Defensive tackle Roy Miller (left knee sprain), defensive end Ryan Davis (hip pointer), safety Josh Evans (left foot strain) and wide receiver Tommy Streeter (oblique) would not have practiced had the Jaguars worked full Monday. Their status is expected to be updated Tuesday.

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