JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton break down three Jaguars keys for Sunday's game against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee
1.Run.Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone said this week the Jaguars will play to win. But no matter how the team approaches Sunday, it's important for the Jaguars to establish a few things. Among them: the running game. This area has been more inconsistent this season than their No. 1 NFL ranking indicates; the reality is the Jaguars have been a dominant running team in only a few games this season. A big game in the regular-season finale won't mean they have been consistent this season, but it could set a tone and show again that this can be an intimidating running team when functioning at its highest level. Rookie running back Leonard Fournette rushed for 2.9 yards per carry against the Titans in Week 2. Pushing that toward 4.0 or above would go a long way toward making this team feel better about the running game entering the postseason.
2.Bother Mariota.Pressuring the quarterback has been key for the Jaguars all season, and it will be that way again in the finale. Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota has had a rough season for a player many expected to ascend into a Top 10/franchise quarterback this season. He has been hampered with a hamstring injury, and that lack of mobility has forced him to play from the pocket. It also has allowed teams to focus more on stopping the Titans' running backs. The result: Mariota has thrown 12 touchdowns with 15 interceptions and the Titans rank 21st in the NFL in offense. The Jaguars' defense must stop the run first – something it did not do in a Week 2 loss to the Titans in Jacksonville. If it can do that, it should be able to force Mariota into costly interceptions.
3.Stay poised – for the sake of the team.This isn't specific to the Titans game, but it's specific to this team's postseason hopes. The Jaguars have been a chippy, in-your-face team much of the season – and it's a trait that has served them well more often than not. But chippy spilled over to out-of-control in a loss to San Francisco last week and 15-yard, unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties cost the Jaguars in a big way early and again late in the second half. Some of the calls were debatable, but what's not up for debate is the Jaguars must have more composure. If officials are calling the Jaguars' penalties too tight, so be it. It's not something the Jaguars can control. What they can control is how they handle high-pressure, emotional situations. They're going to face those situations in the postseason, when you simply can't give away points and yards if you expect to win.
1.Stop the run.It's what the Titans do – or at least it's what they want to do. Their mindset might change if running back DeMarco Murray (knee) can't go Sunday, but in Head Coach Mike Mularkey's world of 'exotic smash-mouth' football they never get to "exotic" unless "smash-mouth" is established. Tennessee rushed for 179 yards and a 5.0-yards-per-carry average in a Week 2 victory over Jacksonville; that included a dominant fourth quarter in which running back Derrick Henry ran for 61 yards. Murray is the multi-dimensional back who causes all kinds of match-up problems; Henry is the hammer. Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus arrived in October to help ensure that the hammer can't nail the Jags. The Titans have won three of the last five games against the Jaguars, averaging 201 yards rushing in those victories. In the two losses, that number drops to 81 yards per game. Do I really need three keys this week?
2.Stop tight end Delanie Walker.He's the guy in the Titans' offense. Mariota throws the ball to him like Tom Brady targets Rob Gronkowski. Walker has averaged five catches for 72 yards in the last five games against the Jaguars, but the numbers don't tell the entire story. He has moved the chains on third and long when a stop would have changed the game, or he has gotten free with Mariota scrambling away from trouble and about to be sacked. He's not big, but he plays huge. He's not overly powerful, but he finds a way to win when the ball's in the air. He's not fast but he manages to get where he wants to be and where Mariota expects him to go. The Jaguars' coverage will have to know where Walker is at all times.
3.Claim the AFC South.I get that the Jaguars have already won the South. But the Titans will have a better division record with a victory Sunday and they will have a sweep of the Jaguars in 2017. They won't have the title, but they'll feel as if they have. Don't let them have that feeling. While you're at it, grab their playoff hopes and send them home to watch the postseason on television for a second consecutive season.