NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts on the Jaguars’ game against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn., Thursday
1.This one will be tough to explain for the Jaguars’ defense. Not because it didn’t repeat the shutout victory over the Indianapolis Colts four days ago, but because of its repeated inability to stop running back Derrick Henry in a one-sided Titans victory. A Titans running game that had been adequate at best this season was dominant and game-breaking in near-historical and very-disturbing fashion Thursday. Henry’s longest run this season entering the game was 16 yards, but he repeatedly broke tackles Thursday on a Jaguars defense that continually tried to tackle one of the NFL’s most-physical runners high. A stiff-arm-oriented 99-yard run for a touchdown in the second quarter was Henry’s highlight, but he scored far too easily on not only the 99-yarder but on 16- and 54-yard runs in the third quarter. A major concern entering the game was the playmaking in clutch situations by Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota. The Jaguars on Thursday didn’t force the Titans offense into enough difficult situations for that to be a factor because the defense let Henry dominate far too easily. This was tough to watch and will be tough to explain.
2.The beat-up Jaguars’ offense is still stagnant – and it cost the Jaguars in a big way Thursday. The Jaguars, four days after squeezing past Indianapolis with two field goals in a 6-0 victory, continued those struggles in a big way Thursday. That’s not surprising in one respect; the Jaguars now haven’t scored a meaningful offensive touchdown against Tennessee in the past four games. Quarterback Cody Kessler, making his second consecutive start after replacing Blake Bortles in the lineup, had two encouraging drives early Thursday and he led the Jaguars to a 1st-and-goal at the Titans 3 with a chance to take the lead midway through the second quarter. But that drive stalled when running back Leonard Fournette was stopped for a one-yard gain on 4th-and-2 from the Titans 1. Kessler again finished with a high-completion percentage and had some nice deep passes, but was under far too much pressure. The bottom line is Kessler in two games has proven to be at least an improvement in terms of accuracy, but the Jaguars’ beat-up offensive line and the offense overall has kept that improvement from making any meaningful difference.
3.This one ultimately will be remembered for one series of plays – and the Jaguars won’t remember the plays fondly. First, they failed to score after having first-and-goal on the Titans 3 midway through the second quarter, with Fournette stopped at the 1 on fourth down. Henry on the next play became the second player in NFL history to run for a 99-yard touchdown, stiff-arming his way past cornerback A.J. Bouye and linebackers Leon Jacobs and Myles Jack. It was a tough series to watch for Jaguars observers – and instead of leading 9-7, the Jaguars trailed 13-2. Unsurprisingly given the dramatic change in momentum and the Jaguars’ struggling offense, the Jaguars never threatened to take the lead again. It would be easy to call the stretch of plays a microcosm of a difficult season. Considering it involved a missed opportunity when the game could have swung the other way, calling it that would be fair.
1.It doesn’t matter who the quarterback is on this team. The offensive line is in shambles, the receivers are all two’s or three’s, and there isn’t a reliable option at tight end. For that matter it doesn’t matter who calls the plays either. There aren’t enough players who can line up and block a Jurrell Casey or make the tough leaping catch in the middle of the field on Kevin Bayard or get by the corner and fly down the sideline past Adoree Jackson. There is only one player on offense and Leonard Fournette isn’t Superman even when he does manage to stay on the field. You can’t convince me that Blake Bortles and Nate Hackett would be better or worse. This offense will be deconstructed and rebuilt in the off-season…until then the defense and special teams have to play lights out in order to stay in the game.
2.I can’t say the Jaguars quit on defense because players I respect such as Jalen Ramsey, Tashaun Gipson and Calais Campbell are adamant that this team hasn’t quit. But there was a lack of enthusiasm when Derrick Henry was running the ball down their throat in the second half. That’s to be expected I suppose, a big back, a cold night, a lost season. Henry’s 238 yards and four touchdowns set franchise records against the Jags on Thursday night but they felt like open wounds as the defenders were left with nothing else to say about the performance except he had all the momentum at Nissan Stadium and nothing they tried to do in order to slow him down worked.
3.He didn’t get a lot of looks, the Titans didn’t take more than a shot or two in his direction, but Jalen Ramsey guarded every inch of the field he covered as if it was personal. He plays with such intensity that it seems sometimes as if he is playing a different game. The fact that he was playing a second consecutive game in less than a week on a knee he called a ‘challenge’ last Sunday says it all. He is a special talent but I’ve seen more than just his ability to run and hit and intercept the ball…since the first Colts game in Indianapolis I’ve seen a star player on the field become a star in the locker room by being willing to stand and answer questions, difficult questions and he’s starting to question his teammates in his own way but when he talked after the game it felt constructive. Late in the fourth quarter, when the game was decided, defensive coordinator Todd Wash put his arm around Ramsey and the two men had a brief but animated conversation. I’d have to guess but it seemed as if Wash was telling him that this was his defense, his team and to be the “Man” from here on out.