JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts on the Jaguars’ game against the Tennessee Titans at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville Sunday
*1.The Titans are a match-up problem for the Jaguars. *We’ll start there following the Jaguars’ 9-6 loss to the Titans Sunday, because it’s undeniable something about Tennessee gives the Jaguars problems. Yes, the Titans entered Sunday with significant injuries on offense – issues that worsened when Titans backup quarterback and former Jaguars starter Blaine Gabbert left with a first-quarter concussion. But even with backup Marcus Mariota – the Titans’ usual starter – limited in his ability to pass by an elbow injury, the Titans were able to squeeze by the Jaguars. The Titans have a pesky way of converting first downs in key situations, and an equally pesky way of staying in the game against the Jaguars enough to get running back Derrick Henry involved. They also have a pesky way of limiting Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles from making key plays with his legs, and not allowing Bortles to hit chunk plays. Peskiest of all: the Titans know how to keep the Jaguars’ offense out of the end zone. The Jaguars haven’t had a meaningful offensive touchdown against Tennessee in the last three meetings. Not coincidentally, the Titans have won all three games.
*2.This is not a season-ending loss. *Frustration undoubtedly will reign among Jaguars fans and observers following Sunday, and with reason: the Jaguars looked very much like the NFL’s best team in a one-sided victory over New England last week – and they looked far from that same team against Tennessee Sunday. But, remember: The Jaguars lost to the Titans, 37-16, in Week 2 last season – a loss that left many observers wondering if a one-sided victory over the Houston Texans in the 2017 regular-season opener had been a fluke. The loss to the Titans didn’t end the Jaguars’ season last year just as it doesn’t end this season. This is still a big-time defense that has played well far more often than not in three weeks. And it’s still an offense capable of creating the big plays that beat New England last week. One issue for the Jaguars moving forward will be what the offense does when teams negate Bortles’ ability to scramble, and the Jaguars also still need to be able to show they can run when they need to run and protect. The offensive line’s injury issues seemed to be a factor at times Sunday.
*3.An execution problem. *A couple of themes ran through the Jaguars’ locker room Sunday, but the most overriding one may have been offensive players pointing fingers squarely at themselves. Bortles appeared to struggle with accuracy at times Sunday, but that was far from the only issue – and a week after one of the Jaguars’ most impressive offensive outings in recent memory, they turned in one of their worst. Bortles on one series had three passes tipped at the line of scrimmage, and Jaguars wide receivers – a week after combining for three touchdown receptions – dropped at least three passes. That drop number may be conservative. The Jaguars also committed eight penalties for 75 yards; though four for 29 yards were on the offense, a fourth-quarter holding on guard Chris Reed in Titans territory, a first-quarter delay, a second-quarter holding on wide receiver Donte Moncrief and a second-quarter false start on right tackle Jermey Parnell all came at tough times. “The game plan was perfect,” wide receiver Dede Westbrook said. “It was just a lack of execution.”
*1.This one is on the offense. *I expected to see a crisp passing attack based on last week, but it wasn’t there from the beginning. A week after throwing for 372 yards and four touchdowns, Bortles missed open receivers and had passes batted at the line of scrimmage. Wide receiver Keelan Cole had a few clang off his hands and was routinely stopped short of the first down marker whereas a week ago he was running free and moving the chains. Running back Corey Grant couldn’t make anyone miss a week after looking like The Flash. Titans Head Coach Credit Mike Vrabel and his defensive staff; the Titans stayed near the line of scrimmage with linebackers and safeties and made sure the underneath stuff wasn’t there. They also sent a lot of pressure against an offensive line that had two backups on the field. Bortles wasn’t as comfortable staying in the pocket Sunday; since the Titans didn’t let him get free, he couldn’t bail out an offense stuck in their own way.
2.The Jaguars knocked out the wrong quarterback.Defensive end Calais Campbell said the Jaguars prepared for both Gabbert and Mariota, but when Gabbert left the game the Titans were a different team. Gabbert was, as he has always been, uneasy in the pocket; the Jaguars hit him enough early to make sure he was wary to stand back there. When he left the game after defensive tackle Malik Jackson planted him in the turf, it set the stage for Mariota; he ran for 51 yards and created four first downs with his legs, which helped offset an offense that couldn’t put the ball down the field thanks to his injured elbow. Mariota owns the Jaguars with five wins in seven starts. He doesn’t ever put up big numbers, but he finds a few plays where and when they need to be made. He was the difference and Campbell admitted as much when pressed on the issue.
*3.Hello, second place in the AFC South. *Sunday’s end result: the Jaguars missed a chance to have a two-game lead on the rest of the division thanks to losses by the Colts and Texans. They instead find themselves in second place with the Titans because of the Titans’ victory Sunday. There’s a lot of football to be played, but 2-1 and 0-1 in the South doesn’t sound as good as 3-0 and 1-0 – and it doesn’t look as good in the South standings. For now, the Titans lay claim to being the better team, though Myles Jack disputed that in the locker room after the game.