JACKSONVILLE – This one isn't easy; in fact, it could be downright tough.
Never mind the Titans' 2-9 record. And never mind that the Jaguars just beat the team from Tennessee at EverBank Field a little more than two weeks ago.
The Jaguars' circumstances have changed since that game, and even if that wasn't the case, there's no such thing as an easy matchup for the Jaguars this season.
That's certainly true of the Titans. While the team has lost three consecutive games under interim head coach Mike Mularkey, they are competing and were within a hair of victories over Jacksonville and Oakland in recent weeks.
There, too, is the reality of the Jaguars' current situation – i.e., the reality that a 31-25 loss to the San Diego Chargers this past Sunday significantly reduced their playoff chances. History shows that this team responds well to losses under Head Coach Gus Bradley, but how the Jaguars respond to last week's disappointment is a clear storyline as Sunday approaches.
So, what do the Jaguars have to do beat the Titans Sunday?
Here are 10 things:
1)Put the past in the past.The Chargers game is over. Maybe the playoffs are, too, but that's a long way from official. This team has responded well to disappointment under Bradley in the past. They must do so again Sunday.
2)Keep an eye on Marcus Mariota.The Titans' rookie quarterback isn't running much. In fact, his development as a pocket passer is impressive – and should be encouraging to the Titans' organization. Still, when he runs he's dangerous. Witness the 23-yard touchdown in Jacksonville two weeks ago.
3)Stop Delanie Walker.The tight end is the Titans' best offensive weapon. The Jaguars have struggled against tight ends at times under Bradley; the current stretch of two or three games is one those times. Focus will be on linebacker Telvin Smith and strong safety Johnathan Cyprien in this matchup.
4)Run T.J. Yeldon.This is trickier this week than last week, because the Titans are a decent defense against the run. Still, the Jaguars gave up on the run early last week against San Diego – in part because it was struggling in the first half and in part because of the score. Look for them to stick with it a bit longer Sunday, particularly as they try to …
5)Get better in the red zone.If you've read a Jaguars website, or checked a Jaguars twitter timeline, or listened to Jaguars radio … well, if you've done those things this week you've probably seen as much red-zone talk as you care to read, see or hear for a while. The struggles there have become the major issue facing the offense. Maybe it's running Yeldon more. Maybe it's more accuracy on fade passes. Maybe it's more routes into the end zone. Maybe it's better recognition. Maybe it's experience. Probably, it's a combination of all of those things. But we just about went double-digit sentences in this entry. So, yeah … it's a big issue.
Practice images as the Jaguars prepare to head to Nashville to face AFC South foe Tennessee Titans.
6)Feed Julius Thomas. The veteran tight end started to get hot Sunday. He also started to look dominant. He's hungry. Feed him.
7)Rush the passer.Mariota is going to be good. He already is good. But he's also young, which means he will make mistakes. Pressure him into making them.
8)Throw it up to A-Rob.If there is a reliable entity on offense, it's the 50-50 ball to Allen Robinson. He is effective enough on the play where we should probably start calling them 70-30 balls. Whatever you call them, whatever the percentage … throw them. It's the Jaguars' strongest offensive strength.
9)Block Jurrell Casey.There are many reasons the Titans' defense is very, very good. End Brian Orakpo is one. Casey is just as big, if not bigger. He has seven sacks and is as disruptive a player as there is in the NFL at the three-technique position. The Jaguars' interior hasn't been great run-blocking lately. If the Jaguars are going to run – or pass-protect well for that matter – Casey must get blocked.
10)Get consistency from the quarterback.We're at No. 10 and we haven't talked quarterback yet (we haven't mentioned makeable field goals, either)? Either way, Blake Bortles must be better in the red zone, and interceptions at key times must stop. You know … pretty much the same frustrating, expected young quarterback stuff we've been discussing all year. That stuff will fade over time, and the sooner it does, the sooner the offensive efficiency increases.