JACKSONVILLE – Jaguars.com senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2019 regular season will speak with a writer or media member covering the Jaguars' opponent.
Up this week:
Jim Wyatt of Titansonline.com on the Titans' matchup with the Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville Thursday at 8:20 p.m.
Question: The Titans are 1-1 entering Thursday with a big Week 1 victory over Cleveland and a Week 2 loss to Indianapolis. Where are the Titans as they prepare for Jacksonville?
Answer: Everybody felt good about the way the season started – going into Cleveland, winning in convincing fashion and setting yourself up to go into a couple of AFC South games with momentum. The team let one get away Sunday [against Indianapolis]. It was a game in which the Titans had a lot of opportunities to take control early, then throughout. It just didn't happen – either because of missed tackles, or inability to get off the field on defense, or not being able to make plays on offense. The Titans were one-of-10 on third down and couldn't sustain drives. They couldn't take advantage of turnovers that put them in good field position. As a result, they had to try to come from behind in the closing 1:07. They had to be perfect to do it. They weren't perfect. And as a result, they really felt like they gave one away to the Colts.
Q: What are the Titans offensively? What's the key to success there?
A: In a perfect world this team is able to run the football with [running back] Derrick Henry and wear things down, and by doing that you also open things up in the passing game. [Quarterback] Marcus Mariota has as many weapons as he's ever had since he has been here. That includes the return of [tight end] Delanie Walker and it also includes [wide receivers] Adam Humphries and A.J. Brown, a couple of offseason acquisitions. It includes a maturing [wide receiver] Corey Davis, who has been inconsistent and herky-jerky so far. It's not there yet, but ideally you're able to have a mix of run and pass that's able to keep defenses off-balance.
Q: Is that how [Head Coach] Mike Vrabel wants to play, or is that dictated by personnel?
A: It's a combination of the two. Vrabel likes to have a tough, hard-nosed football team to be able to run the football. What would allow the Titans to do that would be to be in games and to be in games where you can be less predictable. Against Cleveland, when they built a lead, then they were able to take advantage of a lot of things. Against Indianapolis, when they found themselves in a lot of third-and-longs and tough situations to extend drives, they got too predictable and just weren't able to play like they wanted to.
Q: Many people nationally assume this is a critical year for Mariota. What's your view?
A: It's a huge year for him. He's in the final year of his contract. Everybody in the organization is pulling for him to establish himself as the face of the franchise moving forward, but in order for that to happen he's going to have to play well and he's going to have to stay healthy. It's a long season. I think things will play out as the year goes on. There was a lot of chatter coming into the year that there was a quarterback controversy in Nashville with Mariota and Ryan Tannehill. The reality is it's Marcus' job, but he's going to have to play well to be the guy moving forward.
Q: How good is this defense and can it carry this team?
A: I don't know that it has to. I think it's capable of putting the team in a great position to win every week. I think the offense has the pieces to be pretty good and to score points, but it needs to do it on a consistent basis. I do think the defense is capable of playing well week in and week out. They're ranked 10th overall in total defense. They've created turnovers and pressure, but it's not there yet, either. Tackling has been a little bit sloppy. They've given up too many yards on the ground so far. The run defense is going to have to be better if the defense wants to be as good as it thinks it can be.
Q: It seems like the Titans in recent seasons always are a little better than people believe. Do you see that being true this season?
A: Time will tell. Things sunk to a pretty low level in 2014 and 2015. The team had to climb out of it. To finish 9-7 three years in a row … that's the first time it has happened since the team has been in Tennessee. It has been better than some people forecasted, but it has left some people wanting more as well. The challenge now is to get over the hump. Vrabel's mantra all offseason was to try to go from good to great. If you're going to go from good to great you have to win close games. You have to be consistent week in and week out and you have to win games against teams in your division. How well this team does in that regard as the season goes on will determine if they can take that next step or not. When this team is good, it will be able to be consistent week in and week out. Last year, the team had some quality wins. They beat New England last year. They won on Monday Night in Dallas. But they also had a clunker in Buffalo and got shutout at home against Baltimore and laid an egg on other Sundays. This team has to be consistent and not be so up and down.