Big special teams plays have always seemed to highlight the games between the Jaguars and Titans. Will tomorrow's game produce a special teams highlight?
Pacman Jones returned the second-half kickoff 70 yards in last year's game, leading to a field goal that tied the game and began a 17-point run by the Titans en route to a 24-17 upset of the Jaguars. Jones' kickoff return, however, is mild compared to the other big special teams plays that have been made in games between these two teams.
Go back to the 1999 AFC title game. The Jaguars were leading 14-7 when Reggie Barlow fumbled a punt deep in Jaguars territory late in the first half. The Titans kicked a field goal that cut the Jaguars lead to four points. A quarter later, Derrick Mason returned a free kick 80 yards for a touchdown and the Titans were in the Super Bowl.
"They do a lot of different punt formations. I try to keep a fakes reel and down through the years they have definitely been the leaders," Jaguars special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis said of Jeff Fisher and the Titans.
Fisher loves to unnerve his opponents with special teams goodies. Do you remember this one?
In 2002, the Jaguars were a surprising 3-1 when they went to Tennessee. Coach Tom Coughlin was the toast of the league for guiding the Jaguars to a fast start in the team's salary cap purge year. Fisher, however, stole the show on a fourth-and-one play.
Leading 13-7 near the two-minute warning and with the ball at the Titans' 37-yard line, Fisher had his punt team deployed in a swinging-gate type of spread formation that caught the Jaguars by surprise. Before the Jaguars could call time out, punter Craig Hentrich ran up the middle for five yards and a first down. That play led to a field goal that produced the game-winning points.
Maybe Jack Del Rio will have something up his sleeve for the Titans. DeCamillis has long been one of the league's premier special teams coaches and he has already produced several big plays on special teams in his rookie year as the Jaguars special teams boss.
"The one real, real negative was the onsides," DeCamillis said of last Sunday's loss in New Orleans, when the Jaguars made the mistake of lining up five yards too deep and the Saints successfully executed an onside kickoff. "The big positive is the touchdown but any time it's in a losing effort, I don't look at them as strongly," he added, referring to Maurice Jones-Drew's 100-yard kickoff return against the Saints.
"It's a work in progress still," DeCamillis said of Jaguars special teams, which are headed by a rookie punter, Adam Podlesh, and a 43-year-old kicker, John Carney. "The punt game was the big one we wanted to improve on. We wanted to be more explosive in the return game."
The Titans are as solid as ever. A team that is most famous for the "Music City Miracle" still feeds off the success of its special teams. The Titans are second in the league in punt coverage and 10th in punt returns.
"I think he understands as head coach that if they're better in the kicking game, then they get an advantage that way," DeCamillis said of Fisher. "They are very, very solid across the board and if you have a weakness, you try to mask the weakness. I know one thing: We'll be lined up correctly on the first kickoff."
Sunday's game at LP Field in Nashville (one p.m.) will likely produce a swing result. A win by the Jaguars would tie them with the Titans, at least, for the top spot in the wild-card playoff race. A win by the Titans could propel them into a tie for the AFC South lead and severely damage the Jaguars playoff hopes. That's the range of result Sunday's game offers.
One of the big sidelights will be running back Fred Taylor's pursuit of 10,000 yards rushing. He needs 13 yards rushing against the Titans to become the 21st player in NFL history to reach 10,000 career rushing yards. In addition, Taylor needs 74 yards from scrimmage to surpass Jimmy Smith (12,285) as the franchise's all-time leader in yards from scrimmage.
"I don't think they'll hold me under 13 yards," Taylor joked. He's been in reach of the mark for the past several weeks but has come up short. Taylor is still seeking his first 100-yard rushing game of the season. He has never gone this deep into the season without having had a 100-yard game.
The main issue heading into the game is: Who will be the starting quarterback for the Jaguars? David Garrard is nearing recovery from a high-ankle sprain, but Quinn Gray is poised to make his third consecutive start. Del Rio has said he expects to make a game-time decision.
Whether it's Garrard or Gray, he'll be facing a Titans defense that is number one against the run and number two overall.
"The first thing that jumps out when you put on the tape is how well their defense is playing. Albert Haynesworth may be the most dominant player in the league right now," Del Rio said of the Titans defensive tackle.
"They're getting sacks, they're getting interceptions and they're completely stuffing the run," Del Rio added of the Titans defense.
All of that, of course, is bad news for the Jaguars who, over the next four games (Tennessee, San Diego, Buffalo and Indianapolis), face the toughest schedule in the AFC.
Maybe special teams will make a big play on Sunday.