The challenge facing Mel Tucker and the Jaguars defense on Sunday is simple, yet, possibly overwhelming: Stop Chris Johnson and the Titans' running game.
That's a tall order for a defense in transition against the league's number six rushing attack, led by the AFC's top rusher, Johnson. With 351 yards rushing through three games, Johnson is number two in the league, just six yards behind league-leader Adrian Peterson.
Johnson is average a whopping 6.6 yards per carry and his speed makes him a threat to go the distance every time he touches the ball. He already has a 91-yard touchdown run to his credit this year.
Meanwhile, the Jaguars are coming off a so-so performance against the Texans, who were last in the league in rushing when the Jaguars faced them. In that game, the Jaguars allowed 111 yards rushing, as Steve Slaton averaged 6.3 yards per carry.
So, how are the Jaguars going to stop Johnson and the Titans? It's the question that's at the root of any hope the Jaguars have of evening their record at 2-2 and sending the Titans home 0-4.
"We're going to have to do a good job of fitting the run and our safeties have to do a good job of tackling," Tucker, the Jaguars' defensive coordinator, said.
Under Tucker, the Jaguars have made the switch from a 4-3 defensive scheme to a 3-4 alignment that's been employing defensive ends Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves as linebackers. It's been a difficult adjustment, largely because the Jaguars don't have the personnel to fit the scheme. Through three games, the Jaguars are 25th in the league in total defense, 14th against the run and 32nd against the pass.
The Jaguars will have to concern themselves with rookie wide receiver Kenny Britt, the Titans' first-round draft choice. Britt is a speedy deep receiver who is averaging 16.6 yards per catch and has a 57-yard reception to his credit. Yet, the Titans' passing attack is secondary to the team's running game in the attention it demands.
"Their running game is potent and their offensive line is probably the most physical line we will have faced this year," Tucker said.
Compounding the problem for the Jaguars is the fact that the 3-4 isn't usually the defense of choice in attempting to stop the run. The 4-3 puts more beef on the line of scrimmage and in the middle of the defense in particular, which leads to speculation the Jaguars might go old-school more often on Sunday. Tucker, of course, won't tell.
"We still go back and forth, depending on what we need to do," Tucker said. "Every day, we find out more and more what our players can do best."
The Jaguars would gladly concede the yards in exchange for denying points. "Our goal is to hold teams to a low number," Tucker said.
That's what the Jaguars defense did in the second half of last Sunday's win in Houston. It held the Texans to three points and it's hoped the Jaguars defense turned the corner in that game.
"We're not where we need to be right now. I'm satisfied the guys know we need to improve," Tucker said.
Sunday's game, which could turn into an old-fashioned run-the-ball/stop-the-run confrontation, will give the Jaguars a gauge on where they are in their efforts to reconstruct their defense.