JACKSONVILLE – Jaguars.com senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2017 regular season will speak with a writer or media member covering the Jaguars' opponent.
Up this week:
Titansonline.com senior writer and editor Jim Wyatt on the Titans' matchup with the Jaguars at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee, Sunday
Question: The Titans (8-7) have lost three consecutive games, allowing the Jaguars to clinch the AFC South, but Tennessee can get into the playoffs with a victory Sunday. It's an odd situation, but how does this team feel going into this one?
Answer: The team is disappointed; it hates that it has put itself in this position going into the final week of the season. The goal was to win the AFC South. The team got off to a good start and then the last three weeks has lost three close games with a chance to win all three. They're disappointed, but they also realize the ultimate goal is to give yourself a chance in the postseason – and if you win at home, you get in. It's a chance to make up for recent sins and put yourself in a position where you have a chance in January.
Q: When a team struggles, there's a tendency to say everything's going bad. But what are the Titans doing well right now?
A:The pass rush has gotten better. That was a problem early in the season and they have generated more pressure on a consistent basis and gotten sacks as a result of it. [Linebacker] Wesley Woodyard has been good from beginning to end and [safety] Kevin Byard has been good from beginning to end. This team has settled down and played a lot better defense compared to the first part of the season. Even though they've had their moments where they had letdowns, defensively they've been a much better team. The main trouble on offense has been inconsistency.
Q: The general expectation was that this team could be dominant offensively. What have been the issues there?
A: They haven't been as good on third down, which has really hurt them – and red zone has really hurt them. [Quarterback] Marcus Mariota suffered a hamstring injury early in the season and he has kind of played through injuries during the course of the season that have limited him. He hasn't used it as an excuse and the team hasn't used it as an excuse, but that has hurt him. They've had some trouble getting on the same page with the receivers. They went a long stretch without [rookie wide receiver] Corey Davis, who reinjured a hamstring in Jacksonville in Week 2. They went a couple of games without Rishard Mathews. The run game, which was so good in Week 2 with [Derrick] Henry and [DeMarco] Murray, has not been consistent. They've had issues running the ball at times and protection hasn't been as good as it was last season. The combination of a lot of that has kept them from really taking it to another level.
Q: You mentioned Mariota. How much has the injury hurt? The lack of mobility takes a toll on everything, correct?
A: I definitely think that has had an effect. He has had moments where he has taken off, but he has definitely scaled things back from a running standpoint and the threat is not there that maybe would have been had he stayed healthy throughout the season. I think there's something to the chemistry with the receivers, because that has slowed down the progress. A lot of people talk about why he has not taken it up a notch in Year 3, and has he regressed? He has heard a lot of questions like that. I don't think you can ignore that he suffered that injury (fractured fibula) in Jacksonville last year on December 24, then spent the first four or five months of the offseason rehabbing and trying to get himself back health-wise. He wasn't really able to concentrate on improving as a football player. Not trying to make an excuse for him, but I don't think that can be ignored. He focused on his health and not on football during a good chunk of the offseason and I think that's one of the reasons why he has not taken off like a lot of people expected in Year Three.
Q: It looks like the Titans have been close the last three weeks and could just as easily be 10-5 going into this game. Is there a run left in this team?
A: I think so, but the team is going to have to play better and be more consistent. Even when they won six of seven games earlier in the season they still weren't playing their best football. The [12-7] Arizona loss a few weeks ago, when you look back at the season and wonder why you're in this spot – losses like that and to Miami early in the season are the ones that stick with you. I still think this is a better team than it has shown during most of the season. Is there more potential to tap into? Yes. But you have to go out and show it and time is running out.
Q:When the Titans play well right now, what defines them? What's their formula for winning?
A: They need to get an early lead. That has been a problem; they've fallen behind and had slow starts in games. If you get an early lead, you're able to run the ball more and you can open things up in the passing game more. You're able to play with more of a swagger. This team had a swagger to it at the end of last season because they got on a roll. Of course, we all remember what happened in Jacksonville to kind of derail things, but the team was rolling. The team needs to feel good about itself, get on a roll and play with some confidence and I think that would do a world of good. But when you fall behind in games, it makes it a lot more difficult to do that.