JACKSONVILLE – Jaguars.com senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2020 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 Sunday at 1 p.m.
Question: The Titans, after a 41-35 home loss to the Cleveland Browns Sunday, are 8-4 with losses in four of their last seven games. They control their playoff hopes and lead the AFC South, but how do they feel about themselves entering Sunday?
Answer: Heading into the final quarter of the season, they're looking to find some consistency. This is a team that was coming off a two-game road trip where they beat [the] Baltimore [Ravens] and Indianapolis [Colts]. They moved into first place in the AFC South and put themselves in control of their own destiny. The Titans still control their own destiny for the AFC South, but they made it more difficult after losing to the Browns. Some issues that have been a problem this year – third-down defense and really overall defense – cropped up against the Browns. Now, they have to figure out a way to get some things fixed heading into the final quarter of the season. This team has shown some weeks to be really good and then other weeks have been definitely shaky.
Q: Which team is it? Or is it difficult to know?
A: It's a good team capable of getting in the playoffs and making a run. Injuries have kind of taken a toll of late. The Titans lost [inside linebacker] Jayon Brown for the season. [Cornerback] Adoree Jackson never has played [this season because of injuries] and time's running out on him. [Pass rusher] Jadeveon Clowney is now on injured reserve [after knee surgery]. They've lost two left tackles in Taylor Lewan and Ty Sambrailo. They've dealt with injuries and dealt with some inconsistences. So, while it's a team that's capable of winning the AFC South and making some noise in the postseason it's going to have to play better. Because this team has some things that need to be cleaned up and now's the time to do it.
Q: The Titans at times are a really good offensive team. Is this a case where they're looking for consistency?
A: They've been really good running the ball with [running back] Derrick Henry. He has been a consistent force for them and [quarterback] Ryan Tannehill is having another solid year – and has avoided turning the ball over much. He [Tannehill] has thrown 2,997 yards with 26 touchdowns and five interceptions; those are great numbers. They've been really good on offense. They've scored over 30 points in seven of their 12 games, then you have a game like Cleveland Sunday where they're down 38-7 at halftime and part of that was because they couldn't get into much of a groove on offense until it was too late. So, while this team has won most weeks because of its offense, that group needs to be consistent week in and week out.
Q: And it looks like consistency is the issue on defense as well …
A: Defensively the same problems have been there from the very beginning. That's lack of a pass rush; they've only had 14 sacks in 12 games – led by [outside linebacker] Harold Landry with four and a half. They're last in the league in third-down defense. They're allowing 53.6 percent on third downs. They've had trouble getting off the field. They've had trouble getting the opposing team's quarterback on the ground and they've given up too many points. Obviously, those are things that make it tough to win when you're having those issues.
Q: Considering the circumstances, it seems Head Coach Mike Vrabel is holding it together.
A: I think he does a good job motivating players and putting them in a position to win each week. The games that they've lost – other than maybe a 34-17 loss to the Colts and this past week against the Browns – they've been in every game. They've had a chance to win and just haven't made the plays to do it. He has a knack for getting this team ready to play and they've lost to some good team: A Browns team that's 9-3, a [Pittsburgh] Steelers team that's undefeated, a Colts team that's tied atop the AFC South with them. They had one bad hiccup against the [Cincinnati] Bengals, but other than that they've been really competitive each week.
Q: They had the COVID-19 scheduling difficulties early, but that doesn't feel like it affected their season much…
A: If anything, that was kind of a rallying point. They did go through COVID issues and had a lot of guys on the COVID list. They had to have a game rescheduled and another one pushed back, but they were able to find a way to win through some of that. The team started off 5-0. They've been more herky-jerky lately, but I still think the leadership is good and they realize with a quarter of the season left everything they were shooting for at the start of the season is still there if they can just level off and be consistent.
Q: When the Titans are good right now, what are they? Still the same formula?
A: A lot of people see the Titans and think, 'OK, this is a team that's led by Derrick Henry and if he's not on then they're not going to win.' A lot of weeks Ryan Tannehill is the one opening things up; Ryan Tannehill and the passing game are opening things up for the running game. When they're on, it's a balanced offensive attack that's doing enough good things on defense to win.
Q: At 8-4, what's success for the Titans the rest of the season and into the postseason?
A: That's a great question because last year they made it all the way to the AFC Championship Game and came up short. When you do that, obviously the next step is Super Bowl. This team needs to figure out a way to get in the playoffs and win the AFC South – something they haven't done since 2008 – and give yourself a chance. I don't want to put a cap on what that would have to be, but winning the AFC South is Priority No. 1 – and just giving yourself a chance.