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 Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee, Sunday at 4:05 p.m.
Question: The Titans are coming off their bye week, having rallied for a dramatic victory over the Kansas City Chiefs the previous week. That victory moved Tennessee to 5-5 and seemed to give the team momentum. Is that how the Titans feel entering the week?
Answer: I definitely think so. The way the season started, they obviously let some games get away. They lost a home game to the [Indianapolis] Colts and they lost in Jacksonville. They lost at home to Buffalo and they lost to the Broncos [in Denver]. People were frustrated here. Now, coming off a bye, if you look at the landscape in the AFC South with six games to play, it's still wide open and there for the taking. With three wins in the last four games, knowing you have four games in the last six against AFC South opponents, if you can continue to play well and take care of business, you can still accomplish what you wanted to when the season started. It certainly wasn't looking like that in mid-October.
Q: Are they playing significantly better in the last month?
A: They're definitely playing better and scoring more. A lot of that is a result of a quarterback change since the last time the Titans played the Jaguars [in Week 3]. Ryan Tannehill started for the first time at quarterback against the Chargers on October 20. Since that game, the Titans have scored over 20 points in all four games. They scored 35 points to beat the Chiefs. They have moved up to No. 1 in the NFL in red-zone offense and they have been a lot more productive on that side of the ball. It certainly wasn't all [former quarterback] Marcus Mariota's fault when the team struggled on offense, but it has been a lot better – no question about it – since Tannehill took over.
Q: Many people associate the Titans with running back Derrick Henry. What is this offense with Tannehill? Is it run-first? Pass-first? What?
A: It's a combination of things. They're coming off a game against Kansas City where Henry went for 188 yards and two touchdowns and averaged eight yards a carry. That's still something the Titans want to do. But with Tannehill, they have taken more shots down the field and the receivers have been more involved. I think they realize that things can work hand in hand. If you can get the running game going, it opens up the passing game and vice-versa: if you can hit some shots downfield, which this team wasn't doing early in the season, you certainly can open things up for Derrick Henry and the run game.
Q: What has the defense been this season and what is it right now?
A: The defense has kept this team in a lot of games. You look at the statistics and it doesn't look great right now. The team is ranked 18th overall in total defense – 14th against the run and 22nd against the pass. Those numbers don't impress you, but a lot of that is coming off a game against the Chiefs where they gave up a lot of yards and a lot of points but still found a way to win. A lot of Sundays this team wouldn't even be in games if not for the defense. It has continued to give itself a chance to win games because it has been good for the most part.
Q: From an outsider's view, the victory over Kansas City was a game that can turn a season around. Is that how it felt?
A: I think so. If they had lost that game and dropped to 4-6 – based on what they had done in the AFC South and based on what they had done in the AFC – they really would have been challenged to get back in it. A key, too, was getting healthy. Against Kansas City, there was no [defensive tackle] Jurrell Casey. No [wide receiver] Corey Davis. No [tight end] Delanie Walker. I think the team felt like if it could get through that game, get a win and get healthy, then you had a chance to do something with six games left. Then, there was the way the team won: It was down by nine in the fourth quarter and found a way to win against a Chiefs team that I think people still consider one of the best in the AFC. I think this team will be able to use that momentum going forward, but they have to win games against the AFC South. Right now, this team is 0-2 against the AFC South. If you're going to have any chance at all to get to the postseason, you have to start winning these games against divisional opponents.
Q: We discussed Ryan Tannehill taking over at quarterback for Mariota. Can he be the guy moving forward?
A: I think it's what the rest of the season is about. Heading into this season, I don't anybody thought that that would be the question coming out of the season. It was either going to be whether Marcus Mariota was the quarterback of the future over whether you draft a quarterback. I think there's still a scenario where you draft a quarterback and move forward, but with the way Tannehill has played he certainly has added that as a big possibility. He has shown that he can play at a high level. He has kind of jumpstarted the offense. He has given them something to think about, but you can't base that off a four-game snapshot. You have to see what he does down the stretch.
Q: This team obviously now has legitimate playoff hopes. What do the Titans have to do in the last six games to be a playoff team?
A: It's going to have to be better on offense. While this team is No. 1 in the league in red-zone offense, and they're 10 of 10 scoring touchdowns in the red zone since Tannehill took over, it still has been inconsistent as a whole on offense. They're still 26th in the NFL on offense. The quarterback is still getting hit too much. It has got to get more consistent in games. It has got to get off to better starts. This team as been shut out in the first half of four games this season. That has to improve. And just like across the league, you have to stay healthy and have good fortune go your way. If you start losing front-line guys and get into your depth, that's certainly going to affect how you play. Improving on offense, protecting the quarterback and having good health are going to be key.