JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser takes a final look at the week around the Jaguars as they prepare to play the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium in Nashville Thursday
Roy Miller III's season-ending injury came at the most inopportune of times.
The veteran defensive tackle who sustained a torn Achilles this past Sunday was the team's best interior run defender – and few teams on the Jaguars' schedule run as well as Thursday's opponent.
"It will be another great challenge," Jaguars middle linebacker Paul Posluszny said as the Jaguars (2-4) prepared to play the Titans Thursday at 8:25 p.m.
The Titans under former Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey entered the season with a plan to run effectively, play good defense and win playing "exotic smash mouth" offensively. That plan has worked enough to have the Titans 3-4 and contending in the AFC South.
Tennessee currently ranks third in the NFL in rushing at 143.4 yards per game with veteran unrestricted free-agent signee DeMarco Murray rushing for 633 yards and five touchdowns on 139 carries and quarterback Marcus Mariota rushing for 210 yards on 29 carries.
Rookie running back Derrick Henry, the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner from the University of Alabama, has rushed for 161 yards and no touchdowns on 35 carries.
"Like we said way back when we drafted Derrick, DeMarco was going to be our workhorse and he has been," Mularkey said. "But I think he gets better as the game goes and it's just tough to try to make a switch just to make one unless we're not being effective with DeMarco."
The Jaguars' run defense in recent seasons has struggled at times with either Miller or Posluszny out of the lineup. It's a defense that emphasizes stopping the run on early downs, and it ranks 18th in the NFL against the run this season.
Abry Jones and Sen'Derrick Marks appear likely will share a lot of the snaps at nose tackle in base situations, but make no mistake: the absence of Miller will be an issue against the run this season – and will be something the Jaguars must overcome in prime time Thursday.
"It's definitely tough," Posluszny said. "You can't really replace Roy and what he does. It's going to have to be with a group effort. A lot of guys are going to have to step up and play a little more physical, because we're definitely going to miss Roy."
INJURY UPDATE Aside from Miller, the Jaguars appear relatively healthy as they travel to Nashville on a short week.
Wide receivers Rashad Greene Sr. (Achilles) and Allen Hurns (neck/shoulder), cornerback Aaron Colvin (toe), tight end Neal Sterling (foot), defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks (knee), cornerback Prince Amukamara (knee) and left tackle Kelvin Beachum (knee) all are expected to be able to play after being on the injury report this week.
Defensive end Jared Odrick (quad) and tight end Julius Thomas (ankle) are listed as questionable.
RUN TO WIN
While the Jaguars have struggled to run effectively this season, don't look for them to abandon the run completely. Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley said this week he doesn't think passing 40 times is the identity of the team, and the team has had glimpses against Green Bay, San Diego and Indianapolis of running effectively. Bradley also noted this week that the Jaguars ran effectively against the Raiders this past Sunday – 11 first-half carries for 90 yards – before a second-half deficit forced a heavy passing emphasis in the second half. "I think if you have a good combination of run and pass, that's important," Bradley said. "We started off, 11 carries, 90 yards in the first half and then we didn't get back to it as much. We got involved where we got behind and had to try to score points quickly because possessions became a factor." Bradley added that the running game and big plays in the passing game "work hand-in-hand. It helps out with explosive passes in your base downs, first and second downs. That's an important part of it."
"We've had a chance to win; we've been in every game really. It's come down to the fourth quarter and the games that we have made some critical plays, we've won those games and then there's plays that I could pull and show them right now, but they were different and we're talking one or two. Our record, just like Jacksonville, might be about the same. But that's the NFL every week."
"They [the Jaguars] are a world-improved defense. Those guys fly around and statistically they're doing well. It's going to be a challenge. It's going to be a challenge to run the ball and we're excited about that challenge. … They have a pretty exotic blitz package. They're a good team, they're playing well and their record could easily be different – like ours – if they just made a few more plays."