JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines what we learned in the Jaguars' 30-9 loss to the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee, Thursday
1.The Jaguars will have a losing season in 2018. It has felt inevitable for weeks, but it became official on Thursday: The Jaguars can finish no better than 7-9. They will finish with a losing record for the seventh time in eight seasons. Ugh.
2.The quarterbacking difference is negligible. Cody Kessler started a second consecutive game at quarterback Thursday after replacing Blake Bortles. He threw downfield more often than in his first start against Indianapolis the previous week, and his accuracy gave the offense a couple of brief sparks. But there are more issues with this offense than quarterback, and that played out again Thursday.
3.The receivers aren't helping nearly enough. Wide receiver Dede Westbrook continues to play very well. That hasn't been the case enough at the rest of the receiver position, with Donte Moncrief on Thursday missing a chance at a big play on a well-thrown pass from Kessler late in the second quarter with the game still very much in doubt.
4.The offense isn't better. The Jaguars made major changes offensively following a 24-21 loss to the Buffalo Bills, replacing Blake Bortles with Kessler and moving Scott Milanovich into the play-callers' role following the dismissal of offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. The offense has scored one touchdown in two games since – a 7-yard pass from Kessler to Westbrook Thursday with the Jaguars trailing 30-2.
5.The line's struggles aren't going away. Protecting Kessler was critical Thursday. That didn't happen enough, with Kessler being sacked four times for 45 yards. That means Kessler has been sacked seven times in two starts. The Jaguars' offensive line is down to two projected Week 1 starters – right tackle Jermey Parnell and guard A.J. Cann. "We didn't do a good job up front," Head Coach Doug Marrone said. "We got beat up front."
6.Leonard Fournette's return isn't a cure-all. The few signs of life for the Jaguars' offense in recent weeks have come from the second-year running back. His return from a one-game suspension Thursday provided no such signs: 36 yards, 14 carries – and he rushed twice for no yards from the Titans 1 when the Jaguars failed to score on a key mid-second-quarter drive. Fournette had little room to run Thursday, and it also appeared he could have hit holes more quickly at times.
7.Youth is being served on the defensive line … Rookie Taven Bryan made his first NFL start Thursday. Bryan started instead of Abry Jones, who missed the game with a shin injury. He also started ahead of a healthy Malik Jackson, who was the starter at defensive tackle until mid-November. Jackson is in his third season with the Jaguars, but considering the team's salary-cap situation he seems unlikely to return next season.
8…. And in the secondary. Ronnie Harrison started a second consecutive game at strong safety, with veteran Barry Church being made a healthy scratch Thursday. Church is in his second season with the Jaguars, but – like Jackson – he is unlikely to return.
9.Harrison might be good. Bryan has struggled at times and is still waiting for a chance to make a serious impact. That's not true of Harrison, who last week had a key sack on Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and who intercepted Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota early Thursday.
10.The Jaguars miss Jones. A lot of things ailed the run defense Thursday. But Jones had been inserted into the lineup ahead of Jackson last month because of his run-stopping abilities. Those abilities were missed Thursday.
11.Titans running back Derrick Henry plays well against the Jaguars. Really well. Henry, who rushed for 92 yards against the Jaguars last September and had 117 total yards against them last December, hurt the Jaguars to an inexcusable extent Thursday – averaging a logic-defying 14.0 yards a carry while rushing for a Titans franchise-record 238 yards and four touchdowns. "Every time he touched the ball, he was scoring, it felt like," Jaguars safety Tashaun Gipson said.
12.You must tackle Henry low. Henry broke tackle after tackle Thursday, most memorably stiff-arming cornerback A.J. Bouye and linebackers Myles Jack and Leon Jacobs away during an NFL-record-tying 99-yard second-quarter touchdown run. "You've got to go low on him," Marrone said. "That's the only way to tackle him."
13.It takes a village. The Jaguars' struggles on defense Sunday weren't just one player or one area. It was a lot of players missing a lot of tackles and taking a lot of bad angles. Gipson called the effort demoralizing. This indeed was tough to watch, and the embarrassment was evident in the locker room afterward. "It was sad," cornerback Jalen Ramsey said.