By Terry McCormick
The Tennessee Titans put themselves in a position to control their own destiny with unexpected wins over the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs in back-to-back weeks following their bye.
Now, comes a division rematch against the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars, who are in complete disarray and have absolutely nothing to lose with the Titans coming to town on Christmas Eve.
The Jaguars fired Coach Gus Bradley after Sunday’s loss in Houston and replaced him with Doug Marrone, who interviewed for the Titans job that went to Mike Mularkey in the off-season.
The Jags have lost nine in a row, haven’t won a home game in Jacksonville all season (Their lone home win was in London over the Colts), and their quarterback, Blake Bortles, has lost his way to the point where some want the club to move on from him and start searching for the next QB hopeful.
So where does all that leave the Titans? Wary of a dangerous team that should play loose, relaxed and fired up, much the same way Tennessee did last year at New Orleans in its first game unyoked from Ken Whisenhunt. An overtime win that day over the Saints was one of only three wins for the Titans in 2015.
So, while the Titans are a prohibitive favorite to win Saturday and set up a showdown for the AFC South title and a playoff berth next week vs Houston, they can’t afford to just look past the Jaguars this week.
Here are the keys to victory.
First down: Don’t allow the Jaguars life – Mularkey said Thursday he wants the Titans to start fast in this game. The longer the Titans allow the Jaguars to hang around in the game, the more Jacksonville’s confidence grows. The Titans need to treat the Jaguars much the same way they did in October in Nashville when the game was basically over at halftime as the Titans led 27-3.
Second down: Be ready for trickery – As stated above, the Jaguars have nothing to lose and might just pull out the double reverse, flea-flicker, fumble-rooskie pass or whatever else they have in their bag of tricks to throw at the Titans. The Titans say they will be ready for anything, and won’t get caught off guard by giving up a big gain on a trick play.
Third down: Be balanced – The Titans shredded the Jaguars in the first meeting behind a good balance of run and pass. Marcus Mariota hit on all but four throws against the Jaguars with two touchdown tosses, while DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry pounded the Jacksonville defense. The Titans will need this balance, which will be welcome as they go back to warm weather after having to rely mostly on the run the past two weeks in cold and windy conditions.
Fourth own: Be opportunistic – The Titans have patched together a secondary getting decent mileage out of rookie LeShaun Sims and veteran Valentino Blake of late. The Jaguars’ Blake Bortles has been bad this season with 16 interceptions. The Titans don’t have a defensive score this season. Saturday might be a good time to get one.