Intriguing Storylines surrounding the Titans’ AFC South showdown with the Jaguars

The Tennessee Titans (8-4) host the Jacksonville Jaguars (2-10) in a crucial AFC South showdown. Tennessee is on a two game losing streak for the first time this season. The team is coming off their much needed bye and are hopeful the time off helped the team recover both mentally and physically.

This game might not mean much on the National scale but this is a massive game for the Titans as they try to start their December on a much more positive note than their November ended.

With all that said, let’s take a closer look at some of the key storylines heading into this crucial Week 14 AFC South matchup. 

Will the Titans continue their trend of dominant play following the bye week?

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The Tennessee Titans are 3-0 coming off the bye week during the Mike Vrabel era and possess an average margin of victory of 20.6 PPG.

In 2018, the Titans were coming off a disappointing three-game losing streak heading into the bye week. Tennessee then came back and played one of their most complete games of the season as they beat the Cowboys in Dallas 28-14.

In 2019, the Titans rode a massive wave of momentum heading into their bye week as they had just beat the defending AFC Champions. Tennessee then turned around and put on a 42-20 clinic against Jacksonville.

Last season, Tennessee was in the midst of a 3-0 start when they were forced to have an early bye due to a COVID outbreak. The Titans then came out and made a statement to the country as they beat the media darling of 2020 and handed Buffalo a 42-16 loss despite missing a plethora of key contributors.

This week the Titans get an inferior Jaguars team, Tennessee must use this opportunity to make the type of statement that they failed to make a couple of weeks ago against Houston.

This is the type of game that can set the tone for the rest of this stretch run. If the Titans go out and dominate an inferior Jags team like they’re supposed to, Tennessee will have all the confidence in the world as they go into the final four games. They will be 9-4 and tied for first place in the AFC with only four games remaining.

However, if they lose this one, a likely panic starts to set in within the fanbase as a once Super Bowl favorite would now have struggled to beat the bottom feeders of their own division in two out of their last three games.

This is a sneaky big game for the Titans regardless of the opponent’s record. How big the team treats it remains to be seen.

Ryan Tannehill post-bye rejuvenation?

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If there was one person who really deserves a Physical and mental break, it’s quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The Titans’ quarterback spent the first two years in a near-perfect situation as he had adequate weapons out wide and beside him in the backfield.

Unfortunately, the only stable thing about this year’s offense has been their instability. Tannehill has obviously taken a pretty steep statistical regression this year compared to his first two years. But his evaluation needs a ton of context outside of looking at simple numbers.

Tannehill has never been the type that’s going to throw the entire franchise on his back and lead them to the promised land. But as we’ve seen these last two years, if you give Tannehill adequate protection and an arsenal of weapons, he can be a great quarterback.

The problem is for the majority of the year he’s either been hampered by poor protection, injuries to significant players, and/or inconsistent play from their replacements.

Fortunately, the protection upfront has begun to play better as the year has prolonged and it seems like week by week the team will start to get key contributors back.

Julio Jones returned to practice this week, A.J. Brown likely returns by Week 16, and hopefully Derrick Henry returns shortly after that.

The more pieces Tannehill starts to get back at his disposal, the better he incrementally will play in all likelihood. This week he gets a Jaguars team that he’s had great success against since he’s been in Tennessee. Look for the Texas A&M product to try and continue that trend in order to help his team set the type of tone they’re hoping to set for the home stretch.

Legitimate 1-2 punch at running back?

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The last time the Titans took the field they fielded their first 100-yard running back tandem since the ‘smash & dash’ days of Chris Johnson & Lendale White.

D’Onta Foreman accounted for 109 rushing yards on 19 carries (5.7 YPC) while Dontrell Hilliard made his presence felt with his 131 yards on 12 carries (10.9 YPC). Both also contributed costly fumbles that ultimately helped the Patriots pull away.

This week Tennessee’s newfound tandem gets to face the 21st ranked run defense in the league. The Jaguars are allowing an average of 116.8 rushing yards per game. The Titans don’t need the 240-yard performance by their two backs, but if they can at least combine to meet and/or eclipse Jacksonville’s average, they should be in great shape to complement a passing attack that is starting to get some of its main targets back.

Return of the dominant front-seven?

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The combination of Harold Landry, Jeffery Simmons, & Denico Autry accounted for 22.5 sacks in the first 10 games — most of which have come when the Titans only rush four.

Tennessee went 8-2 in that span. Over these last two weeks, they’ve gone without a sack and have followed that up with an 0-2 record. Sacks are often considered an overrated stat by many and in some cases they are. However, one thing that there’s no denying about getting sacks is the outcome of them are often drive killers.

One likely reason for the sack drought is the number of missing players along their front seven ranging from linebackers David Long, Rashaan Evans, to defensive lineman Teair Tart, & edge rusher Bud Dupree.

The hope is that the majority of those return this week with the exclusion of Dupree who won’t be eligible to return until Week 15.

It can’t be understated how valuable an asset Long has been to this defense and his absence has been felt as much as anybody’s. Getting him back into the lineup behind Tennessee’s front line should help the entire defense tremendously.

Long’s status along with Evans’ & Tart’s still remains up in the air so be on the lookout for the injury report throughout the week to get a better idea of where their playing status is trending.

Julio Jones’ likely return

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One of the more frustrating things this season has been Julio Jones’ inability to stay on the field. When he’s been out there, he still looks like the future Hall of Famer that he inevitably will be. Unfortunately, those moments seem to be in spurts mostly due to the nagging hamstring injury he’s been dealing with.

The team finally decided to give the 32-year-old receiver legitimate rest by placing him on injured reserve rather than forcing him to push through every week which clearly wasn’t helping.

Being on IR paired with the bye week gave Jones approximately four weeks of rest to hopefully get that hamstring as good as it can possibly get at this point in the season.

There’s no denying that the Julio Jones experience hasn’t gone how most of us envisioned. Fortunately for everyone involved, all that can be omitted with a dominant end of the season. No one is going to care that the Titans’ receiver missed some games in September-November if Tennessee goes on a playoff run and the future Hall of Famer is a significant contributor.

The last time we saw a fully healthy Julio Jones with no nagging hamstring injury on the injury report was back in Week 2 when he produced 128 yards on six catches. If this rest gives the Titans any chance of getting that version of Jones back, then all this will have been worth it.

Only time will tell if that will be the case but this week Jones gets the chance to possibly bounce back against an opponent he historically dominates against. 

In his three career games against Jacksonville, The Alabama product has 24 catches for 369 yards (123 YPG) and has scored two touchdowns in those three games against the Jaguars. 

This will be Jones’ first time playing against the Jags as a Titan, look for him to try and make a statement of his own now that he’s healthy and clearly the top available weapon.

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