Six intriguing storylines surrounding the Titans’ AFC South showdown in Jacksonville

The 2-2 Tennessee Titans look to avoid another letdown game as they travel to Jacksonville to take on the 0-4 Jaguars. The Titans are coming off one of their most disappointing losses in recent memory while the Jaguars… Well, let’s just say they have their own issues on and off the field at the moment.

With that said, let’s take a closer look at six of the most intriguing storylines surrounding Sunday’s AFC South showdown.

Bounce back game for the offensive line?

After the Week 1 debacle, I was positive that Tennessee would not have a worse game up front than they did on September 12th. That’s why it’s so hard to fathom what happened last Sunday against the Jets.

At least with the Cardinals, you could point to one Hall of Fame-caliber guy who was completely wrecking the game. Against the Jets, the Titans’ offensive line allowed anyone and everyone to disrupt Tennessee’s offense.

According to Next Gen Stats, The Jets pass rush pressured Ryan Tannehill on 21 of his 56 dropbacks (37.5% pressure rate). Four different Jets defenders (John Franklin-Meyers, Bryce Huff, Quinnen Williams, Sheldon Rankins) all generated 6+ pressures, tied for most in a game by any defense since 2016. 

To put New York’s dominance into better perspective, coming into the game, the Jets had six total sacks and 21 pressures through the first three weeks. Last Sunday alone, New York produced seven sacks and 21 pressures.

Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill is currently the most sacked quarterback in the league with 17 and is on pace for 72 by year’s end.

Tennessee must find a way to protect Tannehill better if he is going to survive the season and if this Titans offense is ever going to reach their full potential.

They may have to do that this week a little short-handed as Mike Vrabel said guard Rodger Saffold is still in concussion protocol. Saffold has arguably been Tennessee’s lone bright spot on the offensive line this season so this could be a massive loss for a unit that can use all the help it can get.

Be on the lookout to see if Saffold gets cleared throughout the week as Tennessee’s offensive line gets ready to try and pitch their first sack-less shutout against the Jaguars.

Will Julio Jones and/or A.J. Brown play?

Last week, the Titans were forced to play without their two superstar wide receivers in A.J. Brown and Julio Jones. It felt more like the Titans of old as there was no real No. 1 wide receiver threat on the field for Tennessee.

The Titans rolled into MetLife Stadium with Josh Reynolds, Chester Rogers, Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, Cam Batson, & Racey McMath, out wide. Tennessee’s biggest passing threat came out of the backfield in Jeremy McNichols who totaled 74 yards on eight catches.

Although it was nice to see steady production out of some of those weapons, there were plenty of plays that this receiving corps simply could not make.

The Titans desperately need at least one of their two star receivers to return ASAP to help open up this offense once again. Otherwise, on obvious passing downs, opposing defenses are just going to trust their corners to man up against whoever’s out there while they pin their ears back and bring the house to take advantage of a suspect offensive line.

Getting Jones and/or Brown won’t fix the pass protection issues altogether, but it can help make defenses much more hesitant to attack the quarterback the way they were on Sunday without their presence.

Tannehill said that he’s had “good conversations” with both Brown and Jones when discussing where they are at with their recovery.

If Tennessee can get one or both of their top wide receivers back against the Jaguars, they should then use this week as an opportunity to start getting them into a rhythm before the behemoths come to town in Weeks six and seven. 

Can defense create more turnovers and sacks

Two of the defense’s biggest points of emphasis last week were to start creating more turnovers and to begin turning these pressures into sacks.

Last Sunday, the Titans began to get on the right track as cornerback Kristian Fulton recorded his first pick of the season while Landry recorded another sack to bring his total to 2.5 on the year. The Boston College product currently leads the entire league in quarterback pressures with 23.

It’s vital for the success of this team that Landry continues to disrupt the quarterback at this rate, but he must turn more of these pressures into sacks if he truly wants to become one of the league’s elite.

Tennessee has also gotten sack production out of Jeffery Simmons, Ola Adeniyi, & Denico Autry. 

On the back end, Tennessee’s secondary only has two interceptions on the year. That entire unit needs to start getting their hands on the ball much more often if they are going to maximize their potential as a defense.

Look for the Titans to try and take advantage of a rookie quarterback who has been surrounded by several unfortunate circumstances as of late (to say the least).

Will Derrick Henry continue dominance against the Jags? 

It’s no secret that the Titans’ star running back flourishes anytime he plays his hometown team. Henry grew up less than 30 minutes away from Jacksonville and seems to hold some type of grudge anytime he plays against the Jaguars.

Over the 10 games he’s played against them in his career, Henry has rushed for 1,013 rushing yards on 184 carries (5.5 Yards per carry). Those numbers are eye popping, however, those numbers include the games where Henry was splitting carries with DeMarco Murray and Dion Lewis therefore it doesn’t truly explain his dominance.

Let’s look into recent history only. Over Henry’s last five game’s against the Jags, the King has rushed for 740 yards and nine rushing touchdowns (148 yards per game).

Tennessee is in desperation mode after last week, they must bounce back so look for Henry to try to continue his dominance over Jacksonville in what should be a get-right game.

Will we see a more confidently aggressive defense?

According to AtoZ sports’ Luke Worsham, Mike Vrabel stated on Sept. 6: “If guys are backing up in the end-zone that would certainly not be anything that we coach, or backing up and giving a cushion on third-and-six without some sort of traffic conflict.”

Unfortunately, actions speak louder than words, and either someone is lying or being completely negligent.

Off-coverage isn’t as bad as others make it seem like, but being 8-10 yards deep on a third-and-three is simply inexcusable. The fact that this has happened so frequently is what’s becoming so concerning. Everyone has the occasional mental lapse, it’s the fact that this is becoming more of a habit than an accident that has many Titans fans worried.

Vrabel was asked about these habits on Monday. He insisted that he will point out to Jackrabbit Jenkins and Kristian Fulton how they need to be more cognizant of where they are on the field and at what down and distance.

Let’s see if actions are stronger than words come Sunday in Jacksonville.

Who’s the punter?

One of the more underrated storylines from last week was how Tennessee had to play without punter Brett Kern. Similar to almost any other time Kern has been out, it was a disaster of an outing to start.

Punter Johnny Townsend was signed to temporarily replace the perennial Pro Bowl punter. Townsend’s first punt shanked off yen side of his foot for only 12 yards. Thankfully, the Titans’ defense helped save that punt from becoming a disaster like last year’s Thursday night game with the Colts.

Fortunately for both Tennessee and Townsend, the rest of his punts were strong and no other major mishaps happened on his end. If Kern can’t go, Townsend will likely get the chance to continue showing that his first punt was more of a fluke rather than the expectation.

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