Titans face crucial bounceback opportunity vs Jaguars

The Titans entered Week 12 as a consensus top three or four team in the AFC, but their demoralizing loss to the Cleveland Browns has left them now with more questions and concerns than perhaps any point in the season.

The loss, coupled with the Colts’ win, has altered the outlook of the AFC South. Before Week 13, the Titans were heavy favorites to win the division (-456) compared to over 3:1 odds for the Colts (+308). Now, the two teams are much closer, with Tennessee at -189 and Indianapolis at +135.

The Titans’ surprising loss to the Bengals in Week 8 was swiftly followed by sweeping changes on defense: Johnathan Joseph and Vic Beasley were released. Desmond King was acquired via trade. And Breon Borders was given a chance to play more.

The team bounced back strong from that Week 8 performance. After allowing Joe Burrow’s Bengals to convert 67% of their third down tries, the Titans held the Chicago Bears to 2-of-15 on the money down. Granted, the Bears offense was and remains terrible, but Cincinnati was just 25th in the NFL in third-down conversion rate entering that game at 38.8%, not much better than the Bears’ 31.9%.

The Titans went on to have their best pair of defensive outings in Weeks 11 and 12, against the Ravens and Colts. The game in Indianapolis was particularly encouraging, with Mike Vrabel’s defense forcing the Colts to punt five consecutive times and then nabbing an interception to put the game out of reach.

But a huge letdown performance last Sunday has Titans fans understandably panicked about the team’s chances to make a legitimate playoff run.

However, if there’s any matchup on the schedule that could serve as a “get right” game, it’s this one. Since stunning the Colts in Week 1, the Jacksonville Jaguars have lost 11 straight games, trailing only the Jets for the longest active losing streak.

Since moving to Mike Glennon at quarterback, the Jaguars have been much more competitive. Jake Luton was decimated 27-3 by the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 11. Since then, Glennon has led the Jags to a narrow 27-25 defeat (which could’ve gone to OT if they’d converted a two-point try in the final minutes) in Week 12, and then took the Vikings to overtime last week, losing on a field goal.

Nevertheless, oddsmakers have no concerns about the Titans ability to win this game, as Tennessee heads into Jacksonville favored by a touchdown. The Titans needed a last-second field goal to beat Jacksonville back in Week 2, but Vegas seems to think Tennessee will be better this time around.

Only two of the Titans’ eight wins have come by more than a touchdown. But after losing early in the season at Jacksonville last year, the Titans dominated in Week 12, running away with a 42-20 victory. They have a chance to do something similar this year, which would provide a huge boost — both mentally and in the standings — to this squad for the home stretch. A division win would lock the Titans into at least tying with Indianapolis in division record, which would be used to break a potential division-leading tie.

Jacksonville’s defense is the worst the Titans have played in weeks, at least by FootballOutsiders’ DVOA metric. In fact, the only team ranked lower in Defensive DVOA is the Titans’ Week 15 opponent, the Detroit Lions.

After Derrick Henry ran for just 60 yards on 15 carries last week, he faces an immense bounceback opportunity on Sunday. Not only are we in the midst of D-Henber, this is D-Henber against Jacksonville.

Last week’s 60-yard performance was Henry’s worst December outing since a 10-carry, 40-yard game on December 2, 2018. It was also his second-lowest output of the season. But Henry has a knack for bouncing back from subpar showings.

After his lowest rushing output of 2020 back in Week 5, Henry ran angry in Week 6, recording 212 rushing yards, including a massive 94-yard touchdown run and a 53-yard catch and run in overtime that set up the Titans game-winning score. And a week after that 40-yard game in 2018, Henry exploded for his infamous 238 yards on 17 carries with four touchdowns on Thursday Night Football… against the Jaguars.

Alas, it’s not the offense that needs to bounce back as much as the defense, who surrendered 38 first half points to Baker Mayfield. James Robinson has been a sensation as an undrafted rookie, sitting third overall in rushing and needing only 32 more yards for a 1,000-yard season. Mike Glennon isn’t Jacksonville’s long-term answer at quarterback, but he provides leadership and experience their offense has sorely lacked.

It will be a challenge to keep the opposing offense at bay, just as it was when Tennessee allowed 30 points to Gardner Minshew’s offense in Week 2.

But a strong performance on that side of the ball would instill some much-needed confidence that this defense can do… enough. Enough at least to stop sabotaging the best offense this franchise has fielded since moving to Nashville. And sometimes, a little confidence can go a long way.

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