After a much needed bye week, the Tennessee Titans returned to action to play an AFC South rival of theirs. Trevor Lawrence and the Jacksonville Jaguars came into town today, and left with a loss amid controversy surrounding head coach Urban Meyer.
Despite the noise around the Jaguars, the Titans went to work and pulled out another win.
Per usual, we have our winners and losers down below. Let’s get started.
Winner: Rashaan Evans
Evans’ play had done a complete 360 before an ankle injury knocked him out for the last handful games. He returned to action today though and picked up where he left off.
Evans ended up finishing with a nice tackle for loss in the first half, while also adding an interception, his second this season. He was around the football, avoided any dumb mistakes, and acted as the reliable linebacker option the Titans have been begging him to become.
With Zach Cunningham now in the fold, it’ll be interesting to see what happens with Evans and his snap numbers during the stretch run. Whether that happens or not, the Titans have to be happy with the change he’s shown on the field lately.
Loser: Downfield passing attack
With Julio Jones now back in the fold, you’d expect the Titans to at least integrate more of a downfield passing attack. We’re not strictly speaking shot plays or 40 yard cannon shots, but different concepts that involve routes that can lead to more explosive plays down the field.
However, the Titans stayed away from the downfield passing attack. Instead, they opted to lean on the run game, the play action passing attack, and even the defense to bail them out whenever things just didn’t click offensively.
This is Jones’ first game back from an extended injured reserve stay due to a hamstring injury, so it’s easy to understand why they didn’t run him down the field much (at least from what I saw throughout the game). But if the Titans want to get back to their explosive ways offensively, they have to at least take some shots down the field.
Not only to potentially create big plays, but to keep opposing defenses honest as well. We’ll see if offensive coordinator Todd Downing opts to open up more of the playbook next week, although I wouldn’t bet on it considering the Titans will have a difficult matchup next week against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Loser: Aggressiveness on offense
We just touched on this topic a little bit just now, but we can broaden the discussion here. The Titans weren’t interested in being aggressive on offense today. Their mission included just three simple things. Run the football effectively, avoid turnovers, and score enough points to put the game out of reach.
They did all three of those things today, but a certain amount of pizazz was missing.
The Titans rarely attempted a pass down the field today, nor was there any sort of out of the box creativity. They wanted to play bully ball on both sides of the ball, which is fine when you can do it consistently and without too much error.
But it can’t be a method you use too often, since teams across the league and all spans of modern football history have proven that they’ll punish you for doing so.
Maybe this unit just wanted to keep things simple and avoid any careless mistakes that can emerge when you get too aggressive. Which makes some sense since they’re at home, playing a bad opponent, and they need a win to stay in the race for the AFC’s top seed.
Either way, this level of blandness can’t and probably won’t be the norm moving forward. You won’t win in the playoffs that way, so it’s best the Titans get it out of their system before the last part of the stretch run and eventually the playoffs.
Winner: Turnover battle
Mike Vrabel and his staff were very vocal about creating more turnovers leading up to today’s game. There was a good reason for the outspoken message too.
Before today’s game, Shane Bowen’s group hadn’t register a single takeaway since the Titans’ win over the New Orleans Saints on November 14th. That’s nearly two months without creating a turnover defensively, obviously a stat that Vrabel and Bowen couldn’t have been happy with.
Today though, the Titans ended their streak of games without creating a turnover. The Jaguars turned the ball over four times today, all of which came via interceptions from rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Two of them were snagged by linebackers Jayon Brown and Rashaan Evans, while the other two were snatched by the Titans’ two starting corners today in Kristian Fulton and Buster Skrine.
Whenever Lawrence put the ball in the air, the Titans made him pay for the most part, something you have to be impressed with.
This unit will need to create some more turnovers next week, as they play a Steelers offense that ranks inside the bottom eight of the league when it comes to giveaways (8th best at not giving the ball away).
Loser: Pass protection
Pass protection has been one of the Titans’ achilles heels this season, as they’ve failed to consistently protect Ryan Tannehill from vicious hits and blows. Today wasn’t any different, as the offensive line allowed four more sacks against a Jaguars defense that only had 19 sacks coming into today’s game.
I can understand pass protection struggles against a team that possesses a defensive line that can cause problems. But problems against the lowly Jaguars? That’s not only dang near inexcusable, but it’s also somewhat concerning.
This is obviously a problem and will be a problem for the Titans moving forward, as most of the teams in the AFC playoff hunt boast a respectable pass rush at least. It’ll also be a problem for the Titans next weekend, as they take on a Steelers team that’s averaging almost three sacks per game, good for second in the entire league.
If the Titans can’t protect Tannehill next week, they’re going to be in a load of trouble. That’s why the early feeling surrounding that game is that it’s going to be physical, brutal, and downright nasty.