8:20 PM EST, NFL Network – Line: Titans -2, Over: Under: 39
Division rivals clash tonight in Northern Florida, as the Jacksonville Jaguars look to avoid an 0-3 start to the season against the Tennessee Titans, from TIAA Bank Field, in Jacksonville, Florida. Given the turn of events in the AFC South, one would have to think that the Titans (1-1, 3rd in AFC South) fancy themselves being able to take advantage of their neighbors’ misfortunes. After all, Andrew Luck retiring from the sport, coupled with Nick Foles’ broken collarbone figures to open a world of possibilities for a team that remains one of the tougher outs in the league. In his second season on the job, Mike Vrabel continues to mold Tennessee in his image, as he and General Manager, Jon Robinson, continue to incorporate the New England blueprint into their plans. However, two games into the season, and this is a team that is still very much a question mark in the landscape of the AFC. Offensively, they haven’t been overly impressive, with fifth-year Quarterback, Marcus Mariota (63.5%, 402 YDS, 5.58 NY/A, 4 TD, 0 INT, 44.4 QBR), embarking on a crucial season, the final campaign on his Rookie Contract, virtually starting over yet again, with his fourth different Offensive Coordinator in as many years. Plagued by injuries a year ago, the former No. 2 Overall Pick has been efficient if unspectacular through the early stages of the term, completing 63.5% of his Passes for an average of 201.1 Yards per Game on 5.58 Net Yards per Attempt, with Four Touchdowns and most importantly, Zero Interceptions. There’s no doubt that Vrabel will live with that kind of decision-making from his Signal-Caller, though he’s already been sacked eight times through two games, or in other words on a career-worst 13.3% of his drop-backs. Then again, that’s to be expected given the state of Tennessee’s Offensive Line, which is without standout Left Tackle, Taylor Lewan, for the first four outings due to suspension, while his replacement, Kevin Pamphile, will miss tonight’s affair with a knee injury suffered in last weekend’s narrow 17-19 defeat to the Indianapolis Colts. After scoring Forty-Three Points in their Season Opener, the Offense, particularly Mariota and the Passing Game struggled to get anything going against Indy, completing 19-of-28 Attempts for just 154 Yards and a Touchdown while taking Four Sacks. The hosts fizzled out on each of their last four drives of the evening, with a missed Field Goal ending an 11-Play, 46-Yard Drive in the Third Quarter looming large in the end. Fortunately, there were some positives to take away from the loss, with an opportunistic Defense continuing to make plays, logging their fourth and fifth Turnovers of the season, while Derrick Henry (34 REC, 165 YDS, 4.9 Y/A, 2 TD) further built upon the considerable momentum that he ended the 2018 campaign with. After a relatively lackluster first three quarters of the term, the hulking Tailback exploded for 585 Rushing Yards and Seven Touchdowns on 6.7 Yards per Carry over the course of the final four games. Of course, that turn began on a Thursday Night against tonight’s opponent, the Jaguars, whom he absolutely trampled to the tune of 238 Yards and Four Touchdowns on only Seventeen Carries in a 30-9 drubbing of their division rival. Even with the injuries along the Offensive Line, Henry has managed to make the most of his touches, averaging a career-high 4.9 Yards per Carry, while also factoring into the Passing Game, evidenced by his 75-Yard Touchdown Reception in Week One’s 43-13 devastation of the Cleveland Browns. It’s clear that new Offensive Coordinator, Arthur Smith, wants to build the passing attack off of Henry’s exploits between the Tackles, and if Mariota can continue to grow (and avoid injury), then this unit can further craft their identity and flesh things out. after missing virtually all of last season with a knee injury, former Pro-Bowl Tight End, Delanie Walker (9 REC, 94 YDS, 10.4 Y/R, 2 TD) has returned as a Red Zone threat, while Rookie Receiver, A.J. Brown (6 REC, 125 YDS, 20.8 Y/R, 0 TD) has impressed early on with the crisp route-running hand soft hands that made him such an attractive prospect coming out of Ole Miss.
Meanwhile, at some point you really have to feel for the Jaguars (0-2, 4th in AFC South) who after coming so close to advancing to Super Bowl LII two years ago, recognized the folly of their own arrogance, instituting a renovation of an Offense that woefully underperformed throughout 2018. Of course, that meant parting ways with Blake Bortles, the much-maligned Quarterback whom they had taken No. 3 Overall back in 2014, only to see him lead them to 24-49 record (.328) over that period of time, including last season’s 5-11 finish in which he was benched on multiple occasions due to poor play. Indeed, enough was enough for Jacksonville, who released the Signal-Caller a year after gifting him a lucrative contract extension. In turn, they acquired the services of Nick Foles (62.5%, 75 YDS, 9.38 NY/A, 1 TD, 0 INT, 94.1 QBR), who was the hero of that Super Bowl, and at the very least represented a steady veteran presence at a position that has plagued the club for ages. And it’s with that said that the table was set for Jacksonville heading into 2019; Foles was reunited with his former Quarterbacks Coach from Philadelphia, John DeFilippo, who was hired as Offensive Coordinator, while Tailback, Leonard Fournette (28 CAR, 113 YDS, 4.0 Y/C, 0 TD) dropped over twenty pounds in an attempt to avoid the injuries that had plagued his Sophomore Campaign. Surely, the meter was pointing upward for Doug Marrone & Co., right? Unfortunately, fate revealed her cold hand, taking Foles away from the club during the First Half of the Season Opener. Ironically, the veteran Quarterback who had found seismic success in relieving an injured Carson Wentz over the previous two years in Philly, suffered a significant malady of his own, breaking his collarbone on a hit following a 35-Yard Touchdown Pass to D.J. Chark (11 REC, 201 YDS, 18.3 Y/R, 2 TD) late in the First Quarter of a 26-40 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Though not season-ending, the Jags will be without the Quarterback that they had long sought after until at least Week 11. Of course, there’s a good chance that they’ll be out of contention by that point, even if one of the league’s nastiest Defenses can regain the form that made them such a menace two years ago. Someone that figures to play a major role in whether or not Jacksonville can in fact remain afloat until that period of time is Rookie Quarterback, Gardner Minshew (77.6%, 488 YDS, 7.14 NY/A, 3 TD, 1 INT, 44.4 QBR), who after relieving Foles in the Opener, became the first Rookie Signal-Caller to be selected in the Sixth Round or later to start a game as early as Week Two in well, quite a while. To his credit, the eccentric Minshew has performed about as well as expected, nearly earning a victory in his first start, a 12-13 defeat at the Houston Texans. Few teams would be better equipped to emerge from a defensive slugfest than the Jaguars, who really had a hard time moving the football last Sunday, amassing just 281 Total Yards on Sixteen First Downs, going 3-of-13 on Third Down, and being penalized on nine occasions for a loss of Seventy Yards. With the gameplan predictably conservative, Minshew completed 23-of-33 Passes for 213 Yards and a Touchdown, but was sacked four times, losing a crucial Fumble that led to a Texans’ Touchdown Drive early in the Fourth Quarter. Entering the league as the NCAA leader in Passing Yards in 2018, Minshew exhibited surprising mobility in the affair, rushing for Fifty-Six Yards on Six Carries, setting up a late Touchdown to the aforementioned Chark with thirty-six seconds left in the game. Rather than kick the extra point and head to Overtime, Marrone surprisingly opted to go for the win, though Fournette was stopped just short at the Goal Line, sending the team to an 0-2 start for the first time since 2016. On a side note, there was another turn of events that must be discussed, and that’s the altercation on the sideline featuring All-Pro Cornerback, Jalen Ramsey (9 TKL, 1 PD), and Marrone, who clashed repeatedly early in the contest, even making physical contact at one point. After the affair was over, news broke that Ramsey reportedly demanded to be traded, citing his unhappiness with the franchise that drafted him Fifth Overall back in 2016.