Jags aim to stop six-game Music City skid
Both the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars kicked off their 2020 campaigns with victories. Despite four missed kicks (three FG, one PAT) from likely Hall of Famer Stephen Gostkowski, the Titans eked out a sloppy 16-14 win on Monday night in Denver. With three minutes left and Tennessee trailing by one, the newly wealthy Ryan Tannehill lead the Titans on a 12-play, 83-yard drive that allowed Gostkowski to exorcise his demons (and likely keep his job) and knock home the game-winning 25-yard field goal. In a way, it was the kind of game we've come to expect from these Mike Vrabel-coached Titans — sloppy, low-scoring, gritty, smashmouth, and physical. Don't expect much to change in the Tennessee game plan with Jacksonville coming to Nashville.
The Jaguars are led by their long-haired, gun-slinging quarterback, have 16 rookies on the roster, a bunch of other dudes you haven't heard of, and a coach trying to hang on for one last go-round in the league. They're basically a real-life version of "The Replacements." And much like the fictitious Washington Sentinels (that played in Baltimore?) the Jaguars might not be that good in the long run, but we at least know they're opportunistic and exciting — for now. Last week against the Colts, the Jags took advantage of every single Indianapolis misfire — a missed field goal, a fourth-down goal-line stand, two very bad, yet typical Phillip Rivers interceptions — and turned them into points. Jacksonville capitalizing on the Colts' misfortunes gave them the biggest upset of Week 1. Now the Jags turn their focus to facing Tennessee in Nashville, where they haven't won a game in their last six tries.
Jacksonville at Tennessee
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 20 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Titans -10
Three Things to Watch
1. "Minshew Mania" part deux?
Gardner Minshew owns Week 1. In the only two opening week games of his career, the second-year vet (with the best 'stache in the game) is a combined 41-of-45 (91 percent) for 448 yards and five touchdowns. Last week, Minshew dissected the Colts for an absurd 95 percent completion rate (19-of-20) and three touchdowns in Jacksonville's upset home win.
While the completion rate is absurd, don't let the number fool you. Yes, Minshew played very well, but he simply took advantage of what the defense was giving him — a lot of soft zone coverage underneath the safeties and plenty of screen passes. Minshew hardly threw the ball downfield, averaging just 4.1 yards in the air per completion, the second-lowest clip of any QB in Week 1. Minshew also ranked second to last in aggressive throws (5 percent), meaning he wasn't trying to fit passes into tight windows. He didn't need to force throws, the Colts' secondary was playing that soft. In all, Minshew threw just five total passes beyond 10 yards, two of which went for touchdowns, including the 22-yard, game-winner to Keelan Cole late in the fourth quarter thanks to the Colts' broken coverage. That could go down as the easiest TD pass of Minshew's career.
Sunday, it will be interesting to see how Minshew and the Jaguars offense attacks a Titans secondary that will be without veteran Adoree' Jackson (on injured reserve) and features two rookie cornerbacks in Kristian Fulton and Chris Jackson.
2. Henry owns the Jags
The Jaguars know better than any other team just how good Derrick Henry is. The reigning rushing king, fresh off a 116-yard performance against Denver, has torched the Jags in their last two trips to Nashville for a total of 397 yards. Last season, Henry ran rampant over Jacksonville in Week 12's 42-20 drubbing with 159 yards and two touchdowns on just 19 carries. That's an absurd 8.9 yards per attempt. The question for this Sunday's game is how much Mike Vrabel wants to use his workhorse after running him 31 times on Monday night. Henry is a physical monster, but another 30 carries on a short week seems somewhat unlikely.
The Jags have unloaded all of the defensive talent that led them to the AFC Championship Game a few years ago. However, Jacksonville held the Colts to just 40 rushing yards in the second half last week, thanks in large part to Marlon Mack's Achilles injury. The Jags' linebacking corps is the group to watch on Sunday. With the addition of Joe Schobert to man the middle, Myles Jack moves to the outside and gives Jacksonville the ability to be a little more flexible. Is that enough to slow down King Henry on Sunday in Nashville? History says, probably not.
3. Balancing the attack
Last season was an obvious disappointment for Tennessee wide receiver Corey Davis, the fourth-year pro who was the fifth overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft. After leading the team in receptions (65), yards (891), and touchdowns (4) in just his second season, Davis' production took a large hit last year. Hampered by a hip issue and a bad case of turf toe, he caught 22 fewer passes and was targeted 43 fewer times by his quarterbacks.
After offseason surgery, Davis seems to be back to his old self. On Monday night, Davis had one of the best nights of his career, catching eight passes for 101 yards despite nursing a tender hamstring. Having a healthy Davis not only gives Ryan Tannehill another receiving option, but it balances out the Titans' passing attack and offense as a whole. With defenses likely cramming the line of scrimmage to stop Henry and the running game, Tannehill will be forced into more throwing situations. This was the case on Monday night when Denver kept Henry to only 3.7 yards per carry, causing Tannehill to throw 43 times — 10 more pass attempts than any game the Titans won last year.
With Davis seeming back to his 2018 form (he did miss some practice time because of a hamstring issue) and A.J. Brown turning into an elite pass catcher, the Titans' could have one of the best 1-2 receiving punches in the AFC this side of Kansas City. With Adam Humphries in the slot and tight end Jonnu Smith capable of making big plays (12.5 yards per catch in 2019), Tannehill has plenty of weapons to lead the Titans against a Jags defense that allowed 6.4 yards per play against Indianapolis last week. Brown is dealing with a bone bruise in his knee and has already been ruled out for Sunday, so this depth will come in handy.
It's hard to know what we've got in these youthful Jaguars. One upset divisional win in Week 1 doesn't change the notion that this is not a good football team. The 10-point spread certainly indicates that Vegas still doesn't think much of them, and despite my man-crush on Mr. Minshew, I'm not sure I do either. The Titans simply have too much offensive weaponry against a defense of relative unknowns. I am expecting Tennessee to continue this home unbeaten streak against the visiting Jags and roll in their home opener.
Prediction: Titans 30, Jaguars 18
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.
(Top photo courtesy of jaguars.com)