Jacksonville heads north to Nashville to wrap up their season series with AFC South rival Tennessee on Sunday afternoon.
The Jaguars (2-10) are arguably the most dysfunctional team in the NFL this season and are "battling" with Houston for last place in the division. Jacksonville is riding a four-game losing streak in which the team has averaged a paltry 12 points per game. In last week’s 30-point blowout to the Rams, the Jags totaled just 197 yards of offense. It was the fourth time this season they’ve generated less than 250 yards in a game. It’s shocking that head coach Urban Meyer's plan to change the team's offensive scheme mid-season, with a rookie quarterback, didn't pay off. I'm shocked. Shocked, I tell you.
The Titans (8-4) have to be the only team in NFL history to lose two straight games going into a bye week and then come out of the bye week with a higher projected playoff seed than before. (Please don’t fact-check that.) And the off week couldn’t have come at a better time, as Tennessee was in desperate need of a regroup and a reset, especially offensively. The team has scored just 26 total points in their last two games as the Titans struggle to find an identity without playmakers Julio Jones, A.J. Brown, and, of course, Derrick Henry in the lineup. One of those playmakers is back this week in Jones. But is his return enough to right the ship as Tennessee enters the home stretch of the regular season?
Jacksonville (2-10) at Tennessee (8-4)
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 12 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Titans -8.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Rested and recharged Titans?
Arguably the two biggest factors in an NFL team's success are injuries and turnovers. If you can stay healthy and turn opposing teams over more than you give away possessions, you generally have to like your chances. Right now, the Titans' offense is struggling with both.
The injuries to Jones, Brown, and Henry have crippled this offense. Sometimes the football gods just deal you a bad hand. Protecting the football, however, has been very much a problem of Tennessee's own making with nine turnovers in the last two games alone. And what flashes of promise the offense did show were undone by its own mistakes.
Against New England two weeks ago, running backs Dontrell Hilliard, D'Onta Foreman, and Khari Blasingame combined for 246 rushing yards, but each fumbled the ball away once as well. Those, combined with a Ryan Tannehill interception, turned what should have been a competitive game into a 23-point route in favor of the Patriots.
Some teams can get away with a turnover or two per game, but not with an offense that only scores 13 points per game. To compound the issue, the Titans’ defense hasn’t forced a turnover during the two-game slide either, leaving a razor-thin margin for error.
This week, the hope is that Tannehill and company can get going against a Jacksonville defense that Matthew Stafford and the Rams dissected last week in a 37-7 blowout to snap their own three-game losing streak.
2. James Robinson's saga continues…
A month ago, I wrote about the lack of touches for Jacksonville’s second-year running back. At the time, Robinson was proving to be one of the better rushers in the league. He was coming off a 1,000-yard season as an undrafted rookie and was averaging more than five yards per attempt and in the top six in the NFL in rushing yards this season despite a lack of carries, especially in the red zone and on third down. Then, I was confused. Now, Robinson’s situation is downright baffling.
After rushing for a career-high 149 yards on 18 carries in Week 5’s loss to Tennessee, Robinson is averaging just 11.5 attempts per game, including just eight last week against the Rams. His lack of usage has gotten to the point where, earlier this week, Lawrence addressed it with Meyer and the rest of the Jags' coaching staff.
Yes, a rookie quarterback had to ask his own coaches why their team’s best offensive weapon isn't getting the ball on a 2-10 squad.
Meyer claims that Robinson's lack of action last Sunday wasn't a punishment for fumbling earlier in the ball game but because of the back's lingering injuries to his heel and knee, according to ESPN's Michael DiRocco. So if he was hurt, it really doesn't make sense that Robinson was even on the field getting meaningless carries in the final drive of a 30-point blowout loss.
Meyer also claims that he doesn't micromanage his assistant coaches' decisions when it comes to who plays or not, effectively punting on any responsibility as to why his best offensive weapon wasn't on the field.
Looking for an honest answer from Meyer — even for a question as simple as, "Why is your star running on the bench?" — is like looking for the lost city of Atlantis. Don’t hold your breath. The situation with Robinson only exacerbates what we all already know, that Meyer isn't cut out for this gig. It requires taking responsibility.
At least there is one adult in the room willing to step up and demand changes from this coaching staff. It's just a shame it's a 22-year old rookie quarterback and not general manager Trent Baalke or even team owner Shad Khan.
3. The return of Julio
Future Hall of Fame wide receiver Julio Jones is likely to be back in the Titans' lineup after spending the last month on injured reserve with a hamstring injury. And his return couldn't come at a better time as the offense is completely sputtering without any of its marquee playmakers.
Jones hasn't played since Week 9, but even when healthy, his impact this year has been marginal compared to what we're used to seeing from him. Only once this year has Jones recorded more than five catches or 60 receiving yards, and he has yet to find the end zone.
The Titans have to hope Jones can find quick chemistry with Tannehill, as he is by far and away the No. 1 option in this offense with Henry and Brown sidelined for the foreseeable future. With Jones missing six games and three weeks of training camp, it's not like he and Tannehill have spent a lot of time working together.
No one is hoping those two can hit it off more than Tannehill. This current stretch is easily the worst for him since he replaced Marcus Mariota as Tennessee's starter halfway through the 2019 season. This season, Tannehill has just 14 touchdowns compared to 13 interceptions, and a feeble 84.7 passer rating. The baker's dozen of picks are the same number he's thrown the previous two seasons combined. He has especially struggled the last two games, posting a 58.9 rating with five INTs and averaging 5.7 yards per attempt in the losses to Houston and New England. Last week against the Patriots, Tannehill was just 11-of-21 for 93 yards, arguably his worst outing since 2015.
Even if Jones is 100 percent healthy, it still likely doesn't completely solve the Titans' offensive woes, but it sure would be a decent place to start.
At this point, the Jaguars under Meyer are a lost cause. No one was expecting too much from Jacksonville this season, but complete and utter incompetence is a little surprising. Seems like this Sunday is a perfect time for the Titans to get back to their winning ways, no matter who lines up for them on offense.
Prediction: Titans 22, Jaguars 15
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.