Both teams need wins on short rest coming off divisional losses
The Tennessee Titans and the Jacksonville Jaguars don't have long to pout. Five days after both teams dropped their Week 2 matchups in dramatic fashion against AFC South rivals, the two meet for their annual Thursday night get-together, this time in Jacksonville. At this point, it's practically a pseudo-national holiday celebrating mediocrity and bad start times.
As a whole, the Tennessee offense was lackluster against Indianapolis, going 1-for-10 on third downs and posting only 242 yards of total offense. The Titans defense forced two turnovers but the offense only added three points with the extra possessions. Mike Vrabel has less than a week to get his offense, that is now 3-for-20 on third downs, to figure out how to move the sticks against the Jags.
After getting blown out by the Chiefs last week, the Jacksonville defense played like its old self against Houston, sacking Deshaun Watson four times and only allowing 263 total yards. If not for Leonard Fournette's failed two-point conversion attempt (that was reviewed and upheld) with 30 seconds left, the Jags would have walked away with the upset road victory. Despite the loss, the Jags' players (sans Jalen Ramsey) were invigorated by Doug Marrone's call to go for the win and by the composure shown by their rookie quarterback, Gardner Minshew, making his first NFL start.
Tennessee at Jacksonville
Kickoff: Thursday, Sept. 19 at 8:20 p.m. ET
TV: NFL Network
Spread: Titans -2.5
1. Marcus Mariota's time is now
The Titans' 19-17 home loss to Indianapolis was disappointing, but not surprising. The Colts have beaten the Titans in 14 of their last 16 meetings, and it doesn't seem to matter who the quarterback is – Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, Jacoby Brissett, Josh Freeman – it makes no difference. What does matter is how Mariota plays going forward. The general opinion surrounding the Titans, at least in Nashville, is that the team is ready to make the leap from good to great — but it's up to Mariota to lead the way.
Mariota's performance on Sunday left a lot to be desired, especially for a guy in search of a long-term contract. The Titans needed just a field goal to win and had two late fourth-quarter drives to get it done but failed. Mariota was just 2-for-5 for 12 yards and no first downs in Tennessee's final two possessions. The final pass attempt essentially ended the game when Mariota couldn't connect with A.J. Brown on 4th-and-2 with 13 seconds left. Mariota finished the day a very marginal 19-of-28 with 154 yards and a four-yard touchdown pass to offensive tackle and cancer survivor Daniel Quessenberry for a really special moment. Otherwise, Mariota completed only one pass that covered more than 15 yards and he had just one third-down conversion through the air.
The big knock against the oft-injured Mariota has been his inconsistency, not only to stay healthy, but also to play in such a manner that warrants being considered a franchise quarterback. His play on Sunday was another example as to why general manager Jon Robinson hasn't offered the former No. 2 overall pick a long-term deal, despite this being the final year of his rookie contract. Sometimes Mariota is athletically brilliant and more than capable of leading a fourth-quarter, game-winning drive, like he's done 12 times before. Other times, like against Indy, he's simply... blah — rarely comfortable in the pocket, hardly stepping into throws, and not reading defenses quick enough.
Playing well against a stingy (and maybe somewhat emotionally unstable) Jacksonville defense that could be without both starting cornerbacks (Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye) could go a decent way toward silencing Mariota's critics — for now.
2. Minshew Mania... cont'd
Minshew was nothing short of historic when he replaced the injured Nick Foles in Week 1. On Sunday, the rookie sixth-round pick made his first career start and the man with the best 'stache in the game, didn't disappoint. Minshew finished the game 23-of-33 for 233 yards and a touchdown, while also leading the Jaguars' rushing attack with 56 yards on six carries.
He wasn't perfect, as he fumbled three times, losing one, and he often missed open targets downfield in the first half. But Minshew showed his poise and adjusted in the second half, checking down to open receivers and taking what the defense allowed. He was especially deadly in the fourth quarter. On the last two Jaguar drives, Minshew combined to complete 11-of-16 passes for 122 yards as Jacksonville scored on both opportunities.
The last effort was especially impressive as Minshew led the Jags down the field on a 14-play drive that resulted in their only touchdown on the day. On the drive he converted two third downs through the air and a fourth down on a gutsy scramble that put the Jaguars in the red zone with less than a minute remaining. Although Minshew didn't pick up his first career win, his efforts are giving his fellow teammates something to believe in.
3. Can Doug Marrone rally the Jags?
For the second straight week, a Jaguars' post-whistle outburst was the biggest postgame headline. In Week 1, captain Myles Jack's odd temper tantrum and refusal to leave the field after being ejected for taking a swing at a Chiefs wide receiver was baffling. Last week, Jalen Ramsey and Marrone had to be separated on the sideline after the cornerback yapped at his head coach for not challenging a completed pass on a Houston third-down conversion.
Both incidents were bizarre, but it seems only Ramsey's had any true consequences. On Monday night, Ramsey, via his agent, notified the Jaguars that he no longer wanted to play in Jacksonville and was formally requesting to be traded. If you've followed Ramsey's career at all, the trade request isn't shocking. This is a dude that once lobbied to have the entire Jacksonville defensive coaching staff fired and showed up to training camp in a Brink's truck to protest not getting a new contract.
Ramsey's availability for Thursday is uncertain as the Jags start to field offers from interested suitors. I can't help but think how this might affect the Jags as a team, a group that has had their fair share of temperamental issues the last few seasons. How does potentially losing the team's best player after two games, not because of injury, but for his desire to play elsewhere, impact a group in an early-season hole …with a rookie quarterback leading the way, and an already banged-up secondary?
On the flip side, losing Ramsey, as talented as he is, could be an addition by subtraction situation and a possible rallying point for the Jaguars should they knock off the Titans on Thursday night.
Both teams can ill afford to drop to 0-2 in the AFC South just three weeks into the season. The win-now Titans are in a better position to respond after their loss last week, even on short rest. Look for Derrick Henry to get a heavy dose of carries against the Jags, and for Marcus Mariota to target tight end Delanie Walker and wide receiver Adam Humphries more than last week, especially on third down.
Prediction: Titans 24, Jaguars 17
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.