NASHVILLE, Tenn. – This Sunday's matchup at LP Field against the Jacksonville Jaguars has a familiar feeling. The Jags are one of the NFL's two remaining winless teams at 0-5 and once again will march onto the Titans' home field looking to change that.
Last season in Week 10, Jacksonville got its first win at LP Field in a 29-27 victory over the Titans. Jacksonville took a 20-7 second half lead and Tennessee couldn't recover. It's stating the obvious that the Titans hope a different script is written this year as they try to stop the bleeding of their own four- game losing streak.
Jacksonville is led by Gus Bradley, who is in his second season as the Jaguars head coach. He and rookie quarterback Blake Bortles held conference calls Wednesday with Titans media. Here's the major details you need to know about the Titans' next opponent.
The Bortles Era Has Begun
Jacksonville said time and time again the third-overall pick from this year's draft would have a "red shirt" rookie season. It was little surprise to no one that Chad Henne's early-season struggles forced the team to change its course.
A 30-0 halftime deficit to the Indianapolis Colts in Week 3 was when Bradley decided the time was right.
"It was a couple of things," Bradley said. "That was our plan, and that's what we'd hoped would work out was Chad (Henne) would play the whole year, because if he did, we were doing pretty well. Blake progressed really fast. I think it got to the point where we felt like his body of work on the practice field, his routines, things like that were in a pretty good place.
"At that point, after our Washington game, I talked to Chad about it, we'll see," Bradley continued. "It could be where Chad does well, but as an offense, maybe overall, we're struggling. I just let it be known to him that at any point if we needed that boost, we felt like Blake was ready, and halfway through the Indy game we made the change."
In just two quarters, Bortles threw for 223 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. In two starts since his debut, Bortles has gone toe-to-toe with Phillip Rivers for a half and had chances to beat the Steelers deep into the fourth quarter. On the season the rookie QB has 668 passing yards and three touchdowns, but also six interceptions. Bortles has also shown his highly-touted athleticism with 11 rushing attempts for 68 yards.
The turnovers are what Bradley is focused on at this point. Last week against the Steelers, the Jags found themselves trailing just 10-9 before Bortles threw a costly pick-six.
"He's done a nice job," he said of his quarterback. "He's been really efficient. I think over two games he's thrown about 70 passes, I think 70 attempts, and he's completing over 70 percent, so he's been really efficient that way. He does a good job with our system. He's handling himself really well, good poise, strongly competitive. The downside is we just had some interceptions. I think two pick-sixes, so we've just got to clean that part up. Some were on him, some we can do a better job as a receiving core, but all in all we're really pleased with his progress."
Bortles hasn't set the world on fire, but he is a huge reason for optimism in Jacksonville. The rookie himself couldn't be more excited to be in the position he's in.
"It's been awesome," he said. "It's been an unbelievable experience, the whole thing. It really is a dream come true. You're getting to live out a life-long goal and dream of playing football in the NFL. It's been awesome. It's been a pleasure to come to work every day and try to prepare and compete and do everything we can to be as good as we possibly can."
The keys and hopes of the franchise are firmly in the hands of Blake Bortles. No pressure.
Young Weapons on the Outside
The Jaguars top receiver and only veteran target Cecil Shorts has played in only two games this season and is a major question mark going into Sunday. Jacksonville has relied on two rookie wideouts in the absence of Shorts – undrafted free agent Allen Hurns and second-round pick Allen Robinson.
Hurns was one of the NFL's top storylines coming out of Week 1 with two first half touchdowns against the Eagles. He leads the team in receiving yards and touchdowns with 280 yards and three scores. Robinson has a team-high 22 receptions on 37 targets.
Missing Identity in the Running Game
Toby Gerhart signed as the Jacksonville's replacement to Maurice Jones-Drew this offseason but has struggled to establish himself. Gerhart spent his first four NFL seasons in the shadow of Adrian Peterson and averaged a whopping 7.9 yards per carry in 2013. This campaign hasn't been kind to Gerhart thus far with just 123 rushing yards on 48 attempts – a meager 2.6 yard average. He does own the Jaguars' sole rushing touchdown this season.
Former quarterback-converted running back Denard Robinson, Jordan Todman, and rookie Storm Johnson have also received touches. Bradley explained that he doesn't mind the design of a running back by committee, but he'd like to see someone emerge as a frontrunner among the group.
"We understand each of them have their strengths, but it would be good to have someone kind of take it over," he said. "We're trying to figure that out as a team as well. That's why you saw Storm Johnson get some reps last week. I think we're learning our guys, we're learning what their strengths are, what they do well, and challenging them to step up, each one of them. The spot is open."
Before coming to Jacksonville, Bradley served as the defensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks. He mentioned his goal was to turn the Jaguar's defense into a faster, younger group. That may be coming to fruition in pieces but the unit has yet to gel together.
The Titans will talk all week long about not taking the Jags lightly, but there is no hiding Jacksonville's 32nd ranked defense. There should be plenty of matchups for the Titans to take advantage of Sunday.
Jacksonville's defense has been a revolving door for a few years now with Bradley trying to find the right pieces for his scheme. Chris Clemons and Red Bryant were two veteran signings this offseason and played under Bradley in Seattle. Bradley explained that finding guys you're familiar with can help in the process of putting a defense together.
"I think it's familiarity, you know what they have, you know what they can bring, and we've got 433 roster changes over the last two years," Bradley said claiming the number was an approximation. "We've brought in quite a few guys. That itself is a challenge for a team."
433 roster changes… That's not all defensive but still. Wow.
Paul Posluszny continues to be the heart of the Jaguars defense. His 53 total tackles in 2014 is more than double the next closest guy on the team. Posluszny was a Pro Bowler in 2013 and has led the Jaguars in tackles each of the past three seasons.
"He's very important," said Bradley. "He's our captain, voted on by the team just by his play. Not a real vocal guy but just leads by his action and how he takes care of himself on and off the field. He's extremely important. We all play at a higher level. I think it was him on the field that elevates everybody. Those guys like that are special."