NASHVILLE – The Titans face the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday at Nissan Stadium.
Here's a look at six things to watch in the contest:
Henry vs Jaguars
The Titans need a jumpstart in the running game, and this seems like a good time to get back on track. Running back Derrick Henry has been beastly vs the Jaguars. In 11 games vs Jacksonville, Henry has 1,143 rushing yards – an average of 103.9 yards per game. Henry also has 14 rushing touchdowns vs the Jaguars, the most by any player in NFL history. In the last two matchups, Henry has 345 yards and five touchdowns, and he has 130-plus rushing yards and 2-plus rushing TDs in four of his last six games vs Jacksonville. Yes, Tennessee's running game has struggled in recent weeks, and that was on display last week in Philadelphia. Against a Jacksonville defense that's ranked seventh in rushing yards per play (4.14), can Henry and the running game get back on track?
Who Steps Up in the Passing Game?
Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill has had success against the Jaguars himself. He's 5-0 in his career with the Titans, with a 71.4 completion percentage with nine touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 125.3 passer rating. Against a Jacksonville defense that's allowed 446.0 yards per game, 31.3 points per game and an opponent QB passer rating of 111.8 in each of the last three games, this could be an opportunity to things to get right for the Titans passing game. But with Treylon Burks out for Sunday's game with a concussion, who is going to step up for Tennessee? Tight end Chig Okonkwo had a busy day in Philadelphia, and seems poised to do more. Protection needs to be better to give Tannehill time to operate.
The Jaguars have been solid on offense, especially of late. Jacksonville quarterback Trevor Lawrence has 17 touchdown passes vs six interceptions on the season, and he has a 108.6 passer rating since Week 9 (4th among QBs), along with a 71.9 completion percentage and a 7-0 pass TD-INT ratio. So, the Titans are going to be challenged on pass defense. Jaguars receiver Christian Kirk has been good as well – he has 100-plus receiving yards in two of the last three games, and 829 receiving yards and seven TDs on the season. Causing even more concern here for the Titans: Cornerbacks Kristian Fulton (groin) and Tre Avery (concussion) have been ruled out for Sunday's game, which means more shuffling could be on the horizon.
Slow Down Etienne
The Titans went into last Sunday's game concerned against Philadelphia's running game, and they struggled with pass defense. The Jaguars are no slouch running the football themselves, so the Titans will need to be good here. Jaguars running back Travis Etienne is a fast and multi-purpose back. He has 782 yards and four touchdowns on the season, along with 25 catches for 214 yards. The Jaguars have cooled off here – they've had sub-100 rush yards in three straight games – but they've proven capable after averaging 146.8 rush yards in Weeks 1-9. The Titans will need to tackle well, and with linebacker David Long Jr. held out of practices the past two days with a hamstring injury (and Zach Cunningham already on Injured Reserve), the Titans will likely need Dylan Cole and Monty Rice to play well inside as well.
The Titans will take center stage in the NFL's "My Cause, My Cleats" campaign on Sunday by making statements with their cleats. For the seventh consecutive season, NFL players are raising awareness for non-profit organizations and causes on the field through the My Cause My Cleats campaign. At least 18 Titans signed up to participate for Sunday's game against the Jaguars, either in warmups or during the game. Some of the players took part in the initiative in this past week's game at Philadelphia. So, if you see some fancy footgear on Sunday, you'll know what it's all about. Here's a story on all the Titans taking part, and their causes: CLICK HERE.
Importance of Week 14
The Titans are roughly a three-point favorite on Sunday vs the Jaguars. By now, you know I love to roll out the playoff percentages with a win, or loss, so I'm continuing that here. A win on Sunday would improve Tennessee's record to 8-5, and since 1990, teams with an 8-5 mark after 13 games have made the playoffs 67.4% of the time, they've won their division 28.7% of the time, and they've won the Super Bowl 3.1% of the time. Meanwhile, teams that have started 7-6 have made the playoffs just 36.2% of the time, they've won their division just 10.8% of the time, and they've won the Super Bowl 0.8% of the time. The Titans, of course, are just worried about finding a way to win on Sunday.