Jacksonville Jaguars (2-4) vs. Tennessee Titans (3-4)
8:25pm ET Thursday on NFL Network
It’s been a trying time for Jaguars fans, as even their team’s rare victories are white-knuckle rides. Against the Colts they nearly squandered a 17-point lead, as the D allowed Indy to score 3 touchdowns in the fourth quarter. And against the lowly Bears they did all their scoring in the fourth quarter of a 17-16 win. This is no way to live. Since taking over as Jacksonville starting QB during his rookie year in 2014, Blake Bortles has been sacked more times, 121, than any other quarterback, and thrown more interceptions, 44, than anyone else – that is quite a trick. Bortles teased Jags fans last year by passing for 4,428 yards and 35 touchdowns, while throwing “just” a league-leading 18 interceptions and getting sacked a league-leading 51 times. But he’s regressed significantly this season, with 9 interceptions putting him on pace for a career-high 26, though his sacks are way down, to just 2.5 per game. Bortles’ two favorite targets from last year Allen Hurns (1,031 yds, 10 TDs) and Allen Robinson (1,400 yds, league-leading 14 TDs) have seen their numbers plummet, as they’ve combined for just 691 yards and 4 TDs through 6 games. Making things worse for the Jags is the mysterious ailment that befell their newly signed running back Chris Ivory. The former Jet missed the first 2 games of the season with an undisclosed illness, and has carried the ball only 36 times for 123 yards a year after rushing 247 times for 1,070 yards. When you’ve got an INT-happy QB and a free agent running back averaging 9 carries a game – when he plays – you’re gonna be 24th in the league in scoring at 19.5 points per game. That’s just what happens.
Jacksonville’s D is much improved over last year, going from 375 yards per game in 2015, to 325 this year, but the points allowed have only falling from 28 to 26.7, not enough of a difference to address the offensive deficiencies. Part of the defense’s problem is that they rank dead last in turnovers, with just 3 interceptions and 2 fumble recoveries.
After feasting on the Dolphins and Browns in consecutive weeks, the Titans fell to the Colts last Sunday, 34-26, in heartbreaking fashion. Up 23-20 with 6 minutes to play, the Titans let Andrew Luck march the Colts down the field on a 70-yard TD drive to take a 27-23 lead. And then on the first play of the ensuing possession, with 1:55 to go, Titans QB Marcus Mariota was sacked and fumbled, with Indy’s Robert Mathis scooping up the ball at the Tennessee 14 and running it in for a touchdown to make it 34-23. It was all over but the crying.
Fumbles have been a problem for Mariota, who coughed it up 10 times last year, and has already lost the handle 5 times this year. Other than that, however, he remains a pretty good QB, with more good days than bad, and the Titans have already won as many games this season as they did all of last season. They’ve done it by having scoring 2.2 more points per game, while allowing 3.4 points fewer – it’s amazing what a difference a 5.6 point swing can make. The addition of running back DeMarco Murray has been huge, as he appears to have regained the form that made him a Pro Bowler in Dallas before slogging through an injury-riddled year in Philly, rushing for 633 yards and 5 TDs on 139 carries, and he’s third in the NFL in all purpose yards with 825. Pro Bowl tight end Delanie Walker, who suffered a bruised chest against Indy, appears to be on the mend, and should play tonight.
So given that the Titans have the better QB, better running game, and better defense, and they’ll be at home, there’s every reason to believe they will stuff the Jaguars in a locker and eat their lunch.