That was quite a sobering first half, wasn’t it?
The Cleveland Browns came into Nissan Stadium as the Titans were riding high after a big win in Indianapolis and put up 38 points in the first half to stun the Titans in a 41-35 win. The Titans made a strong push late, but it was too big a mountain to climb as the loss dropped the two-toned blue to 8-4. The good news? The Titans still hold the tiebreaker over the Colts in the AFC South, although both teams share the same record.
Up next is a huge game at the Jacksonville Jaguars, against a team that has dropped 11 straight losses since opening the season with a win against the Colts. Despite their 1-11 record, this Jaguars team has shown that they are not tanking this season away by any means. In the last two games, Jacksonville lost to the Browns 27-25, and to the Vikings 27-24 in overtime.
Make no mistake, the Titans should win this game, and a failure to do so would be a massive step back in the effort to win the AFC South for the first time since 2008. Here is where Titans fans should have their eyes for Sunday’s game.
3 things to watch:
Pass rush: Yes, this has been an issue all season. But Sunday’s game may have been a low point. Not only did the Titans not sack Baker Mayfield during his 25-of-33, 334 yard and four touchdown performance, they only hit him once. Let me reiterate – the Titans only made contact with Mayfield once, allowing him to pick apart a depleted Titans secondary. General Manager Jon Robinson put more resources into the pass rush than any other area in the offseason, and yet here we are, in week 14, with neither Vic Beasley nor Jadaveon Clowney contributing any snaps. Jaguars quarterback Mike Glennon has been serviceable, but he is a statue in the pocket. Sunday must serve as an opportunity for some guys to step up and get home for this defense. The Titans are averaging 1.2 sacks per game this season – second worst in the league behind Cincinnati – this is a huge red flag for a team with high postseason aspirations.
Stopping the run: Rookie undrafted free agent James Robinson has been a revelation for the Jags at running back. The Illinois State product has carried the ball 212 times for 968 yards and seven touchdowns this season, with 42 receptions, 310 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns to boot. Robinson found some success in the Titans’ early-season 33-30 win over the Jaguars, rushing for 102 yards and a score.
Selling out to stop the run and daring Baker Mayfield to beat you through the air is one thing. The Titans tried that on Sunday and it backfired. Forcing Mike Glennon to beat you is a much more favorable scenario.
Titans wide receivers: Yes, this is a homecoming game for Derrick Henry, and he typically puts out dominant performances against the Jaguars. But Ryan Tannehill has found a rhythm with wideouts AJ Brown and Corey Davis, and if those two are heavily involved on Sunday, the Titans should have no problem outscoring a Jags team that has allowed over 29 points per game this season. After his 182-yard performance against the Browns, Davis is on pace for a career year. The former top-five pick is up to 801 yards and four touchdowns this season. Brown and Davis have quietly become one of the NFL’s best receiving tandems this season.
The Titans will win if….
It sounds simple, but that’s because it is. If Derrick Henry is able to produce enough yardage on first and second downs to open up the Titans’ passing game, they will walk out of Jacksonville with a 9-4 record. Henry did not get off to the December start he wanted to last week, running the ball 25 times for 84 yards and no touchdowns. This is a big opportunity for him to have a huge performance.
Defensively, keying in on James Robinson should be enough. The Titans are slowly starting to work back defensive backs Adoree Jackson, Chris Jackson, Kristian Fulton, and Kareem Orr in practice, so some added depth there will help. However, this team simply must find some answers in the pass rush. Putting Mike Glennon on his back a few times won’t erase those concerns, but it would certainly help keep them from being amplified any more.
Tennessee Titans (-7.5) @ Jacksonville Jaguars
Kickoff: 12:00 pm
Location: Jacksonville, Florida (TIAA Bank Field)
TV Broadcast Crew: Spero Dedes, Adam Archuleta
Radio: Titans Radio, 104-5 The Zone
Radio Broadcast Crew: Mike Keith, Dave McGinnis, Amie Wells, Jonathan Hutton, Rhett Bryan
Referee: Adrian Hill
Gameday hangout/giveaways: Party Fowl in Franklin, Titans knit scarf