The Tennessee Titans are on the outside looking in on the NFL playoff picture yet they shouldn’t be discounted in this week’s matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jags have not scored an offensive touchdown in either of the past two contests between these two clubs and Jacksonville isn’t the defensive stalwart we are used to seeing, despite a shutout against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.
Tennessee Titans, 67 percent win probability
Teams used so far: Saints, Rams, Vikings, Jaguars, Patriots, Texans, Colts, Steelers, Panthers, Chiefs, Ravens, Chargers and Packers
Jacksonville has struggled offensively. The Jags score 1.4 points per drive (tied for third-worst in the NFL) with less than half of their red-zone opportunities (48 percent) turning into touchdowns. The problem is a lack of sustained drives — the Jaguars are forced to go three-and-out a third of the time — due to a lack of a capable quarterback.
Blake Bortles, the starting quarterback for the first 11 games of the season, is ranked 25th in ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating metric, making him more valuable than only seven other passers. By their calculations, Bortles’ performance (49.8 QBR) would be good enough to earn an 8-8 record over a 16-game season. His replacement, Cody Kessler, is much worse: a 21.8 QBR, or a performance worthy of a 3-13 record.
Overall, the Jaguars’ passing attack is scoring three points fewer per game than expected, after taking into account the down, distance and field position of each throw. Only the New York Jets, Arizona Cardinals and Buffalo Bills are worse, per TruMedia.
Jacksonville’s defense has no such issues — they are the fifth-best unit in the NFL in 2018 per Football Outsiders, which adjusts for strength of schedule — and are licking their chops at the chance to go up against a Titans offensive line that has shuffled some players in an attempt to provide better protection for their quarterback, but Tennessee’s pass-blocking unit isn’t as bad as it might appear on paper.
Yes, it has given up the second-most sacks this season (42, on pace to allow the most sacks in a single season since the franchise moved to Nashville in 1997) but according to the game charters at Pro Football Focus only 18 of those are a result of poor offensive line play. In fact, after adding in hits and hurries, the Titans’ offensive line has yielded an average amount of pressures (27 percent of passing snaps) in 2018.
That puts the rest of the sack total on Marcus Mariota’s shoulders, yet his performance against the Jaguars specifically is worth noting. Tennessee is 5-2 against Jacksonville since it drafted Mariota with the second overall pick in 2015, including three straight wins. And three of Mariota’s six highest rushing totals have come against the Jaguars defense.
“Super challenging,” Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey said of Mariota’s ability to scramble. “You just have to cover for even longer. It’s kind of like a scramble drill. It will turn into backyard football with made-up routes to try to get open and help their quarterback out, so it makes it tough on us.”
Plus, the Titans have some pass rushers of their own. Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey has 5.5 sacks and 34 total pressures on the quarterback, with a team-high 33 stops at or behind the line of scrimmage. Second-year inside linebacker Jayon Brown has six sacks and 31 stops. Brown also had seven tackles against the Jaguars in Week 3.
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