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Titans at Jaguars Preview

What better way to open the season than against a divisional opponent? The Titans and Jaguars have been division foes since Jacksonville entered the league in 1995, when the Titans were still the Houston Oilers, so there’s some history there. No, this isn’t quite the same as Steelers week used to be, but it’s getting there.
The winner of Sunday’s season opener in Jacksonville will get a leg up on the other three AFC South teams.
Field: grass. Forecast: A 20% chance of showers and thunderstorms. Partly cloudy, with a high near 90°. Calm wind becoming southwest between 5 and 10 mph.
Jaguars scouting report:
Overview – Jacksonville is a physical team on both sides of the ball and won’t try to beat anyone with speed or deception. Now entering his fifth year as head coach, Jack Del Rio is usually the first one to be mentioned on the subject of coaches on the proverbial hot seat. The Jaguars finished with an 8-8 record last year, just missing the playoffs. The general consensus is Del Rio will be chopping wood in a new location next year if they fail to make the postseason again.
Offense – Del Rio selected Byron Leftwich to be his starting quarterback during the offseason, then did an abrupt about-face last week, naming David Garrard as the starter and releasing Leftwich. While it may be big news around the league, it should be no big deal for the Titans. Garrard has played the last three times the teams have met.
Garrard is a lot more mobile than Leftwich and is always a threat to run, making the Jags running game even more formidable. They finished third in the league last year, running for 159 yards per game. Fred Taylor is still strong and Maurice Jones-Drew is looking for a breakout season. The Jags receivers are big and physical but aren’t much of a threat. The guy who does concern me is tight end George Wrighster, who always seems to play well against the Titans. Not that he catches a lot of balls, but they’re often big plays. Newcomer Dennis Northcutt may become a weapon outside, while Matt Jones is now inside as a slot man.
Defense – As usual, Jacksonville has one of the best defenses in the league, ranked second last year in total defense. DTs Marcus Stroud and John Henderson are still the best tandem in the league. It’s awfully tough to find running room up the middle.
They’ve had a makeover at the safety spots, losing Deon Grant and Donovin Darius, but the secondary still boasts Pro Bowl cornerback Rashean Mathis, who’s one of the best.
Expected strategies – It’s no secret, Jacksonville will run the ball and then pound it some more. The Titans should be able to crowd the line trying to stop it and take their chances with the Jag receivers. Vince Young had two of his worst games last year against the Jaguar defense, so expect them to also try to shut down the run and dare Young to beat them. It has all the makings of a slugfest.
Keys for the Titans – The defense must get off the field on third downs. They weren’t able to in the last meeting and spent far too much time on the field. So much so that even Kyle Vanden Bosch was fatigued. The defense must also keep this game close. You won’t score many points on Jacksonville and need to keep the score down to have a chance. Turnovers, the kicking game and field position will also be key in a low scoring game.
Matchups to watch – It’s going to be a long day for the interior of the Titans o-line trying to block Stroud and Henderson. Watch them for a while to see how they’ll fare. Mathis will probably be on Brandon Jones, so look for Young to go to Moulds and Scaife on the other side. Watch the Titans front seven try to contain the Jags running game with Calvin Lowry coming up to help.
Last meeting – Garrard was in the Christmas spirit last December, generously giving the Titans three defensive touchdowns on turnovers to give Tennessee a 24-17 win. Jacksonville pounded Tennessee 37-7 in the first game last year.
Prediction – It pains me to say this but Jacksonville is a very tough matchup for Tennessee. They easily trounced the Titans in the first meeting last year and outplayed them the second time around. The Jags ran 78 offensive plays to the Titans’ 31 in that game and had the time of possession advantage 44 minutes to 16.
Jaguars 17
Titans 13
For Jaguars coverage from their point of view, please check out the fine work by Tim McClellan and Brendan Sonnone on MVN’s Jaguars Journal.