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Total Titans – JagNation question and answer exchange
As we do here on Total Titans prior to every game, we’ve exchanged questions and answers with someone who covers the other team. This week, it’s our honor to be joined by Charlie Bernstein, the editor of JagNation.com. Charlie also talks about the Jaguars on a radio show he hosts and writes about them for several publications. Charlie is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.

Here are Charlie’s answers to our questions about the Jaguars. Following that will be my answers to Charlie’s questions about the Titans.

Total Titans: The Jaguars defense is quite different than it was the first time these two teams met this year. How would you characterize the changes that have been made? In your opinion, which changes are an improvement and which are still in need of improvement?

Charlie Bernstein: Personnel-wise, the Jaguars are actually a worse unit than what you saw six weeks ago when these two teams squared off.  Jacksonville is missing their best pass rusher in Aaron Kampman, and they are playing with a pair of young safeties in  Don Carey and Courtney Greene.  Jacksonville has seen improved play from rookie DT Tyson Alualu which is making for a very formidable unit up front as he’s paired with Terrance Knighton.  Jacksonville still needs to find a consistent pass rush and a better free safety, as Don Carey has been nothing short of abysmal. 

TT: Maurice Jones-Drew had a couple of games with less than 3 yards per carry in the first seven weeks of the season but since then, he’s rushed for 100 yards in four straight games and added three touchdowns. What do you attribute the increased production to?

CB: A lot of the games in which MJD struggled early on, the team was down early and they were forced to abandon the run.  In these more recent closer games, Jones-Drew has feasted upon lesser competition and the team has made a concerted effort to get him the football, as that is their best way of winning. 

TT: Reader dedkrikit asks, “What has been key to the Jags’ success this year? MJD appears to be hot recently, but not early on… Is there something else besides the big name players (MJD, DG, and MSW)?”

CB: I don’t want this to sound like a slight or discounting the Jaguars success, but they’ve been pretty lucky on several occasions this year.  They won a game against Indianapolis with a 59-yard field goal at the horn which the Colts turned the ball over twice inside the Jags five-yard line.They also won a game against the Texans on a Hail Mary.  Add in the six-turnover victory against Colt McCoy and the Browns and the Jaguars have had more than their share of good fortune. 

Realistically, David Garrard has been the same inconsistent, poor decision maker that he’s been throughout his career, but the Jaguars attitude is much better this season.  They believe that they can win any close game and they are finding ways to do so.  To have a nice turnaround in which we’ve seen, you need a little luck and the Jaguars are experiencing that. 

TT: In the first game this year, Jeff Fisher left Chris Johnson in the game after the outcome was decided. Some critics said it was to pad CJ’s stats, and there’s a good case for that since 66 of Johnson’s 111 yards, and his only touchdown, came in garbage time. Other critics theorized Fisher was trying to run up the score. What was the fan reaction in Jacksonville? Is there any talk of it being an issue in this game?

CB: The decision to leave Johnson in didn’t really aggravate any Jaguars fans, as many believed that if the team didn’t want him to break a long run at the end they should’ve simply tackled him.  I believe more people (like myself) were upset that the final touchdown by Johnson may have cost them some fantasy matchups.

TT: If there’s something you’d like for Titans fans to know about the Jaguars that I haven’t asked here, please feel free to tell us about it here.

CB: This year’s version of the Jaguars has perhaps the best locker room of any team I’ve covered.  They truly buy in to what their head coach is selling and they’ve been able to bounce back from some very difficult situations when it would’ve been easy to quit.  Terrance Knighton has become an elite defensive tackle and Marcedes Lewis is the best two-way (blocking and receiving) tight end in the league.  This is truly a team that is greater than the sum of their parts.  That said, they are limited by talent and will only go so far.

TT: Is Jeff Fisher still the most unpopular man in Jacksonville? If not, who has replaced him, and why?

CB: Some weeks Jack Del Rio or David Garrard take that title but overall there is no love lost for the longest tenured head coach in the NFL in Fisher.  As much as they don’t like “the mustache,” they have great respect for his coaching abilities and would take him as the head coach in a heartbeat. 

TT: If you have a prediction for the game, please make it here. Who wins and why? And the final score will be…?

CB: This is truly a tough call.  Before the season I believed that the Jags and Titans would split, each winning on each other’s field so I’m probably going to stick with that. I believe Tennessee is the better football team but Kerry Collins health (rust-factor) concerns me a bit.  I believe the Jaguars will win a nail-biter, maybe 27-24 on a long Josh Scobee field goal.  Then again if David Garrard is careless with the football, this could be 41-14 Titans.

You can read my answers to Charlie’s questions here if you’re registered on Scout.com. Or you can read on:

Charlie Bernstein: Last week the Houston Texans were able to key in on Pro Bowl running back Chris Johnson due to the lack of a threat in the passing game with rookie Rusty Smith.  Obviously the Titans would rather have Kerry Collins under center on Sunday, but what percentage of health do you believe Collins would have to be at to get the starting nod over Smith?
Total Titans: Probably not much, maybe even 50% healthy would be good enough for Collins to get the starting nod. Jeff Fisher has demonstrated a lot of faith in Collins over the years and also has a long history of not trusting rookies at any position. Collins practiced on Wednesday, although he was limited, and I expect him to start unless he has a setback.

CB: With the exception of last week, Titans running back Chris Johnson is having another great season.  Although his lofty preseason goal of 2,500 yards rushing won’t be met and he isn’t anywhere near his 2,000 yard pace of a season ago, he’s still a Top-Five back in terms of yardage.  What do you make of the drop in numbers from 2009 to 2010?  Is it the offensive line, teams keying in on Johnson more or lack of a consistent passing attack?

TT: As is often the case with situations like this, it’s not just one thing and is mostly a combination of all the above. More than anything, it’s teams keying on CJ, as you mentioned, stacking the box with eight and sometimes nine men, and trying to deny him the edge. Another thing that’s contributed to the dropoff is CJ himself. On occasion, he seems to be looking to break a long one, rather than taking the available yardage. Instead of getting what he can, he sometimes waits for something that doesn’t develop.
CB: The Titans are second in the NFL in sacks, and the Jaguars offensive line is beat up.  Tennessee had just two sacks in the previous meeting, but hit Jaguars quarterbacks eight times and knocked out quarterback David Garrard.  How much extra attention (i.e. max protect schemes) will be necessary to keep Jaguars quarterbacks healthy?
TT: I wouldn’t worry about that this time around, especially on the interior. The Titans’ defensive line is also banged up so we could be looking at two lines that are pretty evenly matched. DT Tony Brown, who was the best defensive player for Tennessee last season, has been bothered all year with a bad knee. He tried to play last week but was only able to go for one series.
It will be difficult to get a good push up the middle without Brown and DT Jason Jones, the Titans’ other good interior pass rusher, who’s also injured. DT Sen’Derrick Marks isn’t that much of a pass rusher yet and he’s also injured. The Titans will have to rely on journeymen DTs Jovan Haye and Marques Douglas, with help from DE Dave Ball who may have to move inside on occasion.
The Titans’ best pass rushers are defensive ends Ball, Jason Babin and Jacob Ford, so if there is a pass rush it will come from them on the outside or from blitzes, but I wouldn’t worry about Garrard having to contend with pressure up the middle. Also, the edge rush won’t be as good if Ball has to move inside to DT. 
CB: Randy Moss hasn’t made the immediate impact on the Titans that many were expecting.  Is that due to the inconsistent play at the quarterback position or something else?  It would make sense that he would be a big part of this week’s game plan going against a very young and struggling Jacksonville secondary.
TT: Titans fans are furious at the play calling, which has pretty much neglected Moss. He hasn’t been targeted much at all, even against Houston, which has the worst pass defense in the league. Instead, reserve WR Justin Gage and backup TE Jared Cook have been getting the majority of the passes. Hopefully that will change this week, especially with Collins at quarterback.
However, one good thing has happened, at least in his first two games. Moss has drawn double coverage or has at least forced opponents to keep from loading the box as often, which has given Johnson more room to run.

CB: It appears that the Titans have come to an impasse in the relationship between Jeff Fisher and Vince Young.  We know Fisher never really wanted Young and he’s benched him at nearly every opportunity.  What happens?  Does the longest-tenured head coach in the league go?  Does the former third-overall pick go?  Is it possible that both are employed by the team next season?

TT: Fisher and Young each have one more year remaining on their respective contracts. If one of them leaves, it will obviously be owner Bud Adams’ decision as to which one it will be. I expect President Steve Underwood, who acts as Bud’s eyes and ears in Nashville, along with Fisher and GM Mike Reinfeldt, to sit down with Bud at the end of the season and present the case to him that the Vince Young experiment hasn’t worked. Most observers predict that Bud’s top three men will be in agreement about that and present a united front.
However, as my writing partner Tom Gower recently wrote in a Q&A exchange with the Houston Chronicle’s Stephanie Stradley, “Bud Adams’ ability to screw things up cannot be under-estimated.”
In a recent article, I wrote about the last possibility you mentioned, that Fisher and Young will both be employed by the team next season – “Will Titans fans be stuck with both Fisher and Young?”  You phrased it more kindly than I did and I fear that possibility may come to fruition.

Thanks again to Charlie for doing this with us and to our readers for the questions they submitted.