The Tennessee Titans’ quest for a Wild Card spot in the AFC took a major hit as they gave the Indianapolis Colts their first win of the season last week. The Titans are still in the hunt, but at 7-7, they are a game behind the New York Jets and Cincinnati Bengals. They’ll look to bounce back this week against another struggling division rival, the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Jaguars’ biggest strength this season has been placing payers on injured reserve, so they’ll piece together a team to bring to Tennessee. Interim Head Coach Mel Tucker has had mixed results in his three weeks on the job, as a blow out win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has been sandwiched around two embarrassing beatings on national television. Tucker hopes to keep his guys motivated as he looks to become full time head coach, while the Titans are in must-win territory to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Titans Wide Receivers vs. Jaguars Cornerbacks
No position has taken more significant injury hits for the Jaguars than cornerback. The top three outside CBs are out for the season, opening the door for a street free agent and undrafted rookie. CB Ashton Youboty has been torched in his five games with the team, as his -10.1 Coverage grade attests. Opponents are completing 76.5% of passes his way for a QB Rating of 140.9. On the other side, rookie Kevin Rutland has held his own over the last three games, but mostly because he’s only seen 15 throws his way. He’s done a nice job of avoiding the big play as he’s given up a long of 22 yards. The one constant for the Jaguars has been CB Drew Coleman (+1.8), who remains healthy and spends the majority of the time covering the slot.
The Titans are still trying to figure out what they have in WR Damian Williams (-6.6). The second year receiver has seen 669 snaps this year, up from 218 in 2010, but he’s been inconsistent at best. He appeared to break out Week 10 against the Carolina Panthers, but he’s been rather average since. WR Nate Washington (+5.5) has had a good season with 50 of his 66 receptions coming out of the slot. He’ll see a lot of Coleman in this game.
Maurice Jones-Drew vs. Titans Rookie Defenders
I wanted to include the Titans rookies in this preview so what better way than to look at their match up with running back Maurice Jones-Drew. Tennessee’s defense looks good for the future as four different rookies have graded positively while seeing significant playing time this season. Defensive tackles Jurrell Casey and Karl Klug were drafted in the third and fifth round respectively and both have exceeded expectations. Casey has been outstanding against the run (+10.4) and his 28 Stops are tied for sixth among defensive tackles. We gave Klug some love in our Scramble piece highlighting late round gems , and he has been the best pass rusher on the Tennessee defensive line at +5.6. At the linebacker level, first rounder Akeem Ayers and fourth round pick Colin McCarthy, have been key contributors against the run. Ayers is grading at +4.3 in the run game while McCarthy is at +1.8. McCarthy took over for injured LB Barrett Ruud in Week 10, and he’s outperformed the free agent signing to this point. We were not high on the Ruud signing at the time and McCarthy’s performance may give him the starting nod heading into next season.
The rookies have the pleasure of trying to tackle the bowling ball that is Jones-Drew. He’s third in the league in forcing missed tackles and seventh in our Signature Stat Elusive Rating at 44.7. No running back in the league has carried the ball as much as Jones-Drew as he’s had to take on an extra workload due to the inept passing game. Despite the extra attention from defenses, he’s having one of his best seasons to this point and he’s in the midst of six game streak of grading at +2.0 or better. This week figures to be a common match up in years to come as the rookies try to slow down Jones-Drew.
Jeremy Mincey vs. Michael Roos
The Titans offensive line has been one of the league’s best in pass protection, coming in at third in our Signature Pass Blocking Efficiency rankings. All five starters grade positively while protecting the passer, but the player giving up the most pressures is probably the most recognizable name on the line, Michael Roos. He’s had a strong season at +7.8, but last time out he was getting whipped by DE Dwight Freeney, and this week he’ll be matched up with the Jaguars best pass rusher in Jeremy Mincey (+13.1). In a season where the Jaguars have nearly three starting units worth of players on IR, Mincey has been a fixture at defensive end playing 92.5% of snaps on the year. Since pass rush specialist DE John Chick went down to injury, Mincey is the only consistent threat on the Jaguars line, so it’ll be up to provide enough pressure to protect the depleted secondary.