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Jaguars vs. Titans: Who has the edge in this AFC South showdown?
1:34 | NFL
Jaguars vs. Titans: Who has the edge in this AFC South showdown?
Thursday October 27th, 2016

The Jaguars will be sporting all-“gold” uniforms (the exact color is open for interpretation) when they take on the Titans on Thursday night. Their QB, Blake Bortles, isn’t feeling the look.

“I think somebody’s got to tell the truth,” Bortles said, via ESPN, “so I might as well be the first to say it: I think they’re ugly as hell.”

The jerseys are not all that’s off right now the Jaguars. They’re a disappointing 2–4, their coaching staff is on the hot seat and Bortles himself ... well, take it away, internet:

Bortles’s mechanics have never been all that sound, dating back to his days at UCF. That wind-up is nothing new—you can see it in action on the GIF’d interception above—and his career 58.9% completion rate would be much higher were it not for a tendency to cut his follow through short.

What’s really troubling, though, is that none of these flaws appear to be getting better. If anything they’re worse than ever right now, exacerbated by whatever confidence issues may have been caused by a sagging run game and uneven play calling.

“I firmly, firmly believe in Blake Bortles,” Jacksonville coach Gus Bradley said Wednesday, per the Florida Times-Union.

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And that brings us to the other issue: How much longer will Bradley’s opinion on the subject actually matter? The fourth-year Jacksonville coach is now 14–40 overall, testing the patience even of a front office that has tried to stay committed to a patient process.

Back at the combine, GM Dave Caldwell said that rather than try to rebuild the offense and defense simultaneously, the plan was to spend a couple years forming a cast around Bortles before focusing on the defense. The Jaguars took a defensive player in each of the first four round of the 2016 draft (Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack, Yannick Ngakoue, Sheldon Day), plus spent big on free agents Malik Jackson and Tashaun Gipson.

They’ve been slightly stingier on that side of the ball, but no real breakthroughs have occurred yet. And central to Caldwell’s explanation was this line: “[Blake’s] come on quicker than we imagined.”

That was true to a point last season, when Bortles threw for 35 touchdowns (with 18 INTs) and 4,400 yards, while the WR combo of Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns was among the league’s best.

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But there has been next to no carry over this season. The downfield passing attack? All but gone. Robinson? Almost invisible on occasion, and on pace for about 600 fewer yards than he had last year. Bortles has been the biggest headache of all, to the point where the Jaguars may soon have to reconsider if he’s the right guy for them long term.

And yet, for all that, the Jaguars enter Thursday’s game in Tennessee still within striking distance of the AFC South lead. A win over the 3–4 Titans would push them into a second-place tie with the Colts, pending Sunday’s action, just one game out of first.

The Titans will have something to say about all that. Granted, they have some of their own issues on offense, where second-year QB Marcus Mariota’s progress has been hard to notice at times through the weeds. Tennessee leans on its high-powered run game—DeMarco Murray already has 633 yards and the team is averaging 4.9 yards per attempt, fourth-best in the league—but the passing attack has been nondescript.

Believe it or not, despite the team’s combined 5–8 record, this one means a lot in the AFC South. It means even more for Bradley and Bortles, whose critics are growing by the day.

This is the third straight season that the Jaguars and Titans have met on a Thursday night. You’re welcome, Earth.

However, as we know from the previous two meetings (both Jaguars wins in Jacksonville), and from 98% of Thursday nighters, this one could get ugly. Which brings us back to Bortles. He already has nine interceptions in just six games—only Ryan Fitzpatrick (4.6%) and Case Keenum (4.2%) are throwing picks with greater frequency than Bortles (4.0%). Jacksonville would love to see him turn it loose, like Andrew Luck just did against the Titans for 353 yards and three TDs.

Bortles is no Luck. Mariota has his own turnovers woes with which to contend—he’s turned it over at least once in each of Tennessee’s four home games. Still, Bortles has bigger issues right now.

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Key player: Delanie Walker, TE, Titans.

One thing Jacksonville has done very well this season is take away its opponents’ tight ends. The best showing for a TE vs. the Jaguars in 2016 has been Dennis Pitta’s six-catch, 42-yard day.

So, can Mariota still find his favorite target? Despite missing Week 3 with a hamstring injury, Walker leads the Titans with 24 receptions, 330 yards and three TDs. If the Jaguars manage to take Walker away, Tennessee’s QB will have to cycle through his other options to keep the offense on track.

Bold prediction: Jalen Ramsey picks off his first career pass.

Back to the turnovers well. Ramsey was ejected, along with Jackson, from last week’s game so he should be extra motivated. When he’s been on the field, he has been about all a team could ask from a rookie cornerback. If Mariota decides to test Ramsey at all Thursday night, the rookie could make him pay. 

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