- Amid a disappointing season for the Jaguars' defensive line, the unit had arguably its best game of the year against the Colts last week. Can it build on that success against the Titans?
Three things to know before the Jaguars face the Titans on Thursday Night Football (8:20 p.m. ET, FOX, NFL Network, Amazon Prime).
1. Despite what the benching of Blake Bortles and bizarre firing of offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett suggest, the most disappointing aspect of the 2018 Jaguars has been the defensive line, which, until last Sunday’s shutout of the Colts, had looked nothing like it did last season. That D-line has a chance to build on its recent success Thursday when it faces a Titans offensive line that has questions at left guard (talented but inconsistent Quinton Spain was benched last week) and issues at offensive tackles. Taylor Lewan on the left side doesn’t always perform to his athleticism. On the right side, Jack Conklin was a trendy All-Pro pick in 2016 because the media felt smart voting for a rookie, which made the former first-rounder overrated from the get-go. Some still don’t see his immense struggles in pass protection, which can be particularly bad against power rushers (like Calais Campbell).
2. Here’s the thing about Marcus Mariota: his arm isn’t good enough to perform on its own. Mariota is dependent on having his legs underneath him when throwing, which is fine at most levels of football but can be problematic in the NFL, where truly clean pockets are few and far between. Relatedly, Mariota is also inconsistent when throwing from awkward platforms. Offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur surely knows this by now—in fact, he probably knew it after his first week coaching the 25-year-old QB. LaFleur can help his otherwise talented passer by having him throw more on first down, where run-action and defenses’ aversion to blitzing makes for cleaner pockets.
3. Despite rushing for only 36 yards on 13 attempts filling in for a suspended Leonard Fournette last week, Jaguars backup running back Carlos Hyde deserves more playing time. He is a balanced, smart runner who has decent power and better quickness and burst than the bruising Fournette. The Jags need to feature more of a running back tandem.
Bold Prediction: Whichever team scores first will win. Neither of these offenses are equipped to handle the opponent’s pass rush.