The Jacksonville Jaguars (0-4) have a chance to get back in the AFC South divisional race on Sunday, with a win over the Tennessee Titans (2-2). The Jags haven’t defeated the Titans since the early season game in 2019. For that matter, they’ve lost seven of the last eight. To do so this Sunday will require several keys, the highest priority of course being stopping running back Derrick Henry. That’s entire key to itself, so we’ll address it separately.
As for the rest of the game plan? It will depend on these three keys.
Exploit Big Plays
The New York Jets got their first win of the season last week, defeating the Titans 27-24 in overtime. They did so thanks in large part to explosive plays, including a 53-yard touchdown to to take the lead in the middle fo the fourth quarter. According to Pro Football Focus, Jets quarterback Zach Wilson threw his most “big time throws” of his short rookie career, with 11.4% of his passes going for big gains and an average depth of target of 10.2 yards.
“It was a really good game when you go back and watch it. [It was] back and forth,” noted Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence. “Really, those were scrambles when they made the big plays at the end of the game. That’s any game, scrambles are just tough for a defense to defend. It’s hard to cover guys for that long if you can get out of the pocket and extends plays, and that’s what I think [Jets QB] Zach [Wilson] did a really good job of in the game.”
Wilson was able to scramble to make big plays due to improved protection and time up front, relative to the first three games. According to PFF, 18.2 of the pressures on Wilson turned into sacks (two), the lowest output of the season. Furthermore, he had an average of 3.25 seconds to make a throw, the longest amount of time in the Jets season thus far.
Using his legs on a scrambles has increasingly become a bigger and bigger part of Lawrence’s game the past couple of weeks as well. Versus the Cincinatti Bengals, Lawrence had the most designed runs of the season, with six zone read plays for 23 yards and two scrambles for 13 yards. He finished with four first downs and a touchdown.
It was more than just the runs downfield though. Lawrence also dropped back the fewest amount of times thus far this season, only doing so 28 times. Using more bootlegs, Lawrence finished with his best completion percentage of the season, 70.8% overall.
As he becomes more and more comfortable with leaving the pocket versus NFL defenses, Lawrence can now do so against the Titans knowing that Zach Wilson has set a blueprint for success.
“You look at that and then you take that into account. That’s always kind of part of ... It is not the plan necessarily, but you know that as a quarterback, you have to be able to extend plays and be able to make plays outside the pocket. They did a good job of that.”
Stopping the Run
This one isn’t about Henry per se, but more so in reference to what’s possible within a game plan once you do stop the hulking back.
“They’re going to tell you when they’re running the ball,” explained Jaguars defensive coordinator Joe Cullen. “I’ve got a lot of respect for [Titans] Coach [Mike] Vrabel. They’re going to tell you when they’re running the ball there, they’re going to say, ‘Can you stop it?’ and then when you stop it, they’re going to run their boots, their play actions.”
The play-actions have bit the Jags defense more often than not in recent years. They’re how Tennessee quarterback Ryan Tannehill makes his money, and he’s arguably better at it than any quarterback in the league. As such, he’s been able to pick apart the Jacksonville defense, utilizing zone reads, dink shots to the flat and then sporadic deep shots to keep them honest.
For the first time in years, the Jaguars have a defensive scheme that’s built to stop play-action. The key though hinges on outside linebacker Josh Allen. He can change his alignment and assignment based purely on what Tannehill does with the ball off the play-action. That can mean dropping into coverage much more. This leaves the Jaguars slightly vulnerable, as another pass rusher has not stepped up for those plays Allen needs to drop.
But the Pro-Bowler is committed to playing his part in this scheme to perfection, with his biggest test yet on Sunday against the Titans.
“We emphasize P.O.U., it’s the power of the unit,” explained Allen this week. “I’m doing my part, I’m doing my job, and that’s my job. If it needs to be that play, I’m going to do as best as I can. Can’t forget, when I was in college, I dropped more times than I rushed. I’m just doing my part. If I have to do the best drop in the world every play to make us win, I’m going to do it. I know this coaching staff is also going to put me in spots and positions to where I can make a play. I just know it’s a give and take, but I’ll do whatever it takes to get this win.”
Play A Complete Game
For two weeks now, the Jaguars have had a game in hand at halftime, only to give it away in the final 30 minutes. The first half shows marked improvement on offense and defense, but the inability to stay stout the entire time has led to a winless record. The Jags know in order to get their first win, they’ll have to play their first complete game.
“There’s usually three to five plays where you don’t know when they’re coming, where you have a breakdown. And that’s learning and communicating, making sure we know who’s covering who, making sure the rush is getting there,” said Cullen. “It takes all 11 [players] and that’s what we’ve got to do a better job of. When you do it for a half, you’d like to get it to three quarters and then finish it this week with four quarters. And that’s what we were excited [about]—it’s a great opponent coming in, it’s a great opponent.”
The Jaguars were up 19-10 mid-way through the third on the still undefeated Arizona Cardinals before losing that game 31-19. Last Thursday, the Jags were up and 14-0 over the Bengals at halftime. They lost 24-21.
“It hurts. I’ll tell you that, man, but we’re looking at it [like] it’s adversity. It’s how you’re going to punch out. We’ve been playing hard, we’ve been playing really great ball, we’ve been looking like one of the top defenses in the National Football League for halves and quarters, whatever, but you have to play consistent,” expounded Allen. “It takes all 11 out there to play consistent every play from the first quarter to the fourth quarter. We try to emphasize that in practice, in practice, in practice. I don’t care what snap, if it’s walkthroughs, whatever, every rep is a game rep. We just have to play four quarters. I know we have the guys to do it. We have the guys to take over a game every play and we just have to put the pieces together and just keep riding out. I think it’s going to come soon.”
Added Lawrence, “[We] just have to get better at finishing and that’s where we’re looking to make an improvement this week. I feel like every week we’ve gotten better, so I’m just excited to put another full game together and go finish it.”