TitansOnline.com Senior Writer and Editor Jim Wyatt gives an inside look at the Jacksonville Jaguars with Ryan O’Halloran, who covers the Jaguars for the Florida Times-Union. The Titans face the Jaguars on Sunday in Jacksonville.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Titans face the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday at EverBank Field.
The Titans are coming off a 26-16 loss to the Oakland Raiders. The Jaguars, meanwhile, pummeled the Texans 29-7 while racking up 10 sacks in the process. The Titans and Jaguars have split their two-game series every season since 2009.
This week, I caught up with Ryan O’Halloran, who covers the Jaguars for the Florida Times-Union. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanohalloran, and join over 23,000 others.
Here’s how our conversation went…
Wyatt: Hey Ryan. I appreciate you taking the time. Well, what an impressive performance by the Jaguars in Week One. They jumped out to a 19-0 lead, and won easily while recording 10 sacks on defense. Is this a sign of things to come?O’Halloran: Well, I think 10 sacks per week is a big ask. But if you look at the components of that win, it really was how they want to draw it up. First, it’s a running game. Leonard Fournette carried it 26 times for 100 yards, and as a team they had 39 rushing attempts. They had no turnovers on offense. Quarterback Blake Bortles, for lack of a better term, managed the game, and he made some throws downfield. And the biggest thing is they’ve sunk a lot of resources into this defense up front, and that pass rush showed. They got sacks with a four-man rush. So they have some good edge rushes, and they have good corners who provide coverage. This is my sixth year covering the team, and it was the most impressive win I’ve covered.
Wyatt: I want to ask you about Bortles. He completed 11-of-21 passes for 125 yards in the contest, and he threw for a touchdown. Not great numbers, but he didn’t turn the ball over either. How secure is he as a starter, and have you seen improvement from him?
O’Halloran: When (Jaguars head coach) Doug Marrone opened up that quarterback competition, I thought it was over. You don’t open it up to rename Blake Bortles the starter. But that’s not how it worked. He got his second chance. I thought Blake played OK vs. Carolina in that third preseason game, and against Houston, what you look back on is, ‘OK, What was his decision making like? Did he get away with some things?’ And really, out of 21 throws he had one bad throw and he had four drops. He took a couple of shots downfield, but that is not what this offense is about right now. I thought it looked like he checked out of some pass plays into some runs that had some bigger gains. So I thought it was a positive step for Blake.
Wyatt: I’m going back to the pass rush because 10 sacks just jumps off the stat sheet. Calais Campbell had four of them. How did the Jaguars pull that off, and will they be coming after Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota on Sunday?
O’Halloran: It’s funny, they faced Tom Savage in the first half and played a little bit more coverage, and when Deshaun Watson was in there they sent a lot more pressure. So it looks like they have a pretty diverse scheme. But with Calais Campbell, he can run from inside, and he can rush from outside. He can overpower guys. He had four sacks, and it was a franchise-high and a single-game high, but Yannick Ngakoue had a good start — he had two sacks and two forced fumbles. If they can get some production out of Dante Fowler – he had a sack and a touchdown and a forced fumble. Teams have to kind of pick and choose where they are going to defend. On the other side, Houston’s offensive line has some issues. Duane Brown is holding out, they played two left tackles in that game and they weren’t very good at guard. A good thing for the Jaguars is they felt they had an advantage in that area, and they took advantage of it, and that’s normally what this franchise hasn’t done.
Wyatt: You mentioned Fournette early. Not a bad debut for the rookie. How good has he been, and will he be a workhorse every week?
O’Halloran: I think he’s going to be good. We didn’t get a great look at him in the preseason. He had just nine carries against New England in the first game, and then he had a foot injury. But 26 carries out of the gate – he only played 39 snaps, so when he was in he got the ball. The thing about Leonard that is impressive is he always gets you something. He has a lot of yards after contact because he is a big, physical runner. And he can hit the hole really well. His long run was 17, but he is going to be a guy who can give you a five, a six a three-yard run, and then a 28. He is that kind of runner. So they have to be pleased at that. Another positive for Fournette is he had three catches. He wasn’t asked to do a lot of that at LSU, and I think that is almost like a bonus touch for him, because you are not running against defensive linemen. If you can get it, get it in space and take on a corner or a safety.
Wyatt: OK, two more here. I know Hurricane Irma produced a great deal of flooding in Jacksonville. The game is on — same time, same place, of course. Have the events of the last few days impacted the team at all while preparing for the Titans?
O’Halloran: Well, before they left for Houston they made the decision they were going to stay Sunday night as well. Because the airport was closed in Jacksonville, they did not return back until Tuesday afternoon. These guys are going back to their homes that may or may not be damaged. I think they’ll have a lot on their minds this week, so focus could be a challenge coming off a big win. But this is a big game for this team, to try and confirm what their identity is. They did a lot of good things in Week One. Can they back it up on Week Two?
Wyatt: So, a week into the season, what are your thoughts about the Jaguars for 2017, and how the AFC South will shake out?
O’Halloran: A week ago, I had Houston, Tennessee, Indianapolis and Jacksonville, in that order. The Colts, to me, that was a shocking loss by that much (lost 46-9 to Rams). The Titans, you knew that was going to be a tough matchup with Oakland. So there’s plenty of reasons for optimism with the Titans. The Texans, if I’m them I just stick with Watson, and say, ‘Hey, if we’re going to struggle on offense this year we might as well struggle with Watson, a young quarterback who can get better and be ready for 2018.’ The Jaguars? I had them 6-10 heading into the season, and I’m not going to jump with both feet onto the bandwagon right now. But if they can find a way to beat Tennessee at home on Sunday, they would be two games up on the Titans. If they could do that, things could get interesting and maybe they could play some meaningful games in December.