One game after falling in their season opener, the Titans will look to hit the reset button when they travel to Jacksonville on Sunday.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — One game after falling in their season opener, the Titans will look to hit the reset button when they travel to Jacksonville on Sunday. The contest against the Jaguars will not only be the Titans’ AFC South opener, but the team’s first visit to Jacksonville since suffering a damaging loss on Christmas Eve last year. Here are five storylines to focus on this week:
Can the Titans keep a clean pocket for Marcus Mariota? – The Jaguars were terrors on defense in their opener against Houston, sacking Texans quarterbacks Tom Savage and Deshaun Watson a combined 10 times. Jacksonville turned one of those sacks into a touchdown, as Dante Fowler picked up a fumble and took it 53 yards into the end zone. But if any team should feel confident about its pass protection, it’s Tennessee. The Titans allowed just two quarterback hits in Sunday’s opener, tied for the second-lowest figure in the league. An Oakland team featuring Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin only managed to sack Marcus Mariota once. Going back to last season, the Titans surrendered just 28 sacks, the seventh-lowest figure in the NFL. The big challenge this week will be Jacksonville’s marquee free-agent signee, Calais Campbell, who recorded four of Houston’s 10 sacks against the Titans. Right tackle Jack Conklin will likely see plenty of Campbell, but the Jaguars will move Campbell around as well.
Will the Titans run the ball more often against Jacksonville? – Almost certainly. The Titans ran the ball just 21 times against Oakland, compared to throwing the ball 41 times. But look a little closer and you’ll see there was almost a perfect balance in the first half – 14 runs and 15 passes. That’s when the Titans were moving the ball more effectively, as they converted five-of-seven third downs in the opening two quarters. Things changed in the second half, when the Titans started passing more often early in series, and when they fell behind by two scores in the fourth quarter. Tennessee converted two-of-seven third downs in the second half. “I think we need to run it more if we can,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. “I think the lack of converting third downs in the second half doesn’t allow you to run it more. That plays a part in the process of getting the run game going. But yeah, I’d like to (have seen) more runs (Sunday).” The Titans forged their identity on the legs of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry last season, and there’s no reason to believe they want to change course this year. Barring a big deficit, expect the Titans to hammer away with their big backs more often against Jacksonville.
How important would a division win be? – By the end of last season, the only thing that stood between the Titans and the AFC South title was a better division record. The Titans have made improved divisional play a priority, and this is an opportunity to get off to a good start. A win here won’t come easily, as these two teams have split their division games in each of the past nine years. But if there’s any need for added incentive, it’s worth remembering that the last time the Titans posted a winning divisional mark (2008) was also the last time they made the playoffs. If opening week was any indication, these may well be the AFC South’s best teams this season. “I think our guys are locked in,” Mularkey said. “Getting ready for a division game, and starting the season with a division game early on the road – against a team that just went on the road and beat another good football team at their own place – they’ll be ready.”
Can rookie Corey Davisimprove on his opening performance? – After playing a grand total of zero snaps in the preseason due to his hamstring injury, Davis – the fifth overall pick of the 2017 draft – made a huge impact in the opener. Davis was targeted 10 times during the 42 snaps he was in the game, and his six catches were more than any other rookie wide receiver on opening day. It wasn’t just the number of catches Davis made, however, but the quality of them – as he plucked a couple of passes out of mid-air when it looked as they might fall incomplete. “It’s pretty amazing, some of the catches he made,” Mularkey said. “We haven’t had a lot of those – line up and run a fade route, catch it over the top of a corner – in a long time.” The two areas Davis will continue to improve upon are conditioning and attention to detail, neither of which is surprising given how much time he missed due to his hamstring injury. Davis caught all four of the passes thrown in his direction in the first half, but slipped to two catches on six targets in the second half. “If he had some mistakes,” Mularkey said, “they were later in the game than they were early in the game, when he got fatigued.”
Can the Titans shut down Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette? – The Titans were the NFL’s second-best team against the run last season, allowing an average of just 88.3 yards per game. Oakland was able to find some room against the Titans, though, with 5-11, 215-pound Marshawn Lynch gaining 76 of the Raiders’ 109 rushing yards. The Titans’ big running challenge this week will come in the form of 6-0, 240-pound rookie Leonard Fournette, who ran for 100 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries in his first NFL game. In college, Fournette piled up 3,830 rushing yards and 40 touchdowns. The Titans know they will have to tackle better this week to shut down Fournette and Jacksonville’s ground game.
— Reach John Glennon at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @glennonsports.