Not many expected the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars to both be 1-0 when they met in Week 2, but after the Jaguars’ 27-20 upset win over the Indianapolis Colts last week, Sunday’s game is for first-place in the AFC South.
Although Colts’ quarterback Phillip Rivers threw for 363 yards last week, the Jaguars defense did force him into throwing two interceptions and held him to a 56.2 QBR. Linebackers Myles Jack and Joe Schobert combined for 19 tackles, a sack and two tackles for loss. Jacksonville also boasts two first-round picks at the other linebacker positions in Josh Allen (No. 7 overall in 2019) and K’Lavon Chaisson (No. 20 overall in 2020).
The Titans surrendered the most sacks in the NFL last season and keeping Ryan Tannehill upright will be at the top of Tennessee’s priority list.
“It's a tough defense,” Tannehill said. “They flew around, they played extremely hard, they made some big plays. I think they’ve got a solid defense that we’re going to have to go out and execute well for, no different than any other week. It's a division opponent that we have a lot of respect for and we’re going to have to go out and play well.”
Added Titans coach Mike Vrabel: “They challenged the receivers. (CJ) Henderson had had a really good day. I thought (Myles) Jack flew around. (Josh) Jones was very, very active. Obviously, up front (Josh) Allen was providing pressure, the speed, it's a fast defense.”
Here’s a further look at Sunday’s matchup:
Why the Titans can win
Simply put: Derrick Henry.
Sure, the Titans played a listless game for much of Monday’s season opener in Denver. The offense showed flashes, but outside of a 12-play, 83-yard game-winning drive, the team didn’t really show much excitement.
However, Henry ran for 116 yards against the Broncos on 31 carries. Rookie backup Darrynton Evans wasn’t available Monday, while Jeremy McNichols and fullback Khari Blasingame did not have a single carry.
However, expect to keep seeing a healthy dose of Henry, who isn’t afraid of a large workload. In eight career games against Jacksonville, Henry has 714 yards and nine touchdowns on 133 carries.
“Whenever I get the opportunities, just to try to take advantage of them,” Henry said. “I think all the training I do, the working out, going through practice and all those things, I think they prepare you for moments like that, to be able to carry the load in games like that, physical games. It's a good defense.”
Added Vrabel: “Derrick (Henry), he's not going to be on any kind of pitch count. He gets himself in great condition, he understands the responsibility he has to the team to be able to sometimes carry it as many times as he did on Monday night. Every game is different.”
If Henry gets going early, it will presumably open up the Titans passing game. While using play action in Week 1, Tannehill completed 10 of 14 passes (71.4 percent) for 92 yards and two touchdowns. If the play-action passes are working, expect to see the Titans put up lots of points.
Why the Jaguars can win
Quarterback Gardner Minshew was impressive against the Colts last week, throwing for 173 yards and three touchdowns. He spread the ball around a lot as 10 different receivers caught a pass.
Minshew is 1-0 against the Titans in his career, although that one win came last year when Marcus Mariota was Tennessee’s starting QB. In Jacksonville’s 20-7 win in Week 3 last season, Minshew completed 20 of 30 passes for 204 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
“Gardner (Minshew) – this guy's a leader,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. “You're watching him, the players, he's into it on the sidelines when the defense is out there. That team has rallied around him since he's been the starter, that's what I'm most impressed about is just his leadership and just how into he is on the on the sidelines with his teammates.
“His energy, his passion for playing this game. His skillset is very good. He's decisive with the ball, he's very accurate, he keeps plays alive. We struggled against him last year. He's letting those guys, those weapons, work for him. He's getting the ball out of his hand and he's getting it into his playmakers' hands.”
If the 24-year-old can carry over his early-season momentum into Nissan Stadium, the Jaguars may have a chance for a second straight upset win.
Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_