The Tennessee Titans finished the first half of the season at a respectable 4-4, considering their seventh-most difficult strength of schedule and the injury to Jake Locker.
They embark on their goal of making the playoffs for the first time since 2008 with the first of two matchups against the 0-8 Jacksonville Jaguars. Just when Jacksonville was beginning to look a bit dangerous offensively, second-year receiver Justin Blackmon was suspended indefinitely.
The Titans ended a three-game losing streak with a win over the St. Louis Rams last week, led by the first 100-yard rushing day for Chris Johnson. However, with the Jags coming off their bye week, they've had plenty of time to prepare for their familiar division rivals.
Here's the Titans blueprint to success in Week 10:
Before the San Francisco 49ers were held sack-less in their easy victory over Jacksonville two weeks ago, the Jaguars were averaging four sacks against per game. The Titans have managed to get to opposing quarterbacks at least twice every game and have hurried the quarterback 15-plus times in all but three games according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
The Titans need to take advantage of the Jags' porous offensive line and dump Chad Henne on his back as often as possible. The defense got off to a hot start this season, but their production has cooled a bit as the season has worn on. This is an excellent week to get player confidence back up.
Get the Run Defense Up to Snuff
The Titans pass defense has been a pleasant surprise this season, ranking seventh in pass defense after finishing 2012 with the 26th-ranked unit. The run defense, however, remains in a similar range as previous seasons.
The Titans haven't swept a season series against the Jaguars in five seasons. Despite the Titans' struggles over that time span, the Jaguars have often been worse, yet they have consistently given Tennessee issues.
Stopping Maurice Jones-Drew will be a one of the crucial points of emphasis in the game. The suspension of Blackmon will force Jacksonville to put a heavier emphasis on their lackluster rushing attack. Jones-Drew ran for 75 yards in the team's last game, despite falling behind big early. The Titans can ill-afford to allow the Jags to establish the rushing offense.
Feed Smash and Dash 2.0
Last week, Shonn Greene returned to the lineup and rushed for 38 yards and a touchdown on nine carries. Chris Johnson ended a nine-game streak of rushing for less than 100 yards in a game by exploding for 150 yards and two scores, and the team finished with 198 yards and four touchdowns on the ground.
While the St. Louis Rams may not be the kind of defense to test your mettle against, the big rushing day provides a glimpse of what the Titans offense is capable of. The Jaguars are the league's worst at stopping the run, allowing a whopping average of 161.8 yards per game. The Titans must continue to show the progress of the rushing attack by bettering their Week 9 performance.
Get Jake Locker Back on Track
Statistics gathered from NFL.com
Since returning from injury, Locker has thrown two touchdowns and three interceptions in two starts after throwing six touchdowns and zero picks in his first four starts. The Jaguars will be just the third defense Locker has faced ranked outside of the top-10 in pass defense.
In fact, as a team the Titans have played six top-10 pass defenses. Against the two units ranking outside of the latter range, Locker has thrown for 448 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions—he only played a half in one game.
Having played the first, second, third, fourth, eighth and ninth pass defenses, the Titans passing game has faced the best there is and performed well enough to keep the team in all but one game. If Locker can return to his pre-injury form, the Titans passing game may take off against more average competition.
The Jaguars are still a very respectable 12th in the pass defense rankings, and they should offer a clearer picture of the quality of the Titans receiver group and quarterback play. Locker must take advantage of what should be another quality rushing day for the Titans and get back to playing turnover-free football.