Tennessee Titans Fumbling Towards Respectability, One Game at a Time
Every year in the NFL, there is plenty of parity that inevitably boosts ratings; "any given season" is the new "any given Sunday."
This year, however, there are more plot twists than a LOST season finale.
The dysfunctional Denver Broncos are 3-0. The reigning Super Bowl champs are 1-2. And yes, the Detroit Lions have a better record than the Tennessee Titans.
Heading into this week's matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Titans are a talented, desperate team in a must-win situation. The Jaguars, on the other hand, are a team on the rise with an abundance of youthful promise perfectly spliced with veteran leadership.
But sitting at 1-2, it is essentially a must-win for them, too, given their ultra-competitive division.
In many ways, there are, in fact, more similarities than differences. Both are coached by hard-nosed former defensive players. Both espouse a smashmouth, ball control style of play. And both are a few plays away from being 3-0.
Like ships passing in the night, the outcome of this game could very well be indicative of the rest of their respective seasons.
Which team will respond? Which one will walk away with a near-impossible hole to dig out of?
It could be argued that this matchup carries as much weight as a playoff game, considering that for all intents and purposes, both teams' postseason aspirations ride on their next sixty minutes of football.
One team will walk away with a shred of hope; a moral victory to accompany the literal one.
Another will begin to ponder next year's draft picks as they prepare to don the spoiler role.
Here is a look at two of the more intriguing matchups to keep an eye on when they square off this Sunday.
Titans Defense vs. David Garrard
The Jaguars fan is liking their quarterback's chances against a thus far dismal Titans pass defense. On paper, it looks to be his breakout day.
However, Jacksonville is a run-first team that thrives on clock management. Rarely is he asked to air it out or be a gunslinger. And for all of the Titans' woes this season on defense, stuffing the run has not been a problem.
But it does beg the question: will their run-stopping prowess hurt them? In lieu of Jags running back Maurice Jones-Drew having a good day, will Garrard pick at Tennessee's Achilles' heel, pass defense?
Chances are, no. If Jacksonville were in the habit of seamlessly switching to an air attack when the running game stalls, they'd have been a lot better over the years and we'd be mentioning them in the same breath as Indianapolis.
However, Tennessee needs to stay on their toes. Remember, no one picked Texans quarterback Matt Shaub to have a breakout, career day in Week Two, but the Titans dubiously found a way to make that happen.
Much has been said and written of the Titans' overflowing talent in a secondary that has underachieved. But perhaps a more accurate, less vague diagnosis lies within their ability to adjust, or lack thereof.
In summation, they don't have as much pressure from their front four this year. Last year, they didn't need exotic blitzes to compete. The quarterback got pressured, and the secondary's job was easy.
This year, however, new defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil needs to tap into his creativity and find new, effective ways to keep the big play from happening. The scheme from last year isn't working, and it has had a hand in landing them in their 0-3 hole.
Jaguars Defense vs. Chris Johnson
To this point, Jacksonville hasn't faced a premier running back. True, they've held their own against three-straight prolific passing attacks, but they've yet to face a team like themselves; one that runs first.
Most fans and critics alike have Titans running back Chris Johnson due for a letdown. But don't look for it to happen this Sunday. While he may not run roughshod over the Jags like he did the Texans, suffice it to say, he isn't facing enough speed to pose a challenge for him.
Jacksonville may have a reputation for playing tough defense, but so far they've only faced traditional power backs with moderate speed (who all happen to be in slumps at this point).
While anything can indeed happen, it doesn't bode well for the Jaguars. Look for Johnson's explosive first-half running to open up the passing game.
With all of the favorable matchups, Tennessee doesn't have to dominate to win this game. If they curb their turnovers and don't allow big plays, then even a pedestrian effort will do.
Will that happen? Well, that's why we watch.
Any given Sunday.
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