Only one match-up on the first Sunday of the 2008 season features two teams that made the playoffs last year. Add in that it is also a huge inter-divisional affair between two similar teams, and you’ve got all the makings of a huge week one match-up that will play out tomorrow at LP Field in Nashville, TN. After an up and down pre-season in which we saw some of the strengths of the Titans on display (the running game and defensive line) as well as some of it’s weaknesses (the play of the quarterback and wide receivers), there are still plenty of things left to be decided for this team. Things better come around quickly, because like it or not, the season starts tomorrow.
Titans rushing offense vs. the Jags defense:
The running game has been the Titans bread and butter for as long as the team has existed. Jeff Fisher football means controlling the clock by pounding the rock and there is no reason to believe that won’t be the case yet again this season. Fielding one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, a solid one-two punch in LenDale White and Chris Johnson and a QB that can make game-changing plays with his feet, the Titans will attempt to open up running lanes all afternoon. The Jags lost a lot of personnel on defense this off-season, most notably defensive tackle Marcus Stroud who left for Buffalo. They quickly moved to re-tool on defense by drafting defensive ends Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves in the first two rounds of this year’s draft. The Jags still have a great front line though with Paul Spicer and the talented, but oft-injured Reggie Hayward on the ends and Big John Henderson eating up the middle. If the Titans hope to win this game, they will have to win this battle.
Titans passing offense vs. the Jags defense:
Consistency. Vince Young will have to be consistent in passing the football if the Titans plan on winning. He wasn’t so much this pre-season, but both Fisher and Heimerdinger will swear up and down that Vince is ready to take this offense to the next level. Alge Crumpler and Bo Scaife will have to be his safety valve five to ten yards downfield, as will Justin Gage. There should be some areas of the field that Vince and Co. should try and exploit, the question being whether or not they’ll be successful.
Jaguars rushing offense vs. the Titans defense:
The Jags are much like the Titans in their dedication to that smash-mouth style of football. They too will attempt to control the clock, using their tandem of Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew to move the ball downfield. The Titans will attempt to keep the Jags running backs in the middle of the field so that MJD can’t get outside and bust off a big run. They will try and pressure Garrard into making bad throws that turn into turnovers. In the end, the Titans big playmakers (KVB, Haynesworth, Bulluck, Finnegan) will win out and contain the Jags running game.
Jags passing offense vs. the Titans defense:
Much of the Jags success last year can also be attributed to their quarterback, David Garrard, who passed for 18 TD’s while only turning the ball over five times. He was the epitome of a “game manager” on the field and was a large part of why they were so dangerous last year. The Jags also lack a clear top wideout, so I doubt we’ll see a whole lot of airing it out in this contest. Following years of fielding a sub-par secondary, the Titans have that swagger back there once again. Cortland Finnegan, Michael Griffin and Chris Hope will cause nightmares for the Jacksonville wide receivers all day, but will also be there to stop the run if either Taylor or MJD get past the first or second level.
The Titans have still have All-Pro kicker Rob Bironas, but he has been out of commission nursing a sore groin since the second day of training camp. Off-season addition Chris Carr will handle kick and punt returns and rookie RB (sensation) Chris Johnson will also return kickoffs. Punter Craig Hentrich is one of the best. The Jags on the other hand have MJD returning punts and kicks. Nuff’ said.
Edge: Jaguars, but not by much.
Intangibles: Tennessee is opening the season at home, hoping to prove that last year’s playoff appearance was no fluke, and that Vince Young is ready to take the team to the next level in this new offense. With heightened expectations among the Titan’s faithful, don’t be surprised if LP Field starts to regain its reputation as one of the loudest, toughest places to play in the league.
Jacksonville is a preseason favorite of many to win the division, and a divisional win on the road to start the season would be huge. Throw in the tragic injury to Richard Collier as some extra motivation, and the Jags should come out ready to play this game.
This is going to be a classic AFC South showdown. The game will be won on the ground, so don’t expect a shootout, but both teams should be able to move the ball well enough to get some scores, even if most of them are FGs. The game should be very close to the end, but Tennessee’s superior defense, and Bironas’ ability in the clutch could be the deciding factors in the last five minutes.
Prediction: Titans 16-13