Tennessee Titans: Previewing the 2018 Schedule – Week 3

ARLINGTON, TX - APRIL 26: Taven Bryan of Florida poses after being picked #29 overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars during the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft at AT&T Stadium on April 26, 2018 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, TX - APRIL 26: Taven Bryan of Florida poses after being picked #29 overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars during the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft at AT&T Stadium on April 26, 2018 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) /

Continuing to examine the 2018 Tennessee Titans schedule by taking a look at their Week 3 matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Now that most rosters are largely set in stone following free agency and the draft, we can finally begin to look ahead to next season and gauge how the Tennessee Titans’ roster will match up with opponents’, as well as start to put together a rough estimate for wins and losses. With little to no news coming out of training camps this time of year except for notable absences, this marks a great time to preview how each team the Titans will face has changed over the offseason and whether that team is trending up or down in 2018.

After a 2017 in which years of splash signings and top picks finally paid off with an appearance in the AFC Championship game, the Jacksonville Jaguars face high expectations for the first time in almost a decade. On the back of a stifling defense highlighted by stars at every level of the field, such as Jalen Ramsey, Calais Campbell, Telvin Smith, AJ Bouye, Myles Jack, Yannick Ngakoue, and Malik Jackson, the team held opponents to only 16.8 points per game as the second-best team in both total and scoring defense last season.

Meanwhile, the drafting of Leonard Fournette at the top of the 2017 NFL Draft, as well as Cam Robinson in the second round to take pressure off of QB Blake Bortles, led to the team focusing on a physical ground game to wear defenses down over the course of the game. This formula has proven extremely effective in recent years, with teams like the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks winning Super Bowls with a dominant defense and physical run game. With this new approach, the Jaguars pulled off a miraculous turnaround from their 3-13 record only a season prior. Often, however, after a team experiences their first year of success in a long period of time, they struggle to replicate it the following season. For example, last season the Raiders, Bucs, and Giants all collapsed after experiencing stellar 2016 seasons.

Facing heightened expectations for the first time in years, the Jaguars may struggle to meet these expectations in an AFC South race that will be much tighter this season. Concerns about Jacksonville in 2018 must center around their offense and more specifically, their quarterback.

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Although Blake Bortles did not play as atrociously as in years past, Jacksonville still often won in spite of him rather than because of him. As Bortles has proved throughout his career, he looks the part of the franchise quarterback when they have a comfortable lead, but when he is forced to bring the team back from a deficit, he can not be counted on consistently.

Jacksonville has one of the most talented rosters from top to bottom in the NFL, but this is a quarterback’s league, and if Bortles regresses even a little bit, this team will struggle to win games. Fournette may have all the talent in the world, but if other teams do not respect the passing game and stack the box against him, then he will be rendered ineffective. This was evident to a certain extent in 2017. Fournette, for all his talent, averaged a mere 3.9 yards per carry during the season as a combination of poor blocking and being the focus of the opposing defense limited his effectiveness on a per rush basis.

That said, the Jaguars did not do Bortles many favors this offseason in regards to the pass catchers they put around him. Even though they added All-Pro Guard Andrew Norwell to help keep Bortles clean in the pocket, the front office let three of his top receiving options leave in free agency including Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, and Mercedes Lewis. Although they did sign Donte Moncrief, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and D.J. Chark to a receiving corps that already includes Marqise Lee and Dede Westbrook, this group of receivers consists mainly of players who are very unproven or inconsistent, which does not bode well for a quarterback has never elevated the players around him.

Elsewhere in free agency and the draft, the Jaguars failed to add many players with the look of an impact starter. First round selection Taven Bryan joins one of the league’s premier defensive lines and will be stuck behind players like Malik Jackson and Marcel Dareus, while free agent pickup D.J. Hayden will try to replace the under-appreciated slot corner Aaron Colvin. Third Round selection Ronnie Harrison remains stuck behind Tashaun Gipson and Barry Church, and later selections have almost no shot of cracking such a solid lineup. By prioritizing defensive players in the draft and allowing key skill position players to leave in free agency, the offense might struggle to put up enough points in 2018 regardless of the play of their defense.

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For this reason, I expect Jacksonville to take a slight step back next season and believe it is far too early to anoint the Jaguars as the favorites in the AFC South. The Titans already fielded a top five rushing defense that will match up well against a Jacksonville offense that will lean on its running game. The Titans secondary should match up well with a receiving corps that has lost a considerable amount of talent and experience.

On the other side of the football, I expect Tennessee to struggle mightily against a defense that should again be one of the league’s best in 2018.  Marcus Mariota will struggle to pass against a fearsome defensive front and elite secondary. Meanwhile, a rangy linebacking corps and defensive line filled with stout run defenders like Malik Jackson and Calais Campbell will make it hard for Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis to find running room. Although we do not yet know whether Tajae Sharpe or Taywan Taylor will man the slot next season, whichever one comes out on top could be an X factor to watch in this game against newcomer D.J. Hayden who should be the weak spot in the Jacksonville secondary.

This Week 3 contest should turn into a defensive slugfest with few offensive highlights. It’s extremely important to win the turnover battle in this game to get good field position and capitalize on that field position. At this point in the year, I expect the Jaguars to come out on top in a close contest in Jacksonville. Over the course of the season, I anticipate the Jaguars to slowly decline while the Titans get stronger. Jacksonville’s opponents will begin to recognize how to shut down a limited Bortles-led offense and learn which matchups can be exploited in the Jacksonville defense.

On the other hand, the Titans have a ton of untapped potential on both sides of the football that will take some time to develop in 2018. At the same time, the Titans offense does not have the same limitations as Jacksonville, which takes pressure off of the defense and gives this team a higher ceiling against top teams. They will start to peak later in the season when the team faces Jacksonville for a second time, but at this point in the year, I anticipate Jacksonville to hand the Titans their first loss of the season.

Predicted Outcome:  Loss

Current Predicted Record (Updated Each Installment): 2-1

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