NFL Preview - Jacksonville (0-8) at Tennessee (4-4)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - As if the Jacksonville Jaguars hadn't suffered quite enough.
Already deep in the ignominy of an 0-8 start to 2013, the Jaguars lost one of their few bright spots after an apparent recurrence of the personal demons of Justin Blackmon.
The Oklahoma State product was the fifth overall selection in the 2012 draft and showed significant glimpses of talent as a rookie while making 64 catches for 865 yards - including an 81-yarder - and scoring five times during an admittedly inglorious 2-14 debut.
And while the 2013 forecasts didn't call for drastically more victories, it was assumed that whatever offensive firepower Jacksonville possessed this year would either involve Blackmon, fellow wideout Cecil Shorts or veteran Maurice Jones-Drew.
It'll be the latter two for what remains of the schedule after Blackmon was suspended indefinitely by the league after a third violation of the NFL's substance-abuse policy. He'd already been forced to sit out the opening four games this year and had made 29 catches for 415 yards and a score in a brief four-week return.
Now, he won't play until at least 2014, which is when he can apply to the league for reinstatement.
"It was disappointing for him and for our team to find out the information," Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said. "For me right now, the best thing for us and our organization is we're focusing on our team and the tasks that we have in front of us."
This week, that means a visit to Tennessee' LP Field on Sunday.
Jacksonville last played two weeks ago in London, where it was routed, 42-10, by the defending NFC champion San Francisco 49ers.
"We really need to take a look at it, whether it's missed tackles, missed assignments or execution," Bradley said. "We did not play things correctly and we need to find out why."
In that game, the aforementioned Jones-Drew - in his eighth season with the Jaguars - ran for 75 yards and caught six passes for 47 more in a season-best performance. Problem was, Jacksonville's defense allowed a whopping 221 on the ground, its second-worst total in eight games.
Nonetheless, the appearance of hope still lingers.
"We got our rest and time away," quarterback Chad Henne said. "It's a new season. We'll try to treat it one game at a time and hopefully, we'll start out with a win. The guys are still hungry."
Henne has started five times and appeared in seven games this season while, for practical purposes, wresting the starting QB job away from Blaine Gabbert. Henne has thrown for two TDs and five interceptions in his five starts, in which he's averaged 265 yards per game.
He faced the Titans last season as well and threw three INTs, two of which were returned for scores, in a 38-20 loss in Nashville.
"We have eight games left," Henne said. "You can go 8-8 or you can go the other way and go 0-8. If we can take care of what we need to take care of, who knows what can happen."
While the Jaguars are hoping to salvage a positive end to the season, their Week 10 hosts are still playing for a trifle more than just the ability to smile when looking in the mirror.
A 28-21 win at St. Louis last week ended a three-game losing streak and perhaps signaled the reawakening of running back Chris Johnson, a former 2,000-yard star who busted loose for 150 of the Titans' season-best 198 rush yards against the Rams.
Johnson had been averaging a career-low 3.7 yards per carry and the team had logged just 80.3 yards rushing per game after opening the year with a 119.8 averaging in the initial four.
Jacksonville, incidentally, is the league's worst rush defense (161.8 yards per game) and has allowed a league-high 13 rush TDs in eight games.
"That's our formula to win," coach Mike Munchak said. "The running game really is what made it happen.Any offense wants to be able to do that. If we can control the line of scrimmage, get the running game going like that, it just opens up a lot of things."
Tennessee is a solid second in the AFC South Division, two games behind the front-running Indianapolis Colts, whom they'll face in Week 11's Thursday game. The Titans are a half-game behind the New York Jets, whom they've already beaten this season, in the race for the final conference wild card playoff spot.
"This is the meat of the deal with two division games in 10 days," Munchak said. "You win the next one then the next one becomes an even bigger game. We know we have to make our move, and (beating the Rams) was part of that. We needed that in a big way, and we got it. Now it's Jacksonville."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Feeling run down.
It's all right there in the statistics. The Titans consider the run game their key element toward success. The Jaguars' inability to stop the run game has been among myriad elements that have prevented them from having success. Put the two together on Tennessee's home field while the visitors may be hung over from the loss of a teammate and it could be another big day for CJ2K.
Crank up the old engine.
When a team is 0-8, it goes to great lengths to find positives on which to build. In this case, the Jaguars do still have a guy in Jones-Drew who's been among the league's best for several years. He had his best game of the year in his last start, and the Titans are 26th in the league when it comes to stopping the run. Hope springs eternal.
It's pretty hard to make a compelling case for Jacksonville beating many teams at this point. And now that the Jaguars are coming off the loss of a teammate and traveling on the road to face a motivated opponent, it's even harder.
More likely than a paradigm-shifting win is a periodically competitive contest that ultimately sees the Titans take a lead and hold onto it thanks to the efforts of Johnson and QB Jake Locker.