NFL Preview - Tennessee (4-6) at Jacksonville (1-9)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Problem: You're an NFL team trying to sneak back into the
Solution: Schedule two games against the league's worst opponent.
The Tennessee Titans, two games out of AFC's postseason grid to begin the
week, have commissioner Roger Goodell to thank for the scheduling quirk
that'll have them facing the one-win Jacksonville Jaguars twice in the final
Game one comes Sunday at EverBank Field in northeast Florida, where the hosts
come in after an impressive -- albeit losing -- effort in an overtime defeat
against Houston that extended its latest skid to seven games.
Tennessee, meanwhile, is pursuing Pittsburgh and Cincinnati for the
conference's two wild card positions on the heels of a 37-3 rout at Miami last
week -- its largest victory since a 40-point blowout of St. Louis in 2009.
"(A big playoff push) seems to happen every year in the league," Titans coach
Mike Munchak said.
"This is our opportunity, our chance to be that team. That's how they have to
believe it, that's how they have to work."
Having a foe that's allowed 31.3 points per week over seven straight losses
Revving his engines for a crack at that defense is former league standout
Chris Johnson, who's bounced back to average 130.4 yards per game and 6.7 per
carry in his last five games after going for 42 and 2.9, respectively, in the
Jacksonville is 29th in the league against the run, surrendering 137.3 yards
Also back in the fold again in quarterback Jake Locker, who missed five games
with a left shoulder issue before returning for the win against the Dolphins
in which he threw for two touchdowns while racking up the initial road win of
his brief career.
The Jaguars were lit up by Texans QB Matt Schaub, whose final yardage total of
527 -- along with five touchdowns -- was second-best in NFL history.
"(The shoulder) doesn't feel any better or worse than it did going into the
Miami game," Locker said. "It feels strong and I expect it to be that way the
rest of the year."
Speaking of bad left shoulders, Jacksonville lost its starting passer for the
rest of the season with one when Blaine Gabbert tore the labrum in his in the
opening quarter last week.
Miami castoff Chad Henne stepped in and threw for 354 yards against Houston
and had been named the starter for this week by coach Mike Mularkey even
before Gabbert went on injured reserve.
"He just came out and made a lot of things happen, and that's what we're
looking for," Mularkey said. "Just to try to find the production that's going
to help us win the game."
Henne was 13-18 over four seasons with the Dolphins while throwing five more
interceptions than touchdowns. He clicked immediately with rookie wide
receiver Justin Blackmon, who caught seven balls for 236 yards and a score
Blackmon had 250 yards for the season entering the game.
Optimistically, the Jaguars also face a team that's been porous defensively
while allowing 30 or more points seven times in 10 games. They'll have to face
them without running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who's out again with an injured
Wide receiver Laurent Robinson will also not play after sustaining a fourth
concussion of the year last week.
The teams split their 2011 meetings, each winning at home, and Tennessee leads
the all-time series, 19-15, while winning three of the last five.
Munchak is 1-1 in his career against the Jaguars, while Mularkey has never
faced the Titans.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Jaguars became a viable offensive force -- compared to what they'd been in
the early season, that is -- when Henne went under center and instantly
clicked with Blackmon, the No. 5 overall pick in April's draft.
Blackmon caught a 63-yard pass on the second series with Henne and later had
an 81-yard touchdown. If Henne can do that again, while also incorporating
Cecil Shorts (32 catches, 642 yards, five touchdowns in 2012), Jacksonville
could play spoiler here and perhaps more in the season's final stages while he
puts himself in the conversation for next year's starting gig.
There's reason for optimism with Henne under center for the Jaguars, but it's
probably too early -- after one abbreviated performance as a substitute -- to
lean on them against a superior foe that's still considering itself playoff
Instead, expect Tennessee's Johnson to carry the flow of the game while Locker
works himself back into full-on healthy mode. Those two should be enough to
stretch the Jacksonville misery to eight in a row, but it could be fun while