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NFL Preview - Jacksonville (3-3) at Tennessee (0-6)



By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor

(Sports Network) - Tennessee Titans head coach Jeff Fisher certainly knows how to stir up controversy among his fan base, and hopes his recent actions can enliven his winless squad.

Fisher sported a Colts Peyton Manning jersey at a charity fundraiser soon after the Titans, who went an NFL-best 13-3 a year ago, suffered an embarrassing 59-0 loss at New England on October 18 to fall to 0-6 for the first time since 1984, when the then-Houston Oilers lost their first 10 games. Fisher said the gesture was intended for fun, but a Titans fan base already predisposed to anger given the team's start weren't doing much laughing about the incident.

The Titans will try to calm fan unrest on Sunday afternoon, when they return from the bye week to host the AFC South-rival Jacksonville Jaguars at LP Field. Tennessee will also be in search of a measure of revenge, since the Jaguars handed Tennessee a 37-17 loss back in Week 4 in northern Florida. That was the first in a stretch of games that has seen Tennessee outscored, 127-26, over their last three outings. The once-dominant defense of a year ago is now last in the league in points allowed (33.0), and 31st in total yards surrendered (405.7). First-year defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil is dealing with a rash of injuries in addition to lackluster performances among his group.

Cecil's defense could get something of a break given the upcoming schedule, as the Titans are slated to play six times at home over the final 10 contests, after competing on the road in four of the season's first six weeks.

Tennessee is mired in a quarterback controversy as well as Week 8 begins. Early last season, veteran Kerry Collins took over the starting job for an ineffective Vince Young, who is now receiving support to get his old job back. So far, Fisher has remained coy on the topic, but according to the Tennessean, Titans team owner Bud Adams wants Young to start under center. Fisher then named Young the starter after Thursday's practice. Young took over for an impotent Collins during an 0-5 start in 2006, and his only experience this season has come in the last two blowout losses.

Tennessee is one of three remaining winless teams in the league -- St. Louis and Tampa Bay are both 0-7 -- and Fisher needs to do something to stop an eight-game losing streak dating to last season, including a playoff loss to the Ravens.

Jacksonville, meanwhile, has won three of its last four games since opening the 2009 campaign with back-to-back losses. Like the Titans, the Jaguars are also coming off a bye week and headed to the break with a scary 23-20 overtime victory versus the winless Rams on October 18. The Jags had 492 total yards of offense in the nail-biter, with 166 rushing yards and 326 yards through the air. The 492 yards were the fourth-most in Jacksonville history and most since 2000.

The defense has been an issue for head coach Jack Del Rio, whose pass defense is rated 31st in the league, allowing 262.0 yards a game. News didn't get any better on that front during the team's bye week, as top cornerback Rashean Mathis is likely not suitably recovered from a broken left index finger suffered against the Rams. Mathis underwent surgery to repair the damage and is listed as doubtful for Sunday's showdown.

The Jags have been reasonably explosive on the offensive side of the ball most weeks, and running back Maurice Jones-Drew is the catalyst. Jones-Drew recorded 133 yards and three touchdowns against the Rams, and enters Week 8 tied for the NFL lead in touchdowns (8) along with the Vikings' Adrian Peterson. The win over the Rams marked the second time he went over the 100-yard rushing mark this season, having posted 119 yards and three scores in a win at Houston in Week 3.

Jones-Drew has a light schedule ahead of him, as five of the eight games that follow the Titans bout will be played at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium and just two of the opponents sport winning records. If the Jaguars have any interest in making a playoff run, it starts this week against the suddenly- lowly Titans, followed by a bout against one-win Kansas City. This Sunday's game in Tennessee could go a long way in determining whether the Jaguars have enough to be a playoff contender.

SERIES HISTORY

Tennessee leads the all-time regular season series with the Jaguars, 16-13, but as mentioned, was a 37-17 loser when it visited Jacksonville in Week 4. The Titans pulled off a home-and-home sweep of the Jaguars last year, including a 17-10 home victory in Week 1 and a 24-14 triumph at Jacksonville in Week 11. The Jags last won in Tennessee in 2007, and last pulled off a home-and-home sweep of the Titans in 2005.

In addition to the regular season series, the teams have met once in the playoffs, with Tennessee scoring a 33-14 road victory in the 1999 AFC Championship.

Fisher is 17-13 versus Jacksonville all-time, including the aforementioned playoff win. The Jaguars' Del Rio is 6-7 against both Fisher and the Titans in his career.

WHEN THE JAGUARS HAVE THE BALL

While the Titans are struggling at quarterback, Jags signal-caller David Garrard (1,464 yards, 5 TDs, 3 INTs) has been inconsistent as well. Garrard passed for 335 yards in the win over the Rams but had two interceptions, one of which was returned 36 yards for a potentially fatal fourth-quarter touchdown. The East Carolina product has failed to throw a touchdown pass in four of his six starts this season, and last tossed one against the Titans on Oct. 4th. Protection has been an issue, as Garrard has been sacked 14 times this season too. Still, Jacksonville ranks a respectable 14th in NFL passing, averaging 233.3 yards per game, and wideout Mike Sims-Walker (398 yards, 3 TDs) has been a pleasant surprise. Sims-Walker recorded 120 yards on nine catches against the Rams, and has caught at least six passes this season with no less than 81 yards receiving. He leads the Jags with 28 catches, while veteran Torry Holt (407 yards) is ahead in yards. Holt comes off his first 100-yard game as a Jag, but hasn't reached the end zone.

As stated, Cecil's defense has struggled this season after an impressive showing under former coordinator Jim Schwartz in 2008. The pass defense is dead last in the league, surrendering 310.7 yards per game through the air. and has allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 73.9 percent of their passes and throw for at least 300 yards five times in six games. It has surrendered 19 touchdown passes in six games this season after allowing just 12 in all of last season. Injuries haven't helped. Cornerback Nick Harper (38 tackles) is out indefinitely with a broken forearm, and fellow CB Cortland Finnegan (17 tackles) is questionable against the Jaguars after missing two games with a hamstring injury. Safeties Chris Hope (40 tackles, INT) and Michael Griffin (29 tackles) are healthy, and Tennessee's best hope to improve the secondary at this stage.

Versatile back Jones-Drew (463 yards, 8 TDs) is five TDs away from matching his career-high set in his rookie campaign of 2006. The fireplug back is coming off a workhorse performance of 133 yards and three TDs on a season-high 33 carries against St. Louis, and will head into the Titans tilt with a well- deserved extra week of rest. The former UCLA star has helped Jacksonville to an 18-4 mark since 2006, when the team records 150 rushing yards or more. He wasn't used that much in the first meeting with Tennessee, recording just six touches for 14 yards and a score. Jones-Drew has posted seven rushing touchdowns in his last four games. Garrard is second on the team in rushing with 140 yards and a score on 26 rushes for the Jaguars, who are 11th in the league in rushing yards per game with 122 per game. The Jags may find trouble running against the Titans, who are ninth in rush defense.

Tennessee's tough run defense has been led by linebacker Keith Bulluck (55 yards, TD) for the better part of this decade, and this year has been no different. Bulluck has recorded double-digits in tackles in two straight and four of his last five games, and will make his 120th straight start this Sunday versus Jacksonville. Bulluck, the franchise's third all-time leading tackler, is coming off a 14-tackle performance against New England. Fellow LBs Stephen Tulloch (57 tackles) and David Thornton (32 tackles) have been solid this season despite the overall struggles on the Titans' defense. Tulloch leads the squad in stops and is playing behind a front line that needs to step it up this week. End Kyle Vanden Bosch (19 tackles) is still searching for his first sack of the season. Defensive tackle Jason Jones (11 tackles, 3 sacks) leads the team in sacks, which is rare from that position, while fellow DT Tony Brown (12 tackles, 2 sacks) is right behind with two. Brown leads the unit with eight QB pressures. In addition to getting to Garrard, the Titans have to make stopping Jones-Drew a top priority.

WHEN THE TITANS HAVE THE BALL

Collins has been the victim of many dropped passes, but that's no excuse for his poor play so far in 2009. Collins (1,071 yards, 5 TDs, 8 INTs) couldn't have had a worse showing the last time out against the Patriots, as he completed just 2-of-12 passes for minus-7 yards with an interception. The Titans pass attack enters Week 8 ranked 25th in the NFL, and the team is 29th in points scored and 22nd in total yards. If Fisher opts for Young as the starter, then the offense will have to adjust to his tendencies. Young has appeared in only two games this season, both in mop-up duty. Nate Washington (150 yards, 3 TDs) leads the team in TD receptions, while rookie Kenny Britt is tops in catches (19) and yards (289). Justin Gage (164 yards, TD) and tight end Alge Crumpler (127 yards) hope to contribute against Jacksonville's 31st- ranked pass defense as well.

The Jaguars are banged up at cornerback, which may give Tennessee life no matters who plays quarterback. As mentioned, Mathis (18 tackles, 2 INTs) is doubtful with a surgically-repaired broken finger, while both cornerbacks Scott Starks (7 tackles) and Brian Witherspoon (2 tackles) have already missed significant time with injuries. Witherspoon was back at practice riding a stationary bike earlier this week. Rookie cornerback Derek Cox (34 tackles, 2 INTs) has played in all six games this season and is third on the team in tackles. Del Rio has two talented safeties in Reggie Nelson (32 tackles) and Gerald Alexander (24 tackles, INT), who combined for 10 tackles against St. Louis.

Titans running back Chris Johnson (506 yards, 2 TDs) is battling through a minor sophomore slump, with the team's frequent large deficits contributing to that situation, though Johnson had his first 100-yard rushing game against the Patriots since a Week 2 setback against Houston. Johnson is currently fifth in the NFL in rushing after he concluded his rookie season in 2008 ranked eighth in the NFL with 1,228 yards. Johnson is fortunate enough to play behind a veteran line that has helped him average 6.3 yards per carry. The Titans are sixth in the NFL in rushing, though the streaky LenDale White (148 yards, TD). has yet to contribute much to that total. White has only 39 carries through the first six games.

The Jaguars are 13th in the NFL against the run this season, allowing 98.8 yards per game, and are sure to get a healthy dose of Tennessee's running back tandem. Jacksonville hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher all season thanks to big tackles John Henderson (13 tackles) and Terrance Knighton (11 tackles) plugging the gaps, while ends Derrick Harvey (17 tackles) and Atiyyah Ellison (8 tackles, sack) are collapsing the ends. The Jaguars are at the bottom of the league in sacks this season (5) and could really use some pressure up front whether Collins or Young calls the plays. Del Rio, a former NFL linebacker, has to be pleased with his trio of young LBs in leading tackler Daryl Smith (38 tackles), Justin Durant (35 tackles) and Clint Ingram (20 tackles, sack). The Jaguars have 10 takeaways in the first six weeks with five interceptions and five fumble recoveries.

FANTASY FOCUS

Despite his inconsistency, Johnson is always a must-start on potential alone. White has been a non-factor and is not worth starting in this matchup. Tennessee's defense is a gamble for this week's matchup, but give it a shot due to improving health and the home crowd in its corner. Britt and Washington are a reach to be used only if you're desperate. Much like Johnson, Titans kicker Rob Bironas should be in the lineup every week.

The Jaguars have two obvious starters for fantasy owners this week in Jones- Drew and Sims-Walker. Whether or not the hyphen has something to do with it, those two have been the MVPs of the Jacksonville offense. Don't use Garrard unless you must because a starter has a bye, but give the Jags' defense a chance this week against a winless team on the road. Unfortunately, Holt has not been relevant to the fantasy world for a few years now.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

Tennessee's defense will come alive this week in a showdown with its AFC South rival on Sunday. Reaching the playoffs again is an extreme long shot for the Titans, given that no team in NFL history has recovered from 0-5 to make the postseason, much less 0-6, Despite the record, Johnson and the offensive line have been playing well, a situation that will be more evident than usual on Sunday. The Jaguars, currently third in the division behind Houston and unbeaten Indianapolis, can't win every game riding the short and powerful legs of Jones-Drew, and will need to display more variety in order to complete the sweep of the Jaguars. Jacksonville also has a tough defense, but this time, the Titans' unit will be remembered for theirs.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Titans 20, Jaguars 13

10/30 10:04:31 ET

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