NFL Preview - Tennessee (0-3) at Jacksonville (1-2)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The Tennessee Titans could be encouraged by the fact that they have been in position to win all three of their games so far this season. That is unlikely to make the club feel any better about its 0-3 start, however.
Desperate Tennessee goes for that so-far-elusive first win of 2009 this Sunday in a AFC South battle at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium with the Jaguars, who are fresh of their first victory of the season.
The Titans won their first 10 games to begin last year en route to a 13-3 overall mark, but have so far been shut out of the win column this year despite getting outscored by a total of just 13 points. They dropped back-to- back three-point tests against Pittsburgh (13-10, OT) and Houston (34-31) before suffering a 24-17 setback to the New York Jets last weekend.
Tennessee rallied from an early two-touchdown deficit to take a 17-14 lead against the Jets, but the club managed just three first downs after moving in front during the third quarter. Quarterback Kerry Collins was picked off twice in the game, including once in the fourth quarter, while punt returner Ryan Mouton fumbled away a pair of kicks.
Coming off a career-high 197 rushing yards in the loss to the Texans, running back Chris Johnson added 97 yards on 22 carries last Sunday, but it wasn't enough to help Tennessee avoid its worst start since beginning 2006 with five losses in a row.
Jacksonville lost its first two games of 2009, including a tough two-point setback to Indianapolis in Week 1, but finally hit the win column with last Sunday's 31-24 victory in Houston.
Maurice Jones-Drew carried the scoring load, rushing for a career-high three touchdowns while totaling 119 yards on 23 carries. The versatile back, who added another four catches for 28 yards in the victory, scored the game- winning touchdown from eight yards out early in the fourth quarter before the Jacksonville defense took over.
The Jaguars held the Texans to just 67 yards over their final three drives, forcing a pair of punts before Jacksonville's Daryl Smith recovered a Chris Brown fumble in the Jaguars' end zone with two minutes left for a touchback.
Jacksonville has outscored its opponents 20-0 in the fourth quarter this season.
Tennessee leads the all-time regular season series with the Jaguars, 16-12, including a home-and-home sweep last year. The Titans earned a 17-10 home victory when the teams met in Week 1 of the 2008 campaign, and completed the sweep with a 24-14 win at Jacksonville in Week 11. The Jags last defeated Tennessee in 2007, when they prevailed by a 13-10 count on the road. The Titans are 2-0 in Jacksonville since sustaining a 37-7 rout there in 2006.
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.
Titans head coach Fisher is 17-12 versus Jacksonville all-time, including the aforementioned playoff win. The Jaguars' Jack Del Rio is 5-7 against both Fisher and the Titans in his career.
WHEN THE TITANS HAVE THE BALL
The Titans certainly haven't gone winless because of their running game. They rank sixth in the league with an average of 151 yards per game on the ground, while Johnson (351 rushing yards, 11 receptions, 3 total TD) leads the AFC in rushing. The other half of Tennessee's backfield duo, LenDale White, finally found the end zone for the first time this season in Sunday's win. White, though, has only managed 195 rushing yards and one touchdown in six career games versus Jacksonville. Johnson has 157 without a rushing score in two games against the Jaguars, though he has caught a touchdown pass in the series. Collins (630 passing yards, 4 TD) threw for 170 yards against the Jets, but his two picks gave him four on the season after he threw just seven a year ago. Wide receiver Nate Washington (7 receptions, 2 TD) hauled in a scoring pass, while rookie Kenny Britt (10 receptions) led the club with 59 receiving yards on four receptions. Tight end Alge Crumpler (10 receptions) and wideout Justin Gage (13 receptions, 1 TD) also made four catches apiece. Gage owns three touchdown catches in five career games versus Jacksonville, including two the last time he faced the Jaguars. Collins has been sacked five times this year.
Collins has had some success versus the Jaguars in the past, and may find it tempting to air it out against them this weekend due to the fact that Jacksonville is allowing 281.7 passing yards per game, ranked 31st in the NFL. Houston's Matt Schaub threw for 300 yards and three touchdowns against the Jaguars last week. Jacksonville did intercept Schaub once in addition to its last fumble recovery, giving the club six turnovers forced over the first three weeks. The Jags' secondary, led by corner Rashean Mathis (10 tackles, 1 INT) and safety Reggie Nelson (19 tackles), should also have an easier time with Tennessee's receivers than it did with Houston's unit. Linebacker Justin Durant (28 tackles) led Jacksonville with eight tackles versus the Texans, while Smith (24 tackles) added seven in addition to his big fumble recovery. Linebacker Clint Ingram (13 tackles) and defensive tackle Montavious Stanley each had a sack, giving the Jags just three on the season. Mathis, who logged an interception versus Houston, has six picks in 12 career games versus Tennessee, his highest total against any one team.
WHEN THE JAGUARS HAVE THE BALL
In his first season as Jacksonville's featured back, Jones-Drew had his best game of 2009 last Sunday. He upped his season touchdown total to four, tied for second in the league, and has run for 282 yards in addition to making 13 receptions for another 71 yards. The 5-foot-7 back has gone over 100 yards rushing just once in six games versus the Titans as the departed Fred Taylor's backup, but is averaging 4.5 yards per carry with four touchdowns against Tennessee. Jacksonville should lean on Jones-Drew, as quarterback David Garrard (618 passing yards, 1 INT) has only thrown two touchdown passes over the first three games. He did run for a score last weekend and has thrown eight touchdown passes to nine picks in 11 games versus the Titans. Wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker (12 receptions, 1 TD) hauled in a career high-tying six passes for a second straight week and totaled 81 yards in the Houston game, while Torry Holt (12 receptions) added three catches for 57 yards. Holt, who won a Super Bowl while with the Rams against Tennessee, is still looking for his first TD catch in a Jags uniform.
The Titans are likely going to concentrate on shutting down Jones-Drew and stand a good chance of doing so, seeing as they own the second-best run defense (60.7 ypg) in the NFL. They limited the Jets' duo of Thomas Jones and Leon Washington to 66 yards on 26 carries last weekend, but did allow rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez to throw for two scores and run for another. Tennessee ranks 28th in the league in pass defense, yielding 274.7 yards per game. Linebacker Keith Bulluck (25 tackles), who has started 116 straight games, led the Titans with 10 tackles a week ago and has posted double-digit tackles in six of his 14 career starts versus the Jaguars. Safety Chris Hope (21 tackles) intercepted his first pass of the season a week ago, while defensive end Jacob Ford and defensive tackle Tony Brown (2 sacks) both notched sacks. Brown also forced a fumble in the victory. Linebacker Stephen Tulloch (29 tackles) made nine tackles against the Jets. Defensive end Jevon Kearse had 10 1/2 sacks in his career versus Jacksonville, the most against any one opponent.
Though Jacksonville has struggled against the pass, don't expect game-changing fantasy points from Collins. However, with bye weeks beginning, Collins does slip into sleeper status due to the matchup. Johnson owners shouldn't be too worried about White's touchdown last week, as the AFC's leading rusher should continue to get the bulk of the carries against a mediocre run defense. Nate Washington has recorded a touchdown catch in back-to-back weeks, but Gage remains the Titans' top threat at receiver. Both could post good numbers against Jacksonville.
Though the Titans are ranked second versus the run, don't fear the matchup in regards to Jones-Drew. He has put up numbers in the past against Tennessee despite sharing carries and is a threat to catch passes out of the backfield as well. Start him with confidence. Holt warrants some consideration for a start and Sims-Walker is worth keeping an eye on, but Garrard has struggled too much to be relied on this weekend. Neither defense is worth a look, as both units are allowing over 20 points per game.
It is do-or-die time for the Titans. They have yet to post a win over what can be considered a brutal six-game start to the season, and on paper this looks like their best shot at a victory, with games against Indianapolis and New England on the horizon. As long as Collins doesn't turn the ball over, the Titans should be able to dictate things with their ground game. On the other side of things, the Titans' defense will have its hands full with Jones-Drew, who will be looking to get the Jaguars to .500 for the season. We don't see Tennessee going 0-4, though, even with this matchup taking place in Jacksonville.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Titans 20, Jaguars 17
10/01 16:50:22 ET