JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The days leading up to the Jaguars first primetime home game in four years have been some of the wildest in franchise history. Thursday night, the team will host the Tennessee Titans in a game that could determine the course of the season. Here are my four keys for the Jaguars to beat the Titans:
Overcome the adversity-Last year, the Jaguars did not handle adversity well. After a 3-1 start, the Jaguars lost 10 of their last 12 games. Once things started to go poorly, they couldn't staunch the wound. This season, the Jaguars have seen Telvin Smith step away from the team, starting quarterback Nick Foles knocked out with a broken collarbone, and now, the Jalen Ramsey drama. All of that has overshadowed some positive things that have happened for the team. Notably, the development of the wide receiver corps, especially DJ Chark. Can the Jaguars block out the noise for one night and salvage the start of the season? If they can, they have a chance to get the thing back on track. If not, this could be a long season that ends in major change for the franchise.
First downs-The Jaguars need to possess the ball. Whether that means converting third downs in the passing game or running effectively, the more the Jaguars can pick up first downs the better. Games against Tennessee usually come down to one key play. Lately, Tennessee has made that play and the Jaguars have not (see below). If the Jaguars can protect Gardner Minshew and the intermediate passing game can make a difference, they have a chance to show the nation that they haven't thrown in the towel.
Don't get Titan'ed-The Jaguars have lost the last four games against Tennessee. Going even further back, Jacksonville has won just three of the last 11 meetings. In the history of the Jaguars-Titans rivalry, one of two types of plays usually sinks the Jaguars. A scrambling quarterback or a pass to a tight end. Steve McNair, Vince Young and Marcus Mariota have all hurt the Jaguars with their legs, while Frank Wuycheck, Bo Scaife, and most recently, Delanie Walker have wielded the dagger that has finished off Jaguars' hopes time and time again. The Jaguars need to avoid a play the likes of which has hurt them in the past.
Ramsey impact-I suspect that Jalen Ramsey will be motivated, even more so than he usually is on gameday. Playing on the national stage would be enough, but to be playing against the Titans, his home state team and a team he said he might want to play for takes it up a notch. And, of course, his reaction to the firestorm he created with his sideline antics and trade demand, should add another layer of motivation to the formula. I'll be particularly interested to hear how the fans react to Ramsey. If he was a lesser player, I think the reaction would be negative. Because he is a two-time All-Pro, I expect a mixed reaction from the fans.