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The Jacksonville Jaguars welcome the Tennessee Titans to EverBank Stadium on Sunday. Here are three battles to keep an eye on
After a humbling loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, the Jacksonville Jaguar return to EverBank Stadium this weekend for an AFC South tilt against the Tennessee Titans. Here are three matchups to keep an eye out for:
Trevor Lawrence vs Will Levis
#Jaguars QB Trevor Lawrence asked if there’s a fear that the offense simply won’t get better as they expect.
“Not at all.” pic.twitter.com/ikelR6xLrA
— Demetrius Harvey (@Demetrius82) November 12, 2023
I try my best to avoid quarterback matchups. They don’t go directly against each other in gridiron combat. But ahead of Week 11 I’m going to make an exception, because it seems to me that the fate of these two teams rest directly on QB performance – or more accurately, improvement in performance.
Since exploding onto the scene in his NFL debut against the Falcons, Titans rookie gunslinger Will Levis has fallen down to a more predictable level of output. Tennessee hasn’t been afraid to live and die behind the arm of their newly crowned QB1, with Levis throwing 39 times each the last two weeks. Unfortunately, that has resulted in zero touchdowns, two interceptions and eight sacks. Levis is operating on an offense devoid of weapons and behind a banged up offensive line, making his task all the harder. But he proved against Atlanta that he has the gamer mentality to thrive in a dogfight – and won’t be found hiding should this game turn into something of a shootout.
In a world that wasn’t susceptible to the madness that the NFL serves up on a weekly basis, uttering Will Levis’ name in the same breath as Trevor Lawrence would be considered sacrilegious. But this is a sport that defies logic – and sometimes, Lawrence is a quarterback that also leaves you scratching your head. Supremely talented but maddeningly prone to turnovers, the Jaguars quarterback was supposed to set the league on fire in year three, with a settled coaching staff and a supporting class superior to anything provided in his career to date. Lawrence deserves credit for leading a franchise to five weeks on the bounce, and blatantly has the ability to lead an NFL team – but has he hit the heights of a franchise quarterback selected first overall? A woeful team outing against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday needs banishing to history with a bounceback performance in a key division battle this weekend – and it’s on Lawrence to deliver it. Jacksonville expects.
Tre Herndon vs Chig Okonkwo
Chig Okonkwo led all #Titans TEs with 31 snap counts vs Bucs. pic.twitter.com/GJKOb2ozA1
— TURRON DAVENPORT (@TDavenport_NFL) November 12, 2023
Speaking of Levis’ lack of options; wide receiver Treylon Burks looks certain to miss out on Sunday as he recovers from a concussion. That could mean more gametime on the outside for usual slot receiver Nick Westbrook-Ikhine – and to fill the void, I imagine flex tight end Chig Okonkwo being used in a variety of ways in the middle of the field to give this offense some semblance of dynamism in the passing game. Okonkwo flashed game-changing ability as a rookie, but has been a more consistent target in year two, helping to move the chains and being a real outlet for the variety of quarterbacks the Titans have used this season. He hasn’t hit paydirt yet in 2023, but considering George Kittle’s big day last week, Okonkwo might fancy his chances against the Jaguars defense.
It might be a foolish thought. Last Sunday’s debacle notwithstanding, Mike Caldwell’s unit has been phenomenal so far this season – with significant statistical improvement both up front and in the secondary. Whilst Darious Williams has rightly been taking the plaudits for his playmaking skills on the back end, slot corner Tre Herndon has quietly been having a big year himself. The interceptions haven’t been there, but 6 pass breakups have helped the Jags defense get off the field on third down – the highlight of his campaign coming against the New Orleans Saints on Thursday Night Football in Week 7. Herndon was one of a number of Jaguars who didn’t have the best of afternoons last weekend and will be keen to make amends; he could well be utilized as an ‘eraser’ on Sunday, deployed to remove Levis’ safety blanket in the form of Okonkwo.
Travis Etienne vs Jeffery Simmons
Walking sound-byte (and #Jaguars RB) Travis Etienne Jr…
– Discusses the “hospital ball” Christian Kirk threw to him vs #49ers
– “Not gonna lie, I’m not looking forward to seeing No. 98 all game”
— Mia O’Brien (@MiaOBrienTV) November 16, 2023
Enough about throwing the football. Both these teams claim to want to establish the run – and in Tennessee’s case, it’s the only thing they generally achieve thanks to the hulking Derrick Henry. The Titans’ workhorse will no doubt cause problems like he usually does, but will it really affect the outcome of the game? Is it enough on its own to help the Jaguars’ rivals claim a big divisional win? I doubt it.
Conversely, Jacksonville’s chances of victory rise dramatically if they get Travis Etienne going. Not only does it alleviate the pressure on the aforementioned inconsistent passing game, but their dynamic running back has proven he has the ability to change momentum with timely big plays. In the seven times Etienne has surpassed 50 yards rushing, Jacksonville have won six times. But when Etienne is shut down, so usually are the Jaguars – he was kept below 40 yards by both the Chiefs and the 49ers in big losses. Going up against Chris Jones, or San Francisco’s scary defensive front is no mean feat – and Etienne will face a similar sized task this Sunday…
Jeffery Simmons is once again staking his claim as one of the league’s most deadly defensive tackles. Fresh off back to back Pro Bowl and All-Pro seasons, Simmons is on course to break his own personal bests in tackles and sacks in 2023. In a disappointing season in Tennessee, Simmons remains a bright spot – and head coach Mike Vrabel will be banking on his behemoth defensive lineman to nullify the Jaguars’ ground game, and give his team a glimmer of hope of victory on Sunday.
Which matchups are you looking forward to watching this weekend?
Originally posted on Big Cat Country – All Posts