As we all prepare for the start of the 2020 NFL season, let’s take a look at the four teams of the AFC South. New quarterbacks, old quarterbacks with new teams, teams completely shaking it up, we have it all in the AFC South.
The Titans ended their 2019 campaign playing in the AFC Championship game. They came up short against the team that would turn out to be the Super Bowl Champions, the Kansas City Chiefs. They were led by veteran quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who was picked up via trade with the Miami Dolphins, who had replaced long time QB Marcus Mariota.
One of the biggest questions surrounding the Houston Texans right now is, what is the team’s identity? We hear this statement every season regarding one team or another. What constitutes a team identity anyway?
I heard it all day following the Texans loss to the Broncos. The analyst said this team is searching for their identity. Ok, well did they have their identity when they beat the Patriots the week before? I always found this phrase more associated with teams that are young and still working on continuity, not teams 15 weeks into the season.
Houston has far bigger problems then hoping to find an “identity”. They are sitting at 8-5 and tied with a red hot Tennessee Titans team right now. A team who have reeled off 4 straight wins in a row behind new quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
Heading into week 10, with the Texans and Jaguars on byes, the Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts looked to try and gain ground on division-leading Houston Texans.
The Titans opened up week 10 against the Kanas City Chiefs, which saw the return of Chiefs MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
And he looked every part of that during the opening drive, going 6 of 8 and hitting tight end Travis Kelce for a 3-yard touchdown pass. While the Chiefs offense and Maholmes got off to a great start, the Chiefs defense struggled with the Titans ground and pound run game.
This week, I got a chance to talk with Antwan Staley (@antwanstaley) about the AFC South.
It seems the NFL has been plagued with more quarterback issues than usual, and this division definitely has it’s share of those. From Andrew Luck leaving the Colts to the Jaguars going all-in on Nick Foles only to lose him to injury to Marcus Mariota getting benched for Ryan Tannehill, what more could go wrong?
So I figured, who better to ask about what’s going on in the AFC South then my friend Antwan?
Staley is a football writer, an @EastCarolina alumni, a self-proclaimed “Hip Hop historian” and Chicken Wing Connoisseur. He has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. He has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders.
The Jacksonville Jaguars have locked in their spot in the playoffs, so there will be no change if they win or lose. However, head coach Doug Marrone has said they’ll play to win and will start the ones. Some may think this is foolish, but this tough guy mentality is exactly why they’re the #3 seed.
Tennessee, on the other hand, must win or have both the Chargers and Bills lose. Based on this, they will be going full bore. If the Jaguars do indeed show up to play, it might not be enough. It’s in Jacksonville’s best interest to lose because the Titans would travel to Jacksonville and they’d be the easiest of the three teams they could face.
Tennessee Titans quarterbackMarcus Mariota has been all over the place this season due to injuries. He beat Jacksonville week two because Jaguars QB Blake Bortles turned the ball over five times and the defense looked as if they just gave up. Up until he did that though, Jacksonville defense looked good. Plus, defensive tackle Marcell Dareus hadn’t been signed yet.
With Mariota far from being at the top of his game, Tennessee has one weapon and that’s their run game. While Jacksonville is 21st in stopping run yards, they’re tied for 8th in allowing rushing TDs at 9.
Tennessee, on the other hand, is tops at stopping the run and not allowing TDs. Running back Leonard Fournette will have his work cut out for him. Luckily for Jacksonville, the Titans are ranked 25th at stopping the pass, so if the run isn’t successful, the pass is there.
Bortles has 18 TDs and no interceptions in the red zone. Last season, Mariota was a leader in this category, but no more and that’s where Bortles can really hurt the Titans.
For the Titans, they’re facing the number one pass defense in the league whereas Mariota is ranked 21st, so this is not a good match-up for them. Combine that with Jacksonville leading the league with 52 sacks and Tennessee allowing 32, that’s another bad matchup.
Even though Jacksonville has had a series of injuries on their offensive line, Bortles is among the least sacked at 22. The Titans, however, are 5th in sacking the QB. Tackle Cam Robinson is listed as questionable. It will be tough to see Marrone starting him with the playoffs next week, so that’s where the Titans could attack.
The key for the Titans is to run the ball and keep Bortles from scrambling. He’s a bigger guy than people think and doesn’t go down easy. This has allowed him from being sacked often even with a hurt offensive line
The key for Jacksonville is to stop the run and get in Mariota’s face. He’s playing scared because of the injuries and will want to dump the ball quickly. This has lead to a season of interceptions.
While it would benefit the Jaguars to lose, I can only see this happening if Marrone plays the second string. Jacksonville is a better team on every level and will want to beat their division rival.