Coaches and players said they focused on what they perceived was the Jacksonville Jaguars’ biggest weakness. That obviously was smart.
Then again maybe – just maybe – the Tennessee Titans finally admitted to themselves what it is they don’t do well – namely run the football. That would be even smarter.
If you watched the Tennessee Titans defeat the Jacksonville Jaguars 23-17 you saw a different approach offensively.
Finally, there was no relentless determination to run the ball, particularly on early downs. Through the first three quarters the Titans threw it 15 times on first down and ran it six, not counting a kneel-down on the final snap of the first half.
Five of their seven longest gains of the contest came on first-down passes. Those included three significant throws to tight end Jared Cook – one for 55 yards and touchdown, and two others for 24 and 18 yards – who produced the best day of his career.
The production was not surprising. The Jaguars, after all, had lost three of their four Week 1 starters in the secondary (several backups too) to injury during the course of the season. If ever there was an opportunity to throw the ball and to do so effectively, this was it.
When all was said and done, Tennessee had 407 yards of total offense and 350 yards passing, both the second-highest figures of the season, respectively.
“We kind of looked at the first 15 [plays] script and saw there was a little change up from the normal and we kind of got excited,” Cook said. “So, kudos to [offensive coordinator Chris] Palmer for kind of doing that and catching the defense off guard.”
Running back Chris Johnson, the cause of much consternation throughout this season for his (first) training camp holdout in pursuit of a new contract and (second) his significant decrease in production over the previous three years, finished with 56 yards on 15 carries.
It certainly was not his – or anyone else’s – best day. By any standards, those numbers were pedestrian.
Still, it was better than most he’s had in 2011 in that it was an effective performance. He got yards when the Titans needed him to do so, i.e. the fourth quarter.
It’s no surprise that the Titans’ best period, in terms of time of possession, was the last one. They held the ball for 9:41 of the final 15 minutes.
Each of their final six first-down plays during that time were runs. All of them gained yards. Never mind that it was not necessarily a lot of yards, it was enough for Palmer to call another run on second down following five of those six runs.
Johnson’s longest rush of the game was his last – and his best. It went for 13 yards and ended when he went to the ground untouched rather than go out of bounds in order to keep the clock running. That decision led to the two-minute warning, and from there quarterback Matt Hasselbeck took a knee three straight times.
“When you know what goal is at stake and when you know you are trying to make it to the playoffs and things like that, it’s not a hard decision [to get down],” Johnson said.
What’s at stake for the final game of the regular season is blatantly obvious. The Titans have to win at Houston and hope for favorable results elsewhere in order to make it to the playoffs.
The best way to get that victory is to be honest with themselves about who they are and what they have become on offense.
Anyone who has watched knows – for whatever reason – they’re better at throwing than running. Maybe Saturday’s game against Jacksonville was enough to prove it to the Titans themselves.