Our second edition of “Thursday Night Football” this season pits two AFC South foes against one another in the middle of the week for the fifth time in six years. Coming off two wildly different results, theTennessee Titans(1-1) are traveling to TIAA Bank Field to take on theJacksonville Jaguars(0-2), who have had to rally around a mustachioed man-child under center.
Here’s what to watch for ahead of Thursday evening’s clash of theTitans(and the Jaguars) on NFL Network:
On Thursday evening, Ramsey will don aJaguarsuniform and play for the team that drafted him fifth overall in 2016, perhaps for the last time. Jacksonville’s star corner, the face (and voice) of their franchise, the defining personality of the Sacksonville defense, asked for a trade following the Jags’ Week 2 loss in Houston during which he got into a sideline spat with coach Doug Marrone. The two have since insisted the exchange is water under the Dames Point Bridge and thatthe fight is behind them, but even if Ramsey plays on Thursday, as is expected, his career in Duval could soon be behind him as well; if Ramsey is to be traded, it is expected to happen on Friday, according to NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport.
So in what could be Jalen’s last jamboree in Jacksonville, how will theJaguarsuse him? The CB’s frustration with the organization reportedly stems from him playing more zone coverage and less man-to-man than he would prefer. Could Jacksonville have Ramsey follow Tennessee’s No. 1 receiver on Thursday night? And who even is Tennessee’s No. 1 receiver?Corey Davis, Tennessee’s top-five pick from 2017, is the third-most targeted WR (8) behind tight endDelanie Walker(12) and 2019 second-round pickA.J. Brown(9). In four previous meetings against Jacksonville, Davis saw just two targets and no receptions vs. Ramsey in coverage, according to Pro Football Focus. Overall, Ramsey has allowed 10 receptions, 124 yards and no scores in coverage in six games against Tennessee. Whoever is matched up against Ramsey figures to have a quiet night; the CB is coming off holding perhaps the game’s rangiest receiver,DeAndre Hopkins, to four receptions for 27 yards in coverage.
How quiet trade talks for Ramsey will be during and after TNF, however, is a factor not even Next Gen Stats can quantify.
2. WillDerrick Henrypick up where he left off?
Last theJaguarssaw of Henry, they saw the back of him, as he ran away from them, again and again, during their Thursday night matchup in Week 14 of 2018. It was in that game that Henry tore off a NFL-record 99-yard tackle-breaking scamper that sent Tennessee’s crowd into hysterics and the running back on a league-best tear. Since the start of that ‘TNF’ game, in which Henry racked up 238 rushing yards and four rushing TDs on just 17 carries, Henry has been the most productive back in the league. In the last six regular-season games, Henry leads all backs in rushing yards (750), rushing TDs (9), scrimmage yards (858) and scrimmage TDs (10). The back has 80-plus rushing yards in six straight games, the league’s longest active streak.
Tennessee is feeding the big back, but will he slow against the Jags in Duval? In three games in Jacksonville, Henry has averaged 54 rushing yards on 12 carries. The 2019 Jags, however, have allowed over 100 rushing yards in each of their first two games, both losses, allowing starting opposing backsLeSean McCoyandCarlos Hydeto each go over 80 yards. Against what is the least dynamic offense they’ve faced so far, theJaguarsshould fare better against Henry’sTitans. But the tailback has very recently burned the Jags, and no defense has shut him down since.
Minshew Mania got off to a slow start in the rookie quarterback’s first start in the NFL. Filling in for the injuredNick Foles, Minshew was unable to repeat in Houston his Week 1 understudy breakout, leading just one scoring drive in Jacksonville’s first nine marches against theTexans. But Minshew did lead a would-be game-tying drive late in the fourth quarter and lead theJaguarsin rushing in their close defeat. Jacksonville would’ve come away with the win had Fournette extended the ball across the goal line on his second effort on the Jags’ two-point conversion attempt. Jacksonville was criticized for taking the ball out of Minshew’s hands in that moment, considering he was responsible for picking up all but one of the first downs on the drive and for tossing the eventual touchdown. But that argument underlied a deeper philosophical fission in Jacksonville’s building: With Foles on the sideline, who should power this offense to victory?
Fournette has averaged 14 carries and 4.0 YPC through two games, better than his 3.7 YPC career average but still not as dynamic as the game’s superior young backs. The third-year runner has arguably been more effective so far in the pass game, catching eight passes through two games for 68 yards, three of which have secured first downs. The RB should help the young Minshew in this way, at least, because he’s not doing so on the ground. Fournette has not rushed for over 100 yards in a game since Jan. 2018., averaging 55.2 YPG since then.
A product of the Air Raid, Minshew has flashed the deep ball and has been uber-accurate in his first two starts; his 77.6 completion percentage is the highest among rookies in their first two games since 1950. While Jacksonville has tended to play it safe with Minshew so far — 25.9 percent of his passes are behind the line of scrimmage (fifth-highest) in NFL — he’s a proficient deep thrower when given the opportunity. On passes with 10-plus air yards, Minshew has a 66.7 comp. pct. for 231 yards and three scores in just two games. Whether the Jags let Minshew air it out against a secondary that has handledJacoby BrissettandBaker Mayfieldto the tune of a league-high five interceptions or lean on a steady, less explosive Fournette on Thursday night will be telling.
4.Marcus Mariotaunder the spotlight for the first time this season
It’s a contract season for Mariota, said the writer for the 77th time this calendar year. Thursday night will mark the first time Mariota will play on national television in this his fifth and possibly final year as theTitans‘ supposed franchise QB. In Tennessee’s first two games, one a resounding win and the other a familiar loss, Mariota did little to move the needle on his long-term status in Tennessee. He is on pace to set career-highs in yards per attempt (7.7) , passer rating (112.8) and giveaways per game (0), but I’d argue those metrics are inflated thanks to Henry’s game-clinching 75-yard catch-and-run in Cleveland and the onslaught that ensued. Any good will Tennessee’s QB built up in a dominant Week 1 second half was flushed to sea in theTitans‘ Week 2 second half when Mariota regressed into taking bad sacks (eight already on the year) and making poor clock management decisions. His play continues to oscillate like the waves. Hopefully, for Mariota’s sake and that of his state of employment in Tennessee, his play will swell on the shores of the St. John River on Thursday night.