After the way the Jaguars’ Week 11 game played out (with Nick Foles throwing the ball 47 times), we should kick off this writeup by reminding that the Jaguars, fundamentally, would like to be built from the run game up. After last week’s game, Doug Marrone talked about how the Jags need to get the ball to Leonard Fournette more, and it’s pretty clear that the reason the Jags threw the ball so many times last week was because of the early hole in which they found themselves. As such, we should throw last week’s lofty pass attempt // target counts out — especially as this team will now be taking on the low-scoring, slow-paced Titans. The biggest takeaway from last week’s game was the fact that D.J. Chark was still the featured weapon with Foles under center (posting a score I tried to capture myself after rereading last week’s NFL Edge and coming across the part about “a tourney scenario in which Foles comes back firing and one of the Jags’ wideouts hit” — though unfortunately, I rolled out Westbrook on my handful of “Jags wideout” rosters instead of landing on Chark).
The Titans are not an elite defense, but they do rank fourth in DVOA against the run (22nd against the pass), fifth in drive success rate allowed, and seventh in points allowed per drive. On the season, Tennessee has allowed opponent point totals of 13 // 19 // 20 // 10 // 14 // 16 // 20 // 23 // 30 (Carolina) // 32 (Kansas City).
When the Jags throw the ball, the action will be centered on Chark (recent target counts of 7 // 5 // 12 // 9 // 15), Dede Westbrook (11 // 8 // 9 // 1 // 6), and Chris Conley (3 // 7 // 7 // 7 // 8). Tennessee ranks middle of the pack in pass plays allowed of 20+ yards, and while they have been strong at checking yards after the catch, they are boosting aDOT by 6.4% and are only slightly above-average in catch rate prevention.
When the Jags run, of course, it will be almost all Fournette, who has recent touch counts of 26 // 31 // 26 // 16 // 15. Fournette has seen his snaps/touches dip in back-to-back blowout losses, but he shapes up well to get back to his standard range in this spot. While this is good news for Fournette, the bad news is the matchup, as Christian McCaffrey is the only running back who has topped 100 yards in this spot, with the Titans holding opposing backfields to a respectable-low 4.04 yards per carry. Incredibly, Fournette has still scored only one touchdown this year.
When the Titans run (and they likely will quite a bit — as they rank top 10 in rush play rate, and the Jags rank 11th in DVOA against the pass but 30th against the run), they will lean on Derrick Henry, who has recent touch counts of 23 // 17 // 16 // 25. Henry, incredibly, has five games already against bottom-seven run defenses (DVOA), and not all of them have been gems (especially against his Week 12 price tag) :: 17-44-1 vs this Jacksonville defense || 20-78-1 vs the Bills || 22-90-1 vs the Chargers || 13-63-1 vs the Panthers (though he did add 36 yards and a second touchdown through the air in this one); but his 23-188-2 line against the Chiefs a couple weeks back is a reminder of the sort of upside he has in a soft spot like this.
The Titans should have a tougher time throwing with Ryan Tannehill under center and a matchup against a Jags defense that is “unspectacular, but solid” against the pass. The Titans have produced only one game all year of 100+ yards (belonging to A.J. Brown — way back in Week 1), and they are averaging only 1.5 passing touchdowns per game. Betting on this passing attack in this spot is essentially betting on outlier game flow in which the Titans are chasing points, or it’s betting on a fluky busted play or multi-touchdown outing. Only three pass catchers have topped 100 yards vs the Jags this year, and Sammy Watkins is the only player who has topped 80 yards and scored a touchdown in this spot.
JM’s Interpretation ::
While I don’t expect the Jags to come into this game with a pass-heavy game plan (and while the Titans are unlikely to light fire to the scoreboard and force the Jags to open things up in that way), the matchup should eventually tilt the Jags toward the pass, and there are enough holes in the Titans secondary that this concentrated Jaguars attack is interesting. Dede occupies the short-area role in this offense (aDOT of 7.3), so he’s more a “bet on volume and hope for a touchdown” play (with volume not particularly likely to pile up), while Chark (13.4) and Conley (14.8) will work downfield. I like both of these guys in tourneys — and Conley (seven or more targets in four straight — with only five fewer targets than Chark over the Jags’ three previous games heading into last week) seems especially likely to go overlooked.
I’ll likely stay away from Fournette myself, and Henry is a clear candidate to go over-owned compared to his likeliest output — especially given that when he misses, his yardage-and-touchdown role can lead to him missing hard. Though with that said: Fournette’s workload potential keeps him in the “always in tourneys” discussion (it’s only a matter of time before sheer volume leads to a multi-score game to go with his locked-in receptions and acceptable yardage totals), while Henry has plenty of upside if all the elements come together for him in this spot. I rarely pay up for yardage-and-touchdown backs myself, but Henry does at least have enough elements in place to tempt me this week.