JAGUARS // TITANS OVERVIEW
For fans of old-school ball, this will be an exciting game between a Jags team playing for pride and a Titans team fighting to stay in the playoff hunt. These teams each rank bottom five in points per game on offense. These teams each rank top six in fewest points allowed per game on defense.
Both of these offenses go three-and-out at an above-average rate, and both teams rank bottom eight in drive success rate. With both teams also leaning run-heavy in their play-calling and emphasizing mistake-free football on offense, big plays and back-and-forth scoring are unlikely to be featured.
From a Showdown perspective, there are a few plays that stand out above the rest in this game, but otherwise things are pretty muddled. This is the type of game in which it makes sense to spread out your play across multiple rosters — betting on various scenarios for how this game could play out. When bad offenses take on good defenses, the likeliest path to fantasy production can sometimes be a crazy play or a long touchdown.
The early-week Over/Under in this game has been set at only 37.5, with the Titans installed as four-point favorites. Get your popcorn ready.
JAGUARS RUN OFFENSE
As one of the most opponent-specific defenses in the NFL — a unit that constantly shows different looks to different teams, while constantly disguising looks in an effort to confuse quarterbacks — it is unsurprising that the Titans have had occasional lapses this season. This team has held the Texans to 17 points, the Chargers to 20, and the Patriots to 10…but they have also allowed 27 points to the Dolphins, and they have allowed 30+ to the Texans (the second time around) and the Colts. Much as we saw in Vrabel’s stint as defensive coordinator with the Texans last year (and in some of Dean Pees’ final years with the Patriots), a complicated scheme can suffer when players are unable to keep track of all their assignments — an issue that has shown up from time to time with Tennessee. As we have alternately seen with Romeo Crennel’s 2018 Texans defense (and to a lesser extent, with Brian Flores’ 2018 Patriots defense), this approach can work when coaches put together a strong game plan and when players are talented and adaptable, but the Titans have had a few head-scratching defensive game plans this year, and their players have suffered from periodic lapses. Over the last couple weeks, these lapses have led to this unit allowing Texans running backs to pop off for 211 yards on 25 carries in Week 12 and Jets backs to go for a (less awful) 135 yards on 31 carries in Week 13. This is how the Jaguars will look to attack for as long as this game remains close, as they morphed into a run-first (and second…and third) team with Leonard Fournette finally healthy and with Blake Bortles under center, and this approach will be further emphasized with checkdown-master Cody Kessler under center. The Jags will aim to win this game by leaning on the run, preventing turnovers on offense, and dominating with defense.
As for the matchup: Tennessee had been playing strong run defense before those lapses against Houston and the Jets — and with Malcolm Butler getting torched weekly at the cornerback position for the Titans (on the year :: 48 catches allowed on 69 targets in his direction (69.6%), for 681 yards (14.2 yards per reception), seven touchdowns, and only two picks), teams were hardly even attempting to attack this team on the ground. In the weeks leading up to these recent run defense breakdowns, Marlon Mack rushed only 16 times for only 61 yards against the Titans // Sony Michel and Cordarrelle Patterson rushed only 15 times for only 42 yards // Ezekiel Elliott rushed only 17 times for only 61 yards // Austin Ekeler rushed only 12 times for only 42 yards.
Unless the Titans just absolutely control this game on offense (unlikely, given that the Titans rank bottom eight in drive success rate on offense, and the Jags have allowed the fourth lowest drive success rate as a defense), Fournette is going to top those 12 to 17 carries that backs had been seeing against Tennessee (he has touch counts of 29 // 30 // 21 since returning — with the 21 touches coming in only three quarters), so volume should not be a major concern. The Titans are going to be selling out to stop the run in this one — forcing Kessler to beat them — so matchup is a bit of an issue against a run defense that was shaving 10% off the league-average yards per carry before running into Lamar Miller in Week 12. Barring some long runs (which is something the Titans have been good at defending this year — allowing the sixth fewest rush plays of 20+ yards), Fournette will have a tough time topping 4.0 to 4.5 yards per carry. But 25+ touches is a genuinely fair projection.
JAGUARS PASS OFFENSE
The Jaguars’ pass offense would be written off completely on the Main Slate, but with a weak Tennessee offense taking on a stout Jaguars defense on the other side, there are going to be some opportunities for Jags pass catchers to make a small dent on this ugly slate.
The only real hope for the Jags opening up the offense with a downfield-attacking pass game is for Tennessee to jump out to a big lead. (The likeliest path to a big, early Tennessee lead? — turnovers. And since the Titans rank 29th in takeaways, and since the Jags installed Cody Kessler to do two things: 1. hand off the football, and 2. avoid turnovers, it’s an extreme outlier bet to assume the Titans will, in fact, jump out to a big lead.) As such, we need to recognize that Kessler threw 37.5% of his Week 13 targets to running backs, with only 11 looks going to wide receivers. Those looks were divided up as follows:
Only four of Kessler’s 24 attempts last week traveled even eight or more yards downfield. He completed only one of those passes — which is not to say he is incapable of completing a few more, but it does illustrate the low ceiling on this group of pass catchers, outside of broken plays or a lucky touchdown. Westbrook runs the highest-floor routes, while Moncrief’s routes give him a lower floor but provide a higher ceiling. Cole has been phased out of the game plans, and will need to run into a downfield target on a broken play in order to matter. If D.J. Chark returns this week, he’ll play over Cole, and he adds explosive after-catch ability to a variable route tree.
One final note on the Jags’ offense :: in Week 11, Fournette played 35 snaps while Carlos Hyde played 11 and T.J. Yeldon played 23. Yeldon ran 17 pass routes. The Jags deployed similar usage in Week 10, with Fournette playing only 12 more snaps than Yeldon, and with Yeldon running 23 pass routes to Fournette’s 13. It’s not a crazy bet that Yeldon will outscore the Jags’ receivers. (Hyde is a “bet on a long play or a touchdown” on his likely four to 10 carries.)
TITANS PASS OFFENSE
As we have talked about all year: the Jags’ problem has not been their defense, but has instead been all the turnovers their offense has given up. The Jags’ defense has been called a disappointment all season, and all season I have wondered what people are looking at. Yes, the Jags’ pass rush has taken a big step back this year…but even with their offense giving the ball away the fifth most times in the league, the Jags have allowed the fifth fewest points and the third fewest yards in the NFL. The Jags rank 10th in fewest yards allowed per carry (and if we take away that “only Saquon could do it” run that the Giants’ rookie back had against them in Week 1, they would move up to seventh), they rank fourth in fewest yards allowed per pass attempt, they have allowed the second lowest catch rate in the NFL, and they have allowed the third fewest wide receiver receptions.
The Titans’ offense, meanwhile, ranks 28th in both points and yards, they rank 24th in drive success rate, and they rank 23rd in Three & Out rate. They are in an awful spot this week, with the only major bonus being the fact that this team is at home.
Same as the Jags’ passing attack, the Titans would be off the board on the Main Slate. On the Showdown, the likeliest source of production will be A) volume, or B) big plays. Volume is the higher-floor bet, but “big play” bets are likelier to win you a tourney if they pay off.
The “volume” play in the Jags’ passing attack is Corey Davis, who has averaged only five targets per game across the last three weeks, but who also had 27 targets across his previous three games. Davis will almost certainly be shadowed by Jalen Ramsey, but he’ll avoid him on the 30% of snaps he will run from the slot, and he won a similarly challenging matchup against Stephon Gilmore in Week 10.
The “big play” bets are Taywan Taylor and Cameron Batson. Taylor played 29 of 68 snaps last week, while Batson played 23. Taylor saw five targets to Batson’s two. Taylor may see his snaps rise a bit more this week, but the Titans have been hesitant all year to use him as an every-down player. Taylor saw an awesome three targets of 40+ yards last week.
This “attack” wraps up with Tajae Sharpe (a respectable aDOT this year of 11.6, with a bounce-around target share; he’s had only two games this year with real fantasy relevance, but a touchdown might get him there) and with Jonnu Smith (three or fewer targets in all but one game this year, but there is slim potential for this to be a target-spike spot for him).
TITANS RUN OFFENSE
The Jaguars have continued to play great against the run — allowing 3.76 yards per carry to running backs (3.50 when we take away that Saquon run), while allowing the sixth fewest rushing yards, the seventh fewest receiving yards, and the fewest touchdowns to running backs. The Titans’ offensive line ranks bottom eight in adjusted line yards, and they have been unable to spring long run plays all year, with the fifth fewest rush plays of 20+ yards.
This backfield continues to belong to Dion Lewis in the snap department, but Lewis has seen recent touch counts of 11 // 14 // 8, to touch counts of 9 // 10 // 12 for Derrick Henry. Henry has caught four passes across his last two games. Lewis has caught an incredible 45 of 51 targets on the year (88.2%) and should be getting more creatively-schemed looks than he is…but since he is not seeing these looks, he has become a low-floor play who depends on big plays for ceiling. The best bet on Lewis would be to believe he’ll see another usage spike in a tough spot.
It is genuinely fairly safe to expect 25+ touches for Fournette — and while there is some risk that this leads to only 110 to 130 total yards, this still sets him up as one of the top plays on the Showdown for me. The matchup (and the certainty that the Titans will focus primarily on the run) introduces some slim concern, but it wouldn’t be enough to offset the volume for me. He is pretty clearly the highest-floor, highest-ceiling bet on this Showdown.
Elsewhere on the Jags’ offense, it wouldn’t be crazy to prefer Yeldon over the wide receivers. The wide receivers carry a higher ceiling, but if this game stays low-scoring and the Jags hold a lead through much of it, Yeldon actually becomes the better play. Obviously, all of these plays would be high-variance bets.
Even with the more difficult matchup, “style of play” indicates that one or two pass catchers on the Titans are likely to outscore the receivers on the Jags, though it’s tough to pin down who those plays might be. Corey Davis is the safest bet, Taywan Taylor is the low-floor/high-ceiling bet, and Jonnu, Sharpe, and even Batson are all “dart throws that have a slim path to hitting.” Mariota is a dart throw as well, with a decent shot at 200 passing yards and 20 to 30 rushing yards. If he breaks a long run or passes for one or two touchdowns against this disciplined, assignment-strong defense, he could be a nice piece. None of this feels safe or even necessarily “likely,” but if you’re playing this slate, those are some potential outcomes to consider betting on.
If you want to play the Titans’ backfield, you’re betting on broken plays (unlikely) or touchdowns (unlikely…but not impossible).
The defenses could easily outscore some skill position players, though it is worth noting that these teams rank bottom 12 in both sacks and takeaways on defense. There is a decent chance this game is low-scoring but not turnover-filled. There is also, of course, a chance for plenty of stalled drives in field goal range, and for the kickers to get involved.