Jaguars vs. Titans Thursday Night Football: Preview, fantasy news, Color Rush – CBSSports.com

This was it. This was supposed to be the year that the
Jacksonville Jaguars
were something other than a laughing stock. They had
Blake Bortles
, the 2014 third-overall pick and the franchise quarterback, who was coming off a sophomore season that included 4,428 passing yards and 35 touchdowns. The organization also spent the offseason retooling the roster with young, fast, physical players that would reverse the pattern of futility dating back to 2008.

Meanwhile, the
Tennessee Titans
have had their own run of terrible football. The good news: They actually went 9-7 as recently as 2011. The bad news: They combined for five wins in 2014 and 2015. And it was that 2-14 effort in 2014 that put them in position to draft
Marcus Mariota
who, like Bortles, has shown glimpses of promise, but continues to struggle with consistency.

But, hey, that’s why you play the games. It’s not a glamorous matchup — never mind national television, we’re talking regional action — but the Titans not only have a chance to get to 4-4 and a win will put them a half-game behind the division-leading
Houston Texans
, easily one of the worst teams in professional sports history with a winning record halfway through a season. And if the Jags win? They’ll move to 3-4, just a single game behind the Texans.

Parity, everybody! It’s like sausage and politics!

Ah, there was was such promise and hope

Remember this spring, when everyone was bullish on the Jaguars because of the new faces added to the roster? A quick refresher:

Key free-agent additions: DT
Malik Jackson
,
Chris Ivory
, CB
Prince Amukamara
, S
Tashaun Gipson
, OT
Kelvin Beachum
.

Notable draft picks: DB
Jalen Ramsey
(round 1, pick 5), LB
Myles Jack
(2.36), DE
Yannick Ngakoue
(3.69), DT
Sheldon Day
(4.103)

It was enough for CBSSports.com’s Pete Prisco to give the Jags an A+ in his offseason grades column. “They had to improve the defense and they used six of their seven picks on that side of the ball,” Prisco wrote days after the draft. “That was smart. But they also landed top talent in first pick Jalen Ramsey and Jack. The rest of the board was solid as well.”

And ProFootballFocus gave the Jags an A, noting: “There’s a lot to like about the 2016 Jaguars, who promise to be one of the most intriguing teams heading into the upcoming season. With stability at both head coach and quarterback with Blake Bortles under center, surrounded by increasingly-talented supporting players, Jacksonville appears poised to finally contend for the wide-open AFC South this upcoming season. Bortles, benefiting from possibly the best WR duo in the league in Robinson and Hurns, and a top running back duo in Yeldon and Ivory, will be in a great position to build upon the offensive improvement enjoyed in 2015.”

Oh boy.

Simply put: The Jaguars’ offense is a disaster. It starts with Bortles, who barely resembles the quarterback from a season ago. He’s been erratic, tossing as many touchdowns as interceptions (9) and his 78.2 passer rating is good for 28th in the league. The advanced metrics are just as depressing. Football Outsiders ranks Bortles 27th in value per play when compared to all starting quarterbacks, just behind …
Case Keenum
. And Bortles grades out worse than any other player on the Jags’ offense.

What’s up with Bortles?

It’s a fair question, particularly given how he barely resembles the player he was a season ago. The biggest culprit, it seems, is that Bortles’ sloppy footwork and elongated throwing motion has affected everything that follows.

Here’s a sobering comparison between one of the NFL’s best young passers,
Derek Carr
… and Bortles:

And here’s Prisco, while reviewing tape of that Week 7 Raiders-Jaguars matchup, wondering what the hell Bortles is doing:

There’s more, and it’s not pretty:

Our initial reaction to seeing that image above? There’s only one Byron Leftwich. And to paraphrase Rick Pitino, Byron ain’t walking through that door.

That’s where we are — pining for the days of Leftwich, who was a replacement-level talent at best during his four seasons in Jacksonville. But despite the latest setback, a 33-16 home loss to the
Oakland Raiders
in which Bortles finished 23 of 43 for 246 yards, with a touchdown and two interceptions in one of his worst performances this season. Despite the season-long struggle, Bortles will continue to play.

“I firmly, firmly believe in Blake Bortles,” coach Gus Bradley said Monday, via ESPN.com. “Without a doubt. I think it was a challenging day yesterday about some of the situations we were in, but as far as the competitor … and what he brings to this team, there is no doubt [about Bortles].”

Benching Bortles fixes nothing, neither in the near term or beyond. Gus Bradley, who is 14-40 as the Jags’ coach, needs to win now and Bortles gives him the best chance. Unfortunately, winning has been rare and there’s a decent chance that Bradley could be out of a job in nine weeks — and the team could be in the market for their next franchise quarterback.

A win on Thursday would be a nice respite from that reality.

It’s not just Bortles though

The list of underachievers is as long as it is sad. Yes, Bortles is the marquee name but according to PFF,
T.J. Yeldon
,
Allen Hurns
, Chris Ivory and
Allen Robinson
have all earned negative grades through six games.

Put another way: It’s easy to just blame Bortles, but there are a lot of moving parts responsible for a lot of terrible football.

Robinson had 80 catches for 1,400 yards and 14 scores in 2015. In ’16, he has 26 catches for 296 yards and three touchdowns. On first glance, that’s adequate but upon closer inspection the warts become apparent. He’s only catches 47 percent of the passes thrown in his direction, and he’s coming off a horrendous game against the Raiders — two catches, 9 yards.

“I would say it’s been one of the more frustrating years of me playing football in general,” Robinson said this week. “But at the end of the day, I can’t let that have any effect on my play. At the end of the day, I’ve got to go out there and play. For me, just this week, just trying to get my mental [approach] right, help my teammates out, and all just try to go out there and have fun and make it easier on one another.”

Maybe this is the week it all comes together; the Titans’ pass defense ranks 20th. Unfortunately, the Jaguars’ pas offense ranks 28th. No problem, you’re thinking. Just run the ball — you have Yeldon and Ivory, after all! Funny story: The Jags’ running game ranks 29th (and the Titans are 11th against the run).

Maybe the Jaguars need a change of scenery

We usually reserve this cliche for players who have, for various reasons, worn out their welcome with their current clubs. But the Jags, who have long been rumored as a team destined to move to London, don’t exactly enjoy a homefield advantage in Jacksonville. This has not gone unnoticed.

“When you hear the atmosphere of when we step out on the field, when we go to punt or before halftime when Blake takes a knee and you hear the booing, it’s kind of funny to me,” Allen Robinson said this week, via ESPN.com. “It’s funny that we get our best home-field advantage when we go to Wembley [Stadium].”

Bortles, meanwhile, is quite philosophical about the situation.

“If a team loses for a while, I bet everybody’s probably pretty frustrated,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to figure out at a young age that fans don’t like players. They like winning. … You know that they’re going to cheer for you when you’re winning, and want you to sign autographs and take pictures. And when you’re losing, they’re going to boo you. That’s the world we live in and that’s what fans do. It’s irrelevant to anything that goes on in this building.”

Shorter version: Winning fixes just about everything.

Mariota is struggling too

Bortles attempted 43 passes last Sunday. Mariota attempted 37 in the loss to the
Indianapolis Colts
— but unlike his Thursday-night counterpart, Mariota has the luxury of leaning on a pretty good running game. In fact, it ranks 9th in the league resurgent
DeMarco Murray
(thanks, Chip Kelly!) and, of course, a very mobile Mariota. There’s also rookie
Derrick Henry
, who has seen his carries dwindle in recent weeks but is averaging 4.4 yards per carry in limited action.

But a reliance on running the ball seems to be the easiest path to victory for the Titans. In 19 starts, Mariota has thrown more than 30 passes on 12 occasions. The Titans are 2-10 in those games, including Sunday’s loss.

“I think it’s just how the flow of the game is going,” coach Mike Mularkey said. “Some of the scenarios are where you are in no-huddle, how they are trying to defend no-huddle — there are personnel groupings that are going to make you throw it more. There is no set number. I’ve found over time I think more throws, if you’re up there in high numbers, it’s not always a win. But if you’re up there in runs, you’ve got more chances to win.”

There’s more to Winning Football (TM) than more running = more winning, but there’s no denying that Mariota’s flashes of big-play potential can often be overshadowed by an ill-timed mistake. Against the Colts, it was Mariota a fumble late in the game that sealed the Titans’ fate.

“I was trying to step up in the pocket and make a throw to the left,” Mariota explained. “I didn’t really feel the pressure, I probably could’ve moved away from it. It was one of those things where it was kind of perfect timing for him. Right when I was separating my hands to throw the football he just kind of poked at it and ending up knocking it out.”

When the Jags face the Titans

Fun (and not-so-fun) facts:

  • Mariota rushed for career-high 112 yards (including 87-yard touchdown) and threw for three touchdowns in the last meeting with Jacksonville. In the past three games, he has eight touchdown passes and just one interception.

  • Andre Johnson
    (remember him?!) has the second-most catches (136) and receiving yards (1,794) by any player vs. Jacksonville.
  • In the past two meetings,
    Delanie Walker
    has 16 catches for 201 yards and a touchdown.
  • Bortles threw for 322 yards and five touchdowns in the last meeting. In two road games at Tennessee he has 658 passing yards, six touchdowns and one interception.
  • Yeldon had 136 scrimmage yards (79 receiving, 57 rushing) and a touchdown in the last game vs. Tennessee.
  • Robinson had 10 catches for 153 yards and three touchdowns in the last meeting.

Greetings from Fantasy Island

Our fantasy-expert colleague Dave Richard says that if you’re looking to make a trade, keep Allen Robinson in mind:


Jay Ajayi
for Allen Robinson:
Robinson is the only Jaguar with even good trade value, and it’s rapidly declining. Not only is he affected by Blake Bortles’ struggles, but two straight weeks of bobbled and dropped passes is crushing his stat line. Four of Jacksonville’s next five games are on the road, and three are against tougher pass defenses. Ajayi has a rosier outlook.

And if you need to drop a player this week, well, you knew this was coming

Blake Bortles (94 percent): If he’s not helping you in good matchups (see OAK in Week 7 at home), when can you start him? He’s lived up to being a bust so far this year.

It’s Color Rush Thursday, y’all (again)!

Behold:

As UniWatch’s Paul Lukas points out, the Titans and Jags wore these get-ups last year, and apparently that was enough for Bortles, who had rightly declared that Jacksonville’s Color Rush unis are, and we quote, “ugly as hell.”

Which brings us to …

… They said these words

“Somebody’s gotta tell the truth and I might as well be the first to say it: I think the [mustard-colored uniforms] are ugly as hell,” Bortles said in a conference call with Tennessee media members. “I’m not a big fan of the mustard. I think they could have done a better job, and I think they should choose a different color. …

“I would have gone with teal. Teal could pop. Also, are [the Titans] going baby blue again? So maybe those are too close. I’d like it all white. Maybe we could paint are helmet one color solidly and go all white. …

“I think they look good,” Bortles continued. “They could be all red. That could be cool. But I think the baby blue looks good. I think any chance you get to put on a funky uniform and go and play on national television on a Thursday night, it’s a cool opportunity.”

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