Breaking Down the Titans-Jags Matchup

The Jaguars open the 2011 season against their hated rival, the Tennessee Titans. If you're a guy that loves explosive passing games and wide open offenses, this might not be the game for you. We are going to break down this early season first-place battle.

The Series

These two franchises have met 32 times in the regular season with Tennessee holding an 18-14 edge. They've met once in the postseason and Jaguars fans don't need to be reminded about that.

Familiarity Breeds Contempt

The Jaguars and Titans both have reputations for playing hard-nosed, physical styles of football. The respective head coaches, Jack Del Rio and Mike Munchak are throwbacks to a more physical, tougher game of football and that's what they try to instill into their respective teams.

The best player on both teams is their running backs, as Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew and Tennessee's Chris Johnson are amongst the elite backs in the NFL. Johnson held out through all of training camp before being granted his shiny new 4-year, $53.5 million contract, while Jones-Drew played in just one preseason game while resting his knee.

" I'm not going to lie to you, I was really hoping Chris (Johnson) didn't sign his deal until next week," Maurice Jones-Drew said half-jokingly. "I was hoping he signed the deal but not until next week. I'm happy for him but I'm a little upset he signed it last week."

Both teams would like to get their running game's going and stop the opponents, as both passing games are somewhat of a question. "We watched the film (from the December game)," Titans defensive tackle Shaun Smith said. "It was a lot of missed tackles last time and guys were out of their gaps. With a back like Maurice Jones-Drew, you've got to stay in your gap and play fundamentally sound—tackle and wrap up."

Where the Titans have the Advantage

Quarterback is the most important position in sports, and Tennessee has a solid, veteran starter in Matt Hasselbeck. Hasselbeck was signed this offseason so he isn't completely familiar with coach Munchak's game plan or his new receivers just yet.

"My hope is we can be winning games as we're learning, as we're getting better as we're working through things that my hope is we can be winning games throughout that process,'' Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said.

Despite the unfamiliarity, Hasselbeck is a player who is in his 13th season and has played in big games including the Super Bowl. As good as Jaguars starting quarterback Luke McCown has looked in the training camp and in the preseason, the Titans have the clear advantage.

Tennessee has a clear advantage at wide receiver, as Kenny Britt is a very talented player who can get open against any cornerback and make acrobatic catches. Nate Washington is a savvy veteran who has had big games against Jacksonville in the past and with the Jaguars pass rush being an unknown, the Titans should be able to throw the ball to a competent level.

Where the Jaguars have the Advantage

Aside from the familiarity with the climate which has been a solid advantage for the Jaguars in September afternoon games, the Jaguars have more continuity. That may seem like an odd statement from a team which released it's supposed starting quarterback earlier this week, but quarterback Luke McCown has been in offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter's system for two years and is competent.

"Luke is a type of guy that typically gets the ball out quick and he makes good decisions," Jaguars offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. "He's got plenty of arm strength and he's more mobile that you give him credit for."

At this point the Jaguars defensive line looks like it can make an impact against a solid Titans offensive line. Tyson Alualu will start along with Terrence Knighton in the middle. Aaron Kampman is back and Jeremy Mincey is playing the best football of his career. Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is not the same passer when under duress and the Jaguars plan to get him out of his comfort zone.

Stay in Your Lane and Tackle

With the limited offseason and the softest training camps in NFL history, injuries are on every coaches mind this season.

"Coming off a lockout year, every team has conditioning questions," Koetter stated. "I personally think that injuries will be a major story in the NFL this year."

What will be just as big of a concern in the early going will be tackling. Since training camps were pretty close to half-speed with little contact, tackling and other fundamentals will be slow to reacquire early on and there's no two teams who can make a defense pay like Tennessee and Jacksonville.

Both Chris Johnson and Maurice Jones-Drew routinely make defenses pay for one misstep and with new linebackers on both teams it's very likely that there could be some big plays on the ground for both teams.

"I think obviously one constant is Chris Johnson," Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio stated. "He is a terrific player and does a heck of a job."

Who Wins?

With a pair of offenses that aren't expected to be all that explosive through the air, turnovers and mistakes such as drive saving or killing penalties, missed kicks and long returns could determine the game. Although no season opener is a "must-win", this is a more important game for Jacksonville as they need to get 2011 started off properly with a home victory.

Worthless score prediction: Jaguars 20, Titans 14

Charlie Bernstein is the NFL Insider for ESPN 1080 and 1040 in Orlando/Tampa and the host of "The Sports Crunch" on the Aquarius 7 Broadcasting Network (national), and Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering multiple teams in the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie covers the Jacksonville Jaguars for FoxSports and has been featured on the NFL Network and Sirius NFL Radio. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Charlie on Twitter @nflcharlie

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