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Glennon's Take: A Big Step in the Right Direction
September 18, 2017 01:37 AM | John Glennon


The only thing that stood in the way of an AFC South title for the Titans last year was the AFC South itself.

Tennessee knocked off six playoff teams in 2016, beating AFC West powers Kansas City and Denver in back-to-back weeks. What the Titans couldn't do was defeat their division opponents, as they posted a 2-4 mark against Houston, Indianapolis and Jacksonville.

Struggling within the division was nothing new to the Titans, who haven't posted a winning mark in AFC South since 2008, compiling a 15-34 mark since then. Divisional road games have been even more of a struggle for the Titans, who are 5-20 against the AFC South away from home since 2008.

All of which speaks to the significance of Sunday's 37-16 thrashing of the Jaguars.

"It's important," said Titans coach Mike Mularkey, whose team snapped an 11-game divisional losing streak on the road.

"It's part of the process of learning, winning on the road - and then winning in our division on the road - which we had not had much success doing. We have to do that."

Sure, you can argue it's just one game. But the fact of the matter is the Titans hadn't opened AFC South play with a victory since 2010. What better way to finish with a winning division record than by getting off on the right foot?

Sure, the playoffs are a long, long way away. But according to ESPN Stats and Info, teams that had started 0-2 since 1990 had only reached the postseason 12 percent of the time since then. Who wants to spend weeks digging out of an early hole?

Sure, you can argue the opponent was Jacksonville. But the Jaguars' defense had looked mighty impressive in last week's opener, sacking Houston's quarterbacks 10 times and forcing four turnovers. In addition, the Jaguars have split divisional games with the Titans for the past eight seasons.

"It was real important to start right in the division," Titans outside linebacker Derrick Morgan said. "We don't want any regrets late in the season about games that we shoulda' coulda' won. So it's a great step in the right direction. It was important to come down here and get a win on the road."

There were a number of reasons the Titans were able to dominate a division opponent in Jacksonville:

Offensive line

It's hard to overlook the performance of the Titans' offensive line, considering how impressive the Jaguars' pass rush was in the opening week. Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota was hit just twice, sacked just once and rarely hurried in completing 15-of-27 passes for 215 yards. The line also slowly began opening holes for Tennessee's running backs, allowing the Titans to pile up 179 yards on the ground.

Turnovers

This was a huge point of emphasis coming into the season for the Titans, who finished with an even rating in the turnover department last year. The Titans didn't force any turnovers in their opener against Oakland, but picked off Jacksonville's Blake Bortles twice and recovered a Bortles fumble as well.

"We talked about turnovers every day - trying to get the ball out on defense and taking care of it on offense," Morgan said. "We took that to heart the whole offseason. It was definitely a point of emphasis for us as a defense."

Smothering defense

After surrendering a field goal to Jacksonville on the opening drive, the Titans' defense absolutely blanketed the Jaguars' offense. Jacksonville running back Leonard Fournette, who ran for 100 yards in his NFL debut, gained just 40 yards on 14 carries.

The Jags' seven possessions after the first field goal were as follows: punt, punt, fumble, interception, punt, punt, punt. The Titans, meanwhile, were in the midst of rattling off 30 straight points.

But let's get back to the division picture.

Here's what the AFC South looks like right now: The defending division champ Texans (1-1) are playing rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson and have mustered 20 points in two games. The Indianapolis Colts are 0-2, are riding the arm of unproven quarterback in Jacoby Brissett, and have offered no definitive timetable for starter Andrew Luck's return.

The Jaguars (1-1)? Well, they looked a lot better after their opener than they did on Sunday against the Titans.

Simply put, there's no division that looks more primed for the taking at this moment than the AFC South. And there's no better way to reach the playoffs than by capturing the division title.

Sunday's win over the Jags may have been just one step in the right direction for the Titans.

But better to be moving forward after the division opener than falling behind.

-Reach John Glennon at glennonsports@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @glennonsports.



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