NASHVILLE — Doug Marrone was hoping for a spark and more production out of the pass game when he fired offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and benched quarterback Blake Bortles.
What the Jacksonville Jaguars coach has gotten instead is two of the season’s worst offensive performances — and even further reinforcement that the offensive side of the ball had better be the franchise’s top priority in the offseason.
Thursday night’s 30-9 loss to Tennessee at Nissan Stadium — the Jaguars’ fourth in a row and sixth in the past seven games in the series between the AFC South teams — was every bit as embarrassing as the team’s 36-22 loss on “Thursday Night Football” in 2016. Maybe worse, because the offense at least put up some garbage-time yards and points in the second half.
The defense was just as bad as the offense on Thursday. One week after putting together the kind of dominant performance that was a regular occurrence in 2017, the defense gave up multiple long touchdowns to Derrick Henry — a 99-yarder and a 54-yarder in the third quarter. Henry, whose longest run of the season prior to Thursday night was 16 yards, finished with a Titans-record 238 yards and four touchdowns on only 17 carries.
That’s a huge problem because there are eight starters who have made Pro Bowls on the unit, but Marrone didn’t fire coordinator Todd Wash two weeks ago and the only personnel change was benching strong safety Barry Church for rookie Ronnie Harrison. The Jaguars had been a top-10 defense most of the season anyway, even though they weren’t pressuring the quarterback and forcing turnovers at the same rate they did last season.
The offense has been a mess since the first month of the season and was borderline non-functional on Thursday. The Jaguars are certainly dealing with limitations. They’re on their fourth-string left tackle and are starting backups at left guard and center. Kessler is nowhere near as mobile as Bortles and he has been getting pummeled behind the makeshift lineup. He nearly lost a fumble after a sack last weekend and did lose one against the Titans.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the only legitimate receiving threat at tight end, has been on IR since Week 5 with a sports hernia. Marqise Lee, their top receiver, has missed the entire season with a knee injury. Second-year player Keelan Cole, whom the franchise believed was going to be a big-time player, was benched after dropping five passes and losing two fumbles in October.
Even with all those injuries and problems, there’s still no excuse for what the Jaguars did against the Titans and the weekend before against the Colts. The Jaguars had just 98 yards of total offense in the first half –1 less yard than Henry had on his second-quarter touchdown run. That came four days after they managed just 105 yards in the first half against the Colts and finished with 211, their second-lowest total of the season.
The Jaguars only managed one touchdown against the Titans: Dede Westbrook‘s fourth-down touchdown catch with 1:49 remaining in the third quarter. That was the Jaguars’ first touchdown since Westbrook’s TD catch with 1:20 remaining in the 24-21 loss to Buffalo on Nov. 25.
All they could manage against the Colts were a pair of field goals. Fournette was suspended for that game, but he was on the field against the Titans and managed only 29 yards on 13 carries before the Jaguars went hurry-up after the game got out of hand.
Marrone fired Hackett, benched Bortles, and had quarterback coach Scott Milanovich call plays to shake the offense out of its malaise. All it did was highlight the fact that the franchise has a long list of issues to fix in 2019 if its going to again be competitive in the AFC South.