Thursday Night Preview: Can Jacksonville Avoid Going 0-3?
Week 3. It feels like we wait all year for the NFL to begin, and it's already Week 3. Wild.
No division has had as many ups-and-downs as the AFC South, which saw one of the game's best quarterbacks (Andrew Luck) abruptly announce his retirement just as the season was about to open, a free agent quarterback signing (Nick Foles) get hurt almost immediately, and the Houston Texans pull off a blockbuster set of trades.
Who will come out on top on this matchup? Let's dig in and find out.
Is there anything more fun so far in the NFL than Gardner Minshew?
While he wasn't expected to be the starter, after Nick Foles went down early in Week 1, Minshew stepped in and performed pretty admirably given the circumstances. Minshew may be a fun story, but among the 32 quarterbacks with 40 or more drop backs, he clocks in only 24th at Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back. On the other side, Marcus Mariota hasn't been too much better, ranking 17th with a mark of 0.09 Passing NEP per drop back.
In terms of Passing Success Rate -- the percentage of drop backs which result in a positive NEP -- this is where Minshew shines. He ranks 13th (49.21%), whereas Mariota ranks only 26th (40.0%).
Perhaps the biggest point of criticism for both quarterbacks is their overall lack of a vertical passing attack. In looking at average intended air yards (the average air yards a passer throws on all attempts), these two signal-callers rank in the bottom six of the league, with Mariota posting a mark of 6.4, and Minshew tallying a mark of 6.1.
Does either offense separate themselves at the running back position?
Running Back Play
If you are a fan of power running offenses in the NFL, this game is 100 percent your jam.
Leonard Fournette and Derrick Henry lead these two rushing attacks, and not only have they been the primary ball carriers for their respective teams, they've been outstanding to begin the 2019 season.
Among the 32 ball carriers with 20 or more carries, Henry leads the two runners with a mark of 0.08 Rushing Net Expect Points (NEP) per carry (11th), while Fournette has still been solid with a mark of 0.03 (13th).
Where these teams differ a bit is in their use of the running back. Indy ranks as the league's fourth heaviest rushing attack (0.90 pass-to-run ratio), whereas Jacksonville has been the 11th-best pass-happy offense (1.92).
Can either of these defenses slow down the offensive attack from each side?
So far, these two defensive units could not be headed in more opposite directions.
Based on numberFire's opponent-adjusted metrics, the Titans rank as the league's best defense, coming in second in defending the pass, while still ranking solidly against the run (ninth). Jacksonville, meanwhile, has been awful on defense -- a typical staple of this organization. They rank 30th overall, clocking in 28th against the pass and slightly better against the run (21st).
Tennessee has been outstanding in getting after the quarterback -- using Football Outsiders' adjusted sack rate, they rank 4th (11.1%), while Jacksonville falls a bit back at 19th (6.3%).
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