After being signed off of the Lions practice squad just 8 days before Thursday's game, QB Josh Dobbs produced a respectable performance against the Cowboys in primetime.
While Tennessee ultimately fell 13-27, a solid performance by a beaten down defense and importantly, by Josh Dobbs, made for a much closer game then anticipated.
Dobbs, a standout at the University of Tennessee, was named the starter on Thursday morning which came as a surprise to many.
Going into the game, he had thrown for just 45 yards in 6 career games. Since then, he has spent time with the Jaguars, Browns, and Lions.
Dobbs replaced rookie Malik Willis who started the prior two games in place of the injured Ryan Tannehill. Willis, a 2022 third round pick, was selected in the draft as a long term project with the assumption that he will not play a significant role in his first season or two.
However, circumstances forced him into action and his lack of experience stood out. While he got little help from those around him, it was hesitancy in the pocket and inconsistency in big moments that led Mike Vrabel and the coaching staff to decide that Dobbs gave them a better chance to win going forward.
Week 17 was an audition for Dobbs and undoubtedly, he passed.
Despite a porous offensive line, Dobbs was able to get the ball out quickly and largely avoid the Cowboys dominant front. He had control of the offense and was on the same page with his receivers throughout the game.
Dobbs made a few notable mistakes, namely a late pass into the chest of Trevon Diggs and a decision not to throw the ball away in the 3rd quarter. This is not terribly surprising given his limited game experience.
Still, it felt as though OC Todd Downing allowed him to run a far greater variety of plays then he did Willis and trusted him noticeably more.
Dobbs was able to use his running ability to get outside of the pocket and made accurate downfield throws as well. He looked very comfortable in the pocket and despite a below-average run game, engineered some convincing drives against a strong defense.
The most important part of his performance was that it inspired confidence heading into the must-win game in Jacksonville. While Willis had a few quality drives in his 4 starts, Dobbs was far more consistent.
By no means is the Titans offense at its peak, as it was against the Packers, but it looked the best it has on this painful 6 game losing streak.
Here are what I see as the 3 keys to the game against Jacksonville:
1. Ball Security
The Week 14 meltdown against Jacksonville was a result of costly turnovers and a widening score gap which forced the Titans into throwing the ball. Had ball security been a bit better, Henry could have continued dominating as he did throughout the first half. In the passing game, it is a big ask for Josh Dobbs to have mastered the offense at this point but making the easy throws throughout the game will surely help the turnover margin.
The Jaguars have been on an impressive run but they are beatable if the Titans do not beat themselves.
2. Get to Lawrence
After resting in Week 17, the Titans are likely getting Jeffery Simmons and Denico Autry back from injury. The pass rush has been a bright spot at multiple points this season and must be a major part of Week 18. Getting pressure on Lawrence will take great stress off of the secondary and will be necessary in keeping the ball out of the hands of Jacksonville's playmakers like Evan Engram and Christian Kirk who were so deadly in Week 14.
3. Play Complimentary: Help Dobbs
Around Dobbs, drops and penalties must be minimized in Week 18. Against Dallas, key drops by Treylon Burks and Robert Woods were drive killers despite on-target throws.
The alarming 124 penalty yards came most frequently from the depleted Offensive Line and secondary. They came at costly times such as Dennis Daley's false start on 4th and 5 and Tre Avery's costly downfield Pass Interference.
If the Jags offense is kept on the field due to careless penalties, they will capitalize. Similarly, 3rd and long situations on offense brought on by penalties will be very limiting.
Especially given that it is just Dobbs 2nd career start, he needs everyone else on the field to be on the same page and doing their job.
A key to every game, the Titans must feed Derrick Henry. As the season has progressed, he has shown more explosiveness, highlighted by his league-leading 4 rushes of 40+ yards.
In his last 7 games against Jacksonville, Henry is averaging 141 yards. At many points over the last couple seasons, Henry has been the sole reason the offense is firing. On Sunday, he must be the focal point because when he is going, he can singlehandedly change the game.