The Tennessee Titans are running the ball as well as anyone in the league right now. Jacksonville's ground game is headed in the other direction and probably won't get turned around until Maurice Jones-Drew returns from a foot injury.
For two AFC South teams built to run, the recent trend has a lot to do with why one of them has won three of its last five games and the other has dropped seven in a row.
The Titans (4-6) look to keep it going Sunday in Jacksonville, where the Jaguars (1-9) are hoping to begin to salvage what's shaping up to be the worst season in franchise history.
Tennessee surely will continue to feed Chris Johnson, who has 653 yards rushing and four touchdowns in his last five games.
"That's a part of our game that's really came on, which is a big strength for us," quarterback Jake Locker said. "It's part of the reason that we've been able to win some more games over here in the middle of the season, and he's playing with a lot of confidence and the line is doing well up front for him."
Only Minnesota's Adrian Peterson has more yards rushing than Johnson over the last seven weeks of the season. And Johnson is doing it against everyone, averaging 6.0 yards a carry against a string of defenses that includes Pittsburgh, Chicago and Miami.
"It's the offense as a whole just kind of finding its stride in the run game," Locker said. "Really figuring out what we're good at and what we have confidence in the running game. And, like I said, he's running with a lot of confidence and a lot of belief in what we have going on."
The Jaguars are wary of Johnson even though he hasn't given them fits during his five-year career. Other than a 228-yard performance in 2009, Johnson has just one 100-yard game and one touchdown against Jacksonville. He has averaged just 44 yards in the last three meetings.
But the Jags know this could be different. Not only has Johnson been hot lately, but Jacksonville has given up at least 120 yards rushing in eight of 10 games.
"If we don't slow him down, it could be a long day," Jaguars linebacker Paul Posluszny said.
Jacksonville's ground game has been almost nonexistent the last seven games. The Jaguars are averaging 61.7 yards rushing a game over that span and have dropped to last in the league.
Jones-Drew injured his left foot Oct. 21 at Oakland and has missed the last four games. He is no longer wearing a walking boot, but won't play against Tennessee.
Jacksonville thought Rashad Jennings would be able to fill in, but Jennings struggled to see open holes and seemed to go down with any contact. He never managed more than 60 yards rushing, and last week at Houston was replaced by Jalen Parmele.
Parmele ran for 80 yards in the 43-37 overtime loss to the Texans, enough to secure the starting job until Jones-Drew returns.
In the meantime, the Jaguars could be more of a passing team.
Coach Mike Mularkey benched injured starter Blaine Gabbert early in the week, then placed the former top-10 draft pick on injured reserve with a right forearm injury and a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder.
Chad Henne will make his first start in more than year against the Titans. The former Miami Dolphins starter came off the bench and threw for 354 yards and four touchdowns against the Texans.
And if Henne plays well, Mularkey said he would secure the starting job heading into next season.
"Obviously this game isn't about just one person, but the quarterback position is very important on your team and obviously on your offense," Henne said. "The better the quarterback plays, the more points and the better the offense is going to play. So I just got to keep playing at a high level and believe in myself and believe in my teammates and have them make some plays for me."
With Henne at the helm, rookie Justin Blackmon played his best game, catching seven passes for 236 yards and a touchdown, and tight end Marcedes Lewis scored twice.
Jacksonville finished with a season-high 458 yards.
"We took a step forward last week and we need to do that again this week," Mularkey said. "Let's see where we go from here."
A home win certainly would be progress. The Jags have been outscored 153-44 in five home losses to Houston, Cincinnati, Chicago, Detroit and Indianapolis.
"I can't explain why we've not played as well here as we have on the road," Mularkey said. "If I knew, I would have addressed it long ago. If I had even seen a position like this, I would have called another coach that's gone through this. This is just something we've experienced.
"It's going to turn at some point. Hopefully, it's this weekend."
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