NASHVILLE, Tenn. —The Titans have lost four straight games, and are in desperate need of a win. The Falcons (5-1) had their five-game winning streak snapped last week, and are looking to bounce back on Sunday at Nissan Stadium.
Here's a look at five keys/things to watch in Sunday's game:
Protect the QB
The Titans allowed six sacks against the Dolphins, and opposing teams have decked Titans quarterbacks 20 times this season. With Marcus Mariota out, a less mobile quarterback in Zach Mettenberger will be behind center. The Falcons have had all kinds of trouble getting to the QB this season – they have just seven sacks on the season, the lowest total in the NFL. The Titans can't afford to let them get cranked up now. The Titans will have two rookies on the offensive line on Sunday – center Andy Gallik and right tackle Jeremiah Poutasi. Protection will be key.
Play with intensity
The Titans let the Dolphins take the fight to them last week. Tight end Delanie Walker said the Titans were like the new kid in the schoolyard getting pushed around by the bully. The Titans have preached playing with a greater sense of urgency this week, and with more of an attitude. The Titans need to come out swinging in this one to keep from playing catch-up again.
Stop the run
The Dolphins pretty much had no running game before they got to Nashville last week. Then running back Lamar Miller came to town and ran for 113 yards, part of a 180-yard day for the Dolphins. The Falcons have an even bigger threat in running back Devonte Freeman, who already has 505 yards and nine touchdowns on the season. The Titans need to do a better job tackling, and being in the right place on defense.
Keep Julio in check
Falcons receiver Julio Jones is arguably the best in the NFL right now. He's second in the league in receiving yards (638) and third in catches (49), and his size (6-3, 220) makes him a tough guy to match up against. Jones moves around on the field, and he can take over games if the opposing teams lets him. Titans cornerback Perrish Cox won't play against the Falcons because of a hamstring injury, and safety Michael Griffin (knee) is questionable. Players like Coty Sensabaugh and Blidi Wreh-Wilson will need to rise up opposite cornerback Jason McCourty.
Work the tight ends**
The Falcons are first in the NFL in run defense, allowing just 78.8 yards per game. Where they had issues last time out was covering the tight end in a 31-21 loss to the Saints. New Orleans tight end Ben Watson had 10 catches for 127 yards and a touchdown in that one, catching one ball after another in the middle of the field. The Titans have tight ends. Walker leads the team with 22 catches for 244 yards, and he's one of five tight ends on the roster.