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Six things Standing Out for Titans Heading Into Week 9



NASHVILLE, Tenn. —** Here's a look at six things standing out for Titans coming off the bye weekend, and heading into Sunday's game vs the Baltimore Ravens:

Tough defenses

The Titans offense won't face any defensive cupcakes on the horizon -- the Ravens (10th), Bengals (9th) and Steelers (4th) are all ranked in the top 10 in the NFL. The road has been tough so far as well. Through Week 7, the Titans faced five top 11 defenses (Cleveland, Jacksonville, Seattle, Miami, Houston), and two bottom 10 defenses (Indianapolis, Oakland). In 2016, the Titans faced just two top 10 defenses (as ranked through 7 weeks of the season, Minnesota and Houston) in their first seven games.

AFC South wide open

The Titans (and Jaguars) had the weekend off, but it turned into a weekend of favorable results in the AFC South. The Texans and Colts both lost, so after Week 8, the AFC South standings look like this: 1, Titans (4-3); 2, Jaguars (4-3); 3, Texans (3-4); and 4, Colts (2-6). (The Titans currently hold the tiebreaker as a result of the win in Jacksonville). The division is there for the taking. The Titans were 3-4 after seven games last season.

Red zone, 3rd down need improvement

One of the most popular questions I get asked is: What do the Titans need to improve most if they're going to get hot? For starters, the Titans are going to have to step it up in the red zone, where the team is 31st in the NFL, ahead of only the Cardinals. The Titans have scored a TD just 41.2% of the time. The Titans also need to step it up on 3rd down, an area they're currently 27th in the NFL. And those slow starts are getting old, too – the Titans have been outscored 37-19 in the first quarter of their first seven games.

Improved health

The biggest key to success on the offensive side of the ball, of course, hinges on the guy holding the car keys – quarterback Marcus Mariota. Without question, the bye week helped Mariota, who wasn't himself in October because of his hamstring injury. Mariota missed the entire second half vs Houston after first suffering the injury, as well as the October 8 game at Miami. He was limited in wins against the Colts and Browns. Mariota should be able to move around more in the coming weeks as he continues to improve. Getting receiver Corey Davis back will be big for the offense, too.

Special teams

The kicking game has been outstanding. Kicker Ryan Succop has made 20-of-22 field goals, and he earned Special Teams Player of the Month for September. Punter Brett Kern is averaging 51.5 yards per punt, with a 46.5 net. He's ranked No.1 in the NFL in both categories. The Titans are ranked 8th in punt return average, but just 24th on kick returns. One area that needs to improve -- kick coverage. The Titans are ranked 32nd in that category.

Kevin Byard is hot

Safety Kevin Byard heads into Week 9 on a roll. Byard is coming off a three-interception game against the Browns, and he has five takeaways in the team's last four games. Byard also had an interception at Houston and a fumble recovery at Miami. In the second half of the season, the Titans need to make more plays around him. The team is in the middle of the pack in the takeaway/giveaway department with a Net Differential of '0' – 10 takeaways and 10 giveaways. looks back at the all-time series against the Baltimore Ravens. (Photos, Donn Jones, AP)

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