NASHVILLE – The Titans face the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.
Here's a look at six things to watch in the contest:
It's been tough sledding for Derrick Henry the past three weeks – the Titans running back has averaged just 2.8 yards per carry in Weeks 10-12. But the calendar has now flipped to December, so we know what that means. The Titans would love to see some trends continue on Sunday on Philadelphia. Henry has heated up in past Decembers – he's the only player with over 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground in December or later since he entered the NFL in 2016. Also, Henry's 102.0 career rush yards per game in those months is the 3rd-highest by any player since game logs were first tracked in 1950 (minimum 20 games). Henry's 118.7 career rush yards per game on the road in December or later is the highest since 1950. An interesting nugget: The Eagles have allowed 3.7 yards after contact/rush this season, which is the highest in the NFC and the third highest in the NFL.
Slow Down A.J. Brown and Philly's Receivers
Yes, we all know what the biggest storyline is heading into this one – Eagles receiver A.J. Brown vs his former team. Brown, selected in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft by the Titans, has excelled in Philadelphia following the offseason trade. Brown has 53 catches for 831 yards and seven touchdowns this season, and he has five touchdowns in his past four games at home. The Titans will do their best to contain him, but he's hardly the only receiver – or offensive weapon – the team is worried about. Eagles receiver DeVonta Smith has a team-high 56 catches for 609 yards (2nd behind Brown), and the Eagles have others capable of making plays in the air. But the ground game is also a big concern. More on that coming up.
What About the Titans Passing Game?
Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill appears to be getting healthier, and one of his weapons will forever be linked to Brown – rookie receiver Treylon Burks, who the Titans took in the 2022 draft after trading away Brown. The Titans need Burks to stay on a roll. Burks has emerged of late, and he now has 24 catches for 334 yards on the season. He'll look for his third straight game with 70-plus receiving yards. But the Titans have also gotten nice contributions of late from receiver Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, who is averaging 19.1 yards per catch (3rd in the NFL, minimum 10 receptions) and tight end Chig Okonkwo, who is averaging 18.8 yards a catch (leads all TEs, minimum 10 receptions). The Titans are going to need more consistency from Tannehill et al in the passing game, and on Sunday they're going to need to finish off drives with points after going 0-of-3 in the red zone scoring touchdowns this past week against the Bengals. It won't be easy against the NFL's second-ranked defense.
Contain Jalen Hurts
Hurts has been a real pain for opposing defenses in 2022 – as a runner, and a passer. Hurts is third in the NFL in Pass-TD ratio (17-3), third in passer rating (105.6) and fourth in offensive TDs (25). He's the third QB in NFL history with a 100-plus passer rating and 8-plus rushing touchdowns in the same season. So far this season, Hurts has thrown for 2,560 yards while rushing for 597 yards. The Titans can't afford to let Hurts get too comfortable, but what makes it tougher is the fact the Eagles can hurt you with others on the ground – they had 363 rushing yards in Week 12 vs Green Bay. While the Titans try to keep running back Miles Sanders (900 rush yards) from getting in a groove, Hurts would love nothing more than to start spreading the ball around as a dynamic point guard. On the season, the Titans rank 3rd in the NFL in rush yards per game (84.5) and 31st in pass yards per game (266.7).
The Titans can't afford to make things tougher on themselves on Sunday, because the Eagles have proven to be an opportunistic bunch. Philadelphia is ranked No.1 in the NFL in turnover ratio with a plus-13 (23 takeaways vs 10 giveaway), and 15 of the takeaways have been on interceptions. The Eagles are one of two teams with a takeaway in each game in 2022, and they're the only team to have three players with three-plus INTs in 2022, and five players with four-plus sacks. The Titans, meanwhile, are a plus-2 in this category (13 takeaways, 11 giveaways). The Eagles certainly haven't been giving up many freebies in the air, as Hurts has thrown just three interceptions vs his 17 touchdown tosses. This category could certainly swing things on Sunday.
Importance of Week 13
The Titans are roughly a five-point underdog on Sunday in Philly. By now, you know I love to roll out the playoff percentages with a win, or loss, so I'm continuing that here. A win on Sunday would improve Tennessee's record to 8-4, and since 1990, teams with an 8-4 mark after 12 games have made the playoffs 81.9% of the time, they've won their division 44.8% of the time, and they've won the Super Bowl 5.2% of the time. Meanwhile, teams that have started 7-5 have made the playoffs just 54.9 of the time, they've won their division just 19.5% of the time, and they've won the Super Bowl 2.3% of the time. The Titans, of course, are just worried about finding a way to win on Sunday.