NASHVILLE – The Titans face the Denver Broncos on Sunday at Nissan Stadium.
Here's a look at six things to watch in the contest:
The Workhorse vs the Broncos
Titans running back Derrick Henry leads the NFL in carries (183) and rush yards (870), and his nine rushing touchdowns ranks second behind only Nick Chubb's 10. Yes, once again he's been carrying the Titans on his back, averaging 22.9 carries per game. Henry is on pace for 388 carries, which would be a career high. Henry has 100-plus rushing yards in five consecutive games – the last player to have six consecutive 100-yard games is DeMarco Murray with the Cowboys in 2014 (eight straight). Henry has more carries than the Titans have pass attempts in the last five games, and since Week 4 Henry has 129 carries (compared to 92 pass attempts over the same time period). On Sunday, Henry and the Titans will face a Broncos defense allowing 122.6 rush yards per game (21st in the NFL), and 4.91 yards per carry (27th).
Back in the Saddle?
The Titans are hoping to get starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill back in the saddle, and things are trending in the right direction. Tannehill practiced all week, but Titans HC Mike Vrabel didn't say anything definitive after Friday's practice. Tannehill was listed as questionable on the final Injury Report. If Tannehill is in fact back, it should open up the offense a little more. In the past two games with Malik Willis as the starter, the Titans have had just 11 completions (6 at HOU, 5 at KC). No team has gone three straight games with six or fewer completions since the 1978 New York Giants. With Willis, the Titans are averaging 48.5 passing yards per game. With Tannehill, the Titans are averaging 165.5 passing yards per game. Since 2021 (minimum 10 starts), the only QB with a higher win percentage than Tannehill's .696 (16-7 record) is Patrick Mahomes (.720, 18-7). Throwing the ball against the Broncos defense won't be easy, though – Denver is ranked first in the NFL in pass yards allowed (165.8) and they've allowed just four passing TDs, which is also an NFL best.
Treylon Burks and the WRs
The Titans are going to need more from their receiving corps, and the return of rookie receiver Treylon Burks should help. Burks, who has missed the past four games, returned to practice this week and on Saturday he was activated from Injured Reserve. The Titans are coming off a game when the receivers didn't have a single catch, not that they were targeted a whole bunch. The Titans need more consistency from their receivers, who were guilty of letting at least two balls escape their grasp vs the Chiefs. Receiver Robert Woods has been the team's best receiver – he leads the Titans with 22 receptions for 256 yards in 2022. The Titans are the only team without a single player with 25-plus receptions in 2022. The Titans rank last in the NFL in receptions (107) and yards (1,238) in 2022. Across the board the Titans are going to need more consistency in the passing game, from receivers and tight ends.
Russell Wilson vs a Banged-Up Titans Defense
Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson is an 11-year veteran who has seen it all. Like Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes, he can tuck it and run, and the Titans gave up some critical yards that way on Sunday. The Broncos have challenged Wilson to run more, and we'll see if he elects to do so on Sunday. In the passing game, he's struggling – his completion percentage (58.8), Pass TD-INT ratio (6-4) and passer rating (83.5) are all career lows, and his six touchdown passes in the first seven games played is his lowest total since 2016. But he's hit on some deep balls, and let's face it, he's probably thinking this is a week he could have success, based on Tennessee's stats – the Titans have allowed 275.6 pass yards per game (third most in the NFL) and they've allowed 300-plus pass yards to five QBs in 2022 (the most in the NFL) – and Injury Report, as four Titans starters have been ruled out (DT Jeffery Simmons, OLB Bud Dupree, S Amani Hooker and OLB Zach Cunningham). The Titans will get DB Elijah Molden back on Sunday, as he was activated from Injured Reserve on Saturday. Both Wilson and the Titans aim to be better on Sunday.
Turnover Battle and Special Teams
Considering the offensive struggles of each team, I'm thinking this could be a defensive game on Sunday. Special teams will be key, and so will turnovers. Field position should also be key. The Titans will need another good day from punter Ryan Stonehouse, who is averaging 53.0 yards per punt and a 44.9-yard net, and this week special teams coordinator Craig Aukerman said the coverage units need to be better. Kicker Randy Bullock's leg could be key in this one. The Broncos have a pair of talented specialists of their own in punter Corliss Waitman (45.9 average, 41/4 net) and kicker Randy McManus (15-of-19 FGs).
Importance of Week 10
The Titans are slight favorites on Sunday against the Broncos. The oddsmakers think this game could go either way. In recent weeks I've been rolling out the playoff percentages with a win, or loss, and I'm going to keep doing so because I love the numbers. A win on Sunday would improve Tennessee's record to 6-3, and since 1990, teams with a 6-3 mark after nine games have made the playoffs 73.2% of the time, they've won their division 40.5% of the time, and they've won the Super Bowl 3.9% of the time. Meanwhile, teams that have started 5-4 have made the playoffs just 46.9% of the time, they've won their division just 16.2% of the time, and they've won the Super Bowl just 1.1% of the time. The Titans, of course, are just worried about finding a way to win this week.