NASHVILLE – The Titans face the New England Patriots on Sunday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
Here's a look at six things to watch in the contest:
Tannehill Needs a Bounce Back
Earlier this week, Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill explained what happened against the Texans, when he threw a career-high four interceptions, like this: "That was probably one of the worst games I have been a part of. Not something I am proud of, but can definitely grow from it. Have to turn the page and move on." Tannehill and the Titans are ready to move on, but the challenge on Sunday will be a tough one. The Patriots are ranked 3rd in the NFL in total defense, and they've intercepted 18 passes in 11 games this season. A positive nugget: The last time Tannehill threw three interceptions in a game (back in 2016), he came back the following week and threw three touchdowns in a win. The Titans need him to be sharp on Sunday.
What would help Tannehill a great deal is some consistency at the receiver position, which is something he hasn't had this year. Julio Jones and Marcus Johnson are on Injured Reserve, and A.J. Brown has already been ruled out for Sunday's game. So, who will step up this week at a time when the Titans need help? Well, Nick Westbrook-Ikhine provided a 100-yard game last week, but aside from NWI, Dez Fitzpatrick and Chester Rogers are the only healthy receivers currently on the active roster. Receiver Cody Hollister was declared a game day elevation on Saturday, so he'll play on Sunday, and could have a big role. Golden Tate, added to the practice squad this week, was not elevated so he won't be available vs the Patriots.
The Titans could help themselves on Sunday by running the football, but Derrick Henry won't be running out of that tunnel on Sunday. Neither will Adrian Peterson, who was waived earlier this week. Running backs D'Onta Foreman and Dontrell Hilliard, who was promoted from the practice squad earlier in the week, are the two top options right now. Jeremy McNichols continues to be sidelined in practices with a concussion after missing on Sunday. The Patriots are ranked 8th in the NFL in run defense, allowing just 101.7 yards per game on the season. The Titans showed some positive signs running the football against the Texans, and they'll need that to continue on Sunday.
Attack on Mac
Patriots quarterback Mac Jones is shaping up to be a real gem. The former Alabama quarterback has already thrown for 2,540 yards and 14 touchdowns, and he's played especially well of late. The Patriots have done a so-so job protecting Jones this season, as he's been sacked 22 times in 11 games. The Titans, meanwhile, have done a good job getting to the quarterbacks of opposing teams, with 27 sacks in 11 games. The Titans didn't record a sack last week, however, and they can't afford a repeat on Sunday. Harold Landry, Jeffery Simmons, Denico Autry and others need to make a difference, especially with a banged-up secondary behind them.
The Patriots would love nothing more than to jump ahead of Tennessee early in this one. It would get the crowd hyped, it would force the Titans to throw it, and it would take the pressure off of Jones. The Titans, who fell behind 19-0 against the Texans before getting off the mat in a rally attempt, can't afford to be slow out of the starting gate again. The Titans have been outscored 42-37 in the first quarter this season before outscoring their opponents 117-94 in the second quarter. The Patriots, meanwhile, have outscored their opponents 55-44 in the first quarter and 96-48 in the second quarter this season. With a depleted roster, a winning scenario for the Titans would be to stay in this one, and then have a chance to win it in the fourth quarter. A poor start would potentially doom this plan.
Win Turnover Battle
The Titans pretty much served one up to the Texans on Sunday, with the five turnovers in all. While Tannehill took the blame for two of the four INTs, at least two weren't on the QB. The Titans need to clean the mistakes up, and they can't afford to be sloppy against the Patriots. Tennessee's takeaway/giveaway number is now a minus-3 (14 takeaways vs 17 giveaways), and that's not a great formula for success. The Patriots, meanwhile, are a plus-6 (21 takeaways vs 15 giveaways). Against a Patriots team that heads into the contest with five straights wins, it would help the Titans greatly to force some turnovers in this one. If they turn the ball over like they did against the Texans, they'll head into the bye week with a two-game losing streak.