NASHVILLE – The Titans face the Chicago Bears on Sunday at Nissan Stadium.
Here's a look at six things to watch:
How good of a start is Titans running back Derrick Henry off to in 2020? Well, if Henry produces a minimum of 125 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown on Sunday, it would mark only the 10th time since 1948 that an NFL player recorded 900 rushing yards and nine touchdowns through eight games. He'd be the first player to do so since Seattle's Shaun Alexander in 2005. On the season, Henry has 775 yards and eight touchdowns in seven games. As a team, the Titans racked up 218 rushing yards last week vs. the Bengals. The Bears, by the way, are ranked 16th in the NFL in run defense, allowing 120.0 yards per game.
Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack is a wrecking ball of a player, someone who can change games with a ferocious rush. Mack has 6.5 sacks on the season. But Mack isn't alone. Bears defensive lineman Akiem Hicks is a disruptive big man (6-4, 347) himself, with 3.5 sacks. The Titans have done a nice job protecting quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who has been sacked just eight times in seven games. But the offensive line, with left tackle Ty Sambrailo set to make his third straight start, faces a big challenge on Sunday.
The struggles on defense have been a broken record as the Titans have struggled to get after quarterbacks, while also failing to get off the field on third down. This has to change if the Titans are going to change the result. The team shook things up this week by releasing cornerback Johnathan Joseph and outside linebacker Vic Beasley. The Titans are hoping to get overall better play on the defensive side of the ball, and they traded for defensive back Desmond King in an attempt to help. Bears quarterback Nick Foles, a savvy veteran with 1,411 yards and eight touchdowns on the season, will look to add to Tennessee's frustrations here. Foles threw for a season-high 272 yards and two touchdowns last week. The Titans, as safety Kenny Vaccaro said this week, want to nip the defensive struggles in the bud.
A lot has changed here in the past week. Punter Brett Kern suffered a wrist injury last Sunday, and he's been ruled out for the contest. A new punter will be signed on Saturday after a group of players works out. The Titans parted ways with long snapper Beau Brinkley, and he'll be replaced by Matt Overton this week. All this while the team is still looking for more consistency at kicker after Stephen Gostkowski missed another field goal last week. The Titans have given up long returns in back-to-back games as well. The Titans need to clean things up here and find a way to win on special teams.
When Tannehill tossed an interception in the end zone in Cincinnati last Sunday, it was a surprise for a few reasons. For starters, it ended a streak of red zone success for Tannehill and the Titans. But it also hurt the Titans in an area where the team has had great success all season – the takeaway/giveaway category. The Titans are a plus-8 this season, with 12 takeaways compared to just four giveaways. The Bears, meanwhile, have been about dead even here, a minus-1 to be exact (9 giveaways vs 10 giveaways). The Titans need to be on the right side of this category.
Week by week, more and more fans have been allowed inside Nissan Stadium this fall. After playing in an empty stadium at the start of the season, the Titans hosted roughly 6,900 fans, or 10 percent, for games. That number increased to 8,600, or 12.5 percent, and eventually 10,400, or 15 percent, for the October 18 game against the Texans. Well, this Sunday's attendance vs the Bears can reach a fixed capacity of 21 percent, or 14,500, for the first time. No, it won't be a raucous sellout like everyone would like. But in these times, the more the merrier, right? It will be nice to see more Titans fans in the stands, aiming to make a difference, on Sunday.