NASHVILLE – The Titans face the Cleveland Browns on Sunday at Nissan Stadium.
Here's a look at six things to watch:
Ride King Henry
It's December, and that means it's Derrick Henry's time to shine – not that the Titans running back hasn't been on center stage all season. The NFL's leading rusher has been a force all year, and there's no reason to think the Titans won't continue to ride him during the final month of the season, beginning on Sunday. Henry is aiming for his fourth game in a row with 100-plus rushing yards, but he'll face a Browns defense that's ranked ninth in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game (108.2) and 10th in yards per carry (4.15 yards). Henry fared well against the Browns in last year's matchup – he went for 159 scrimmage yards, including a 75-yard touchdown on a pass reception.
Stop the Run
It's hard to believe, but the Titans aren't ranked No.1 in the NFL in rushing yards. That ranking belongs to the Browns, who are averaging 161.4 yards per game on the ground, thanks to running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Chubb (719 rushing yards) and Hunt (706) are ranked sixth and ninth, respectively, in rushing yards. The Cleveland duo is on pace to become the first pair of Browns players to each top 1,000 rushing yards in the same season since Earnest Byner (1,002) and Kevin Mack (1,104) in 1985. The Titans, ranked 16th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game (115.5), will have their hands full.
Browns pass rusher Myles Garrett, who has missed the last two games, got off the COVID-19 list just in time to face the Titans, who will once again count on a reworked offensive line to get things done. Garrett has 9.5 sacks on the season, and he's a force off the edge for the Browns. But Garrett isn't all the Titans have to worry about, as the Browns have 27 sacks as a team. Olivier Vernon (5 sacks) is next in line, and then there's Sheldon Richardson (3.5) and Adrian Clayborn. Left tackle David Quesseberry and others will need to stand tall once again.
The Titans intercepted Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield three times the last time they faced him on September 2019, while sacking him five times. It helped lead to a Tennessee rout. Well, Mayfield has come a long way since then, as he's thrown for 17 touchdowns vs seven interceptions this season. Mayfield has really cut down on his mistakes of late – he hasn't thrown an interception in four straight games. But Mayfield, behind the strength of Cleveland's solid run game, hasn't been called on to make a ton of plays either. The Titans need to find a way to get after him, and fluster him in the pocket. Former Titan Jack Conklin, now with the Browns, will be one of the guys protecting him.
After some shaky performances earlier in the season, the Titans have settled down on special teams in recent weeks, and helped the team win games. Punter Brett Kern was a magician last week in Indianapolis, and kicker Stephen Gostkowski has been solid two weeks in a row. The Titans scored a touchdown on special teams a week ago, and the team would love to make more positive plays in this one. Browns kicker Cody Parkey, another former Titan, will aim to get it done on Cleveland's side. The Titans want a clean game, and a good one.
Keep Scoring Points!
Some of Tennessee's offensive stats have been mind-boggling of late. The Titans have scored 42-plus points three times this season, and six games from 2019 to 2020 – that's first in the NFL. The Titans have scored 30-plus in six of 11 games this year. Henry (12 touchdowns), A.J. Brown (8 TDs) and Jonnu Smith (8 TDs) account for 29 of the Titans' 40 touchdowns through 11 games, and that touchdown total is tied with the Buccaneers output for the fourth-best number in the league, trailing only the Packers (44), Chiefs (43) and Seahawks (42). Simply put, Tennessee's offensive output is producing enough it can cover up mistakes even when the defense and special teams don't play their best. The Titans want to continue playing complementary football, of course, but can this team keeps its hot streak on offense? We'll find out on Sunday.