NASHVILLE -- The Titans face the New Orleans Saints on Sunday at Nissan Stadium.
Here's a look at six things to watch:
Slow Down Brees
We're going to get to the Titans offense in this edition of six things to watch, but this week's preview starts off with the Titans defense and the importance of keeping Saints quarterback Drew Brees from getting into a rhythm. If you watched New Orleans dismantle Indianapolis on Monday Night Football, you saw Brees complete 29-of-30 passes in that contest. It was the highest completion percentage in single game in NFL history (minimum 20 attempts). Well, the Titans can't let Brees get in a zone like he did against the Colts. Something else to watch: If Brees completes his first four passes against the Titans, he would set an NFL record for most consecutive completions (26) in NFL history.
Sunday's Titans vs. Saints game will feature the NFL's top-ranked passers in Brees (115.3) and Ryan Tannehill (114.6), and how about this stat: Since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978, Sunday's game will be the first Week 16 or Week 17 matchup featuring two starting QBs with a passer rating of 114.0 or greater. Tannehill has been steady for the Titans since taking over as the starter in Week 7. He's posted a 100-plus passer rating in six of his eight starts, and the Titans are 6-2 in those games. The Titans need Tannehill to stay hot.
The Saints have arguably the NFL's best receiver in Michael Thomas, who has 1,552 yards and eight touchdowns on the season. He's coming off a 12-catch, 128-yard game against the Colts, and he has eight games with 10-plus receptions in 2019, the most in a single season in NFL history. So the Titans secondary faces a big challenge. The Titans have a mature rookie in A.J. Brown, who leads the team with 893 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. With a 100-yard receiving game against the Saints, Brown would become the franchise's second all-time rookie with five 100-yard efforts, and he'd become the first NFL rookie with five 100-yard receiving games since Amari Cooper with the Oakland Raiders in 2015.
The Newest Kicker
The kicker has been a topic in the weekly game preview several times this season, from Cairo Santos to Cody Parkey to Ryan Succop … and now Greg Joseph. The Titans signed Joseph off of Carolina's practice squad earlier this week to take the spot formerly held by Succop, who was placed on Injured Reserve. Joseph is actually taking the spot of two players – the Titans also waived Ryan Santoso this week after he handled kickoff a few games. Joseph, who last kicked in a game with the Browns last season (17-of-20 on FGs, and 25-of-29 on PATs), will do double duty. The Titans need him to do his job well while kicking the kicking drama to the curb.
It's important for the Titans to get Derrick Henry cranked up on Sunday, because it would not only help the offense, it would help the defense as well – by controlling the clock and keeping the Saints offense off the field. Henry has 1,329 yards and 13 scores on the ground this season, with five 100-yard games. Henry hasn't looked 100 percent the past few weeks as he's worked his way through a hamstring injury that's limited his practice time. Of course there's a school of thought the Titans might limit or even sit Henry on Sunday, depending on what happens in the Texans-Buccaneers game on Saturday. Why? Because a Houston win would take away the importance of a Tennessee win against the Saints, and extra time to heal could allow Henry a chance to get healthier for the finale in Houston. We'll leave that for others to debate. Henry said he wants to play, and plans to play. And he plans on playing well.
Inside Push, and Pressure, on Defense
We're using the bookends of this six pack to discuss defense for the Titans. Titans defensive lineman Jurrell Casey talked this week about the importance of getting a push in the middle to get Brees off of his spot, so that's something to watch on Sunday. Pressuring Brees is key, even if it's near impossible to get him on the ground -- he's been sacked just nine times in nine games on the season. The Titans need to find a way to be disruptive up front for another reason as well – it could disrupt a Saints running game led by the dangerous Alvin Kamara, who has 1,163 scrimmage yards on the year. The Titans need to be physical up front against a Saints offense that relies on timing, and time.