NASHVILLE – The Titans face the New Orleans Saints on Sunday at Nissan Stadium.
Here's a look at six things to watch in the contest:
OK, let's face it – the Titans didn't run the ball very well in their first game without Derrick Henry last week, and the impressive win disguised that fact. Against the Rams, the Titans managed just 69 yards on 26 carries, an average of just 2.7 yards per carry. D'Onta Foreman led the way with just 29 yards on five carries, Jeremy McNichols had 24 yards on seven carries, and Adrian Peterson totaled 21 yards on 10 carries. The Titans are banking on improvement – and more rushing opportunities – as Peterson and Foreman knock the rust off, and the Titans will need it. Sustaining drives and being able to establish the run will be key against the Saints, and against other opponents as well. But that's easier said than done against New Orleans, a defense ranked No.1 in the NFL vs the run, allowing just 3.19 yards per carry, and 73.8 yards per game. Will the Titans be able to have more success on Sunday?
Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill's numbers may not be great – he's thrown 11 touchdowns vs 8 interceptions so far, with a passer rating of 89.2. Just past the halfway point of the season, he's turned the ball over too many times, and the Titans need to see this stop. Tannehill, however, has also been a resilient quarterback who has found ways to guide clutch drives, and make big plays with his arms and legs when needed most. With the running game still trying to find its legs again, more will be on Tannehill to lead the way. Tannehill will aim to connect with his top target, receiver A.J. Brown, again on Sunday. The biggest question now is who else will step up after receiver Julio Jones was placed on Injured Reserve on Saturday, which means he's out for Sunday's game.
The Titans aren't the only team with injuries heading into this one. Saints running back Alvin Kamara on Friday was ruled out for the contest after missing practices all week because of a knee injury. Kamara, with 530 rushing yards this season, paces a Saints ground attack that averages 123 yards per game, which is good enough for 10th in the NFL. The Saints, of course, will now turn to veteran Mark Ingram, and we should see a bunch of Ingram on Sunday. Ingram ranks 2nd among active players in rush yards (7,688) and third in rush TDs (63). Saints QB/weapon Tayson Hill is also a threat with the football in his hands. The Titans, ranked 8th in the NFL in rush defense, allowing 100.0 rushing yards per game, have tackled better of late and they need to keep that up.
A sure sign that things are going well with the pass rush: Folks are discussing nicknames for the defensive front. Yes, that's actually happening in Nashville, with the Titans, as the defense has been a force up front. The Titans recorded a season-high five sacks in Sunday's win at the Rams, led by three from defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons. Outside linebacker Harold Landry has been a real terror, already with nine sacks in nine games. As a unit, the Titans now have 23 sacks on the season. The Titans need to keep it going against a Saints team that will be led by quarterback Trevor Siemian. If the Titans can fluster Siemian like they did Rams QB Matthew Stafford last week, that's a great sign.
The Titans keep getting big plays when they need them. So, who's it going to be this week? Against the Colts, rookie Elijah Molden came up with a big pick-6 late. Against the Rams, linebacker David Long Jr. scored an interception near the goal-line. Safety Kevin Byard, with a pick-6 last week, a scoop-and-score in a game last month, and already five interceptions to his name this year, has been a regular playmaker for the Titans this season. So far, the Titans have shown a knack for creating turnovers, and making plays, which is why the takeaway/giveaway number has flipped so dramatically of late -- it's now a plus-1 (13/12) – after being in the negative for so long. So, again, who's it going to be this week? It's worth watching.
Titans punter Brett Kern has played a key role in the team's success, as he's set up big defensive plays by pinning opponents deep in recent weeks. Kicker Randy Bullock has been solid, and as a whole the Titans have been effective on special teams from a coverage unit. The Titans will face a challenge against the Saints, however, and this isn't a game where the Titans want to give up plays. The Saints are ranked 4th in the NFL in punt return average, and 6th in kickoff return average, and with a dangerous return man in Deonte Harris. The Saints are also 4th in kickoff coverage. This is the type of game special teams could play a huge role in, and the Titans need to be ready to win the day here.