7 Keys to Victory (Titans)
Everyone wants to know how Ryan Fitzpatrick will perform now that he has an NFL-caliber supporting cast behind him. It’s an awkward situation because, despite his role as the No. 2 quarterback, Fitzpatrick’s experience could allow Dowell Loggains to open up his playbook in a more aggressive approach. The Titans need Fitzpatrick to make enough plays to complement Chris Johnson, who should have a strong day running the football. More on that later.
Pass Protection: Keeping Justin Houston, Tamba Hali off Fitzpatrick
Pass protection hasn’t been a strength for the Titans offense. They’ve introduced three new interior offensive linemen: Andy Levitre, Rob Turner and rookie Chance Warmack. Along with a hobbled David Stewart, they’ve allowed defenders far too often to get into the backfield and disrupt Locker. Eventually, those hits took their toll on the third-year quarterback.
They’ll face their biggest challenge yet. Entering Week 5, the Chiefs led the NFL with 18 team sacks. Justin Houston had 7.5 of them. His dominant play earned him AFC Player of the Month. His sacks have come in bunches: 4.5 sacks vs Philadelphia Eagles, 3.0 vs Jacksonville Jaguars, none vs New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys.
Houston isn’t their only disruptive pass-rusher. Tamba Hali is another outside linebacker with double-digit sack potential. His last four seasons have included sack totals of 8.5, 14.5, 12.0 and 9.0. This season, Hali has three sacks.
Keep these men off Fitzpatrick. It’s a must.
Interior Offensive Line vs Dontari Poe
Chiefs fans are raving about Dontari Poe and the impact he has had on the entire defense. KC Kingdom co-editor Ben Nielsen highlighted him as the top guy who could wreak havoc against the Titans. If Turner and the rest of the interior offensive line isn’t ready, Nielsen will have a point.
Earlier this week, Titan Sized assistant editor John Sciarretta wrote a column about how Johnson had to have a “Paycheck Game.” Against a defense that has surrendered 5.4 yards per carry to their first four opponents, there’s no reason for Johnson to have an encore of his forgettable Week 4 stat line: 15 carries for 21 yards.
It’s worth noting, however, that the Chiefs’ yards-per-carry average has been skewed from Michael Vick’s performance of four carries for 99 yards. Regardless, without Locker, the Titans must create lanes. Johnson must find them—and exploit them.
Containment of Jamaal Charles as Running Back, Receiver
Charles is a match made in Heaven for Reid’s offense. Reid loves running backs who are great receivers. He probably likes them even more now that he has a conservative game-manager quarterback who won’t take many risks downfield.
Through four games, Charles already has 23 receptions for 213 yards with two touchdowns. If that trend continues, Charles will have 92 receptions for 852 yards. Those are some eye-popping numbers for the 26-year-old running back.
Let’s not forget that Gregg Williams likes to blitz. How does an opponent slow the blitz? Screen game. Zach Brown, Akeem Ayers and the rest of the front seven must contain him.
Winning the “Big Play” Battle
Two good defenses. Which team will capitalize the most on big-risk plays? Whoever has the most 20-, especially 40-yard plays will have an advantage in a potentially low-scoring game.
Guess which two teams are at the top of the turnover differential stat? The Titans and Chiefs both have a +9 margin. The Titans have yet to allow a giveaway. Not only must the Titans create some turnovers, Fitzpatrick must avoid giveaways that are deep in either territory.