The Tennessee Titans may be able to beat the Los Angeles Rams by doing the three things they know how to do best.
The Tennessee Titans are in a tough spot. They are clinging on to their Wild Card spot by the slimmest of margins and desperately need a win to help ensure their first trip to the playoffs since 2008. The only problem is that they have arguably the best team in the NFC, the Los Angeles Rams, standing in their way.
This matchup seemed like a late-season gift when looking at the schedule this summer, but the Sean McVay Rams are completely different than the Jeff Fisher edition. This will be an incredibly tough game for the Titans, but there are certain strategies they should focus on to try to beat the Rams. Los Angeles has a select few weaknesses, and it appears that the Titans may be able to exploit them by playing to their own strengths.
Run the Ball
I can practically hear the collective groan from Titans fans upon seeing “Run the Ball”. After all, Mike Mularkey’s stubborn insistence on running the ball via his archaic scheme has gotten a lot of the blame for the sputtering offense and Marcus Mariota’s regression. Marcus definitely looked great in the spread offense and no-huddle last week, but the 49ers defense and the Rams defense are two different animals. The Rams are sixth in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game (208.1) and third in the NFL in DVOA vs. the pass. They have the second-most sacks in the NFL (the Titans face the top two teams in sacks to end the year, yippee!) and are also eighth in interceptions.
Even though Mariota had a nice bounce back game last week, it might not be the best idea to put the team on his back against this pass rush and secondary. As good as the Rams have been against the pass, they are decidedly below-average against the run. They are 19th in DVOA and 24th in rush yards per game. This is the perfect opportunity for Mularkey to shut up all his critics. His focus has always been to win games by running the ball, and this is a perfect opportunity to show his methods are justified.
The Titans should also focus on trying their best to get their backs in the open field: the Los Angeles front seven ranks dead last in DVOA for Open Field Rushing defense. Since Derrick Henry has had a handful of big plays where he runs outside the tackles, perhaps the Titans should try to get him those kinds of carries. But whether it is Henry or DeMarco Murray getting carries, the Titans need to run the ball effectively to win.
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Prevent the Big Play
The Rams are a team that thrives off the big play. Currently, they are tied for fourth in the league in passing plays of 20+ yards (53) and tied for 10th in rushing plays that go for 20+ yards (10). Newly named Pro Bowler Pharoh Cooper also packs a punch in the return game, as the Rams are second and third in kick and punt return averages, respectively. This offense is lethal, and when they get the added bonus of good field position from returns and big chunk plays, they will be hard to stop.
Luckily, preventing big plays is something which the Titans excel at. The Titans defense may have given up couple of backbreaking big plays last week against the 49ers, but on the season the Titans are third in 20+ yard pass plays allowed (34) and first in 20+ yard rush plays allowed (2). Tennessee hopes to get Logan Ryan back on the field after his ankle injury cost him much of last week’s game, which should help with their coverage and communication.
Get Stops on 3rd Down
The Los Angeles Rams have only lost two games since October 8th. They are going to be a tough team to beat, but I noticed a trend between those two losses. The Rams are normally very good on third downs, with a conversion rate of 41.6%, good for eighth-best in the league. But in those two losses, they have averaged just a 28% conversion rate on third downs. Coincidentally, the Titans are also excellent at stopping third down conversions. They are seventh in the league allowing a 35.9% conversion rate. Obviously, stopping opponents on third downs is always going to help your chances at victory. But with a high-powered offense like the Rams getting them off the field is ever more important.
As you can see, many of Los Angeles’s weaknesses play right into the strengths of the Titans. Mike Mularkey has crafted his team to win games by running the ball successfully and employing a “bend but don’t break” defense. With the season on the line, now is the time to prove he can actually do it.