The clutch play of quarterback Ryan Tannehill, the violent running style of Derrick Henry, and the star power associated with the Tennessee Titans wide receivers – have ultimately led most to believe that their season starts and ends on their ability to put up points. In most instances, that notion would ring true.
However, with a passing game that ranked in the middle of the pack during the regular season, the Titans won’t be looking to get into long, drawn-out shootouts with the competition. While Tannehill will attempt to complete timely throws on 3rd down and with Henry looking forward to smashing someone’s face into the dirt, courtesy of a stiff arm, the offensive side of the ball for the number one seed in the AFC won’t dictate the outcome of their upcoming divisional showdown against the Cincinnati Bengals. Instead, their lackluster defense will be tasked with the soul-crushing assignment of stopping Joe Burrow this Saturday afternoon.
By all accounts, the game will be won or lost thanks to the arm of Burrow. In only his second year, the former Heisman Trophy winner has left a lasting impression on the rest of the league. With 4,611 passing yards and 34 touchdowns, both of which rank in the top eight amongst all quarterbacks, not to mention a completion percentage that was higher than anyone else’s at 70.4%, there was almost nothing anyone could do to stop him.
Although Bengals fans are incredulous to the Titans chances, if Tennessee hopes to continue what has already been a magical season, they’ll need to make timely stops and stray away from making certain mistakes.
Unlike most QBs who present a double-edged sword with their ability to run, Burrow is essentially a statue in the pocket. But that doesn’t mean the Titans should pin their ears back and attempt to blitz him. In fact, if head coach Mike Vrabel attempted such an audacious move, Burrow would simply sit back and smile as he picked them apart.
The Titans horrible pass rush might be a good thing
In terms of the Titans pass rush, they rank near the bottom of the NFL barrel with a win rate of just 39%. While their sack numbers as a whole are already pedestrian, Vrabel should inform his bunch to stay at home and only rush four. At the halfway point of the season, teams attempted to knock Burrow off his spot to test his surgically repaired right knee…it was a huge mistake.
The brazen pass rushes did nothing to deter Burrow from slicing and dicing defenses. When facing the blitz, Burrow registered a passer rating of 128 halfway through the season, a number that fell considerably (99) when he wasn’t pressed to make quick decisions.
In showdowns in which the field was congested and Burrow was given plenty of time to survey the landscape, he struggled. For example, in early-season matchups against the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers, Burrow was blitzed only 14.7% and 19% of the time. As a result, not only did Burrow’s Bengals come up short but he also threw just four touchdowns and five interceptions.
On paper, fans of the Titans aren’t expecting a reprieve when it comes to their ability to stop Burrow’s top-flight passing attack. But, there are a few silver linings. Technically, the Bengals ranked 25th in passing yards allowed at 245.2 per game. Nevertheless, according to Pro Football Focus, they were incredibly balanced.
Don’t be fooled by the Titans defensive numbers overall
Safeties Amani Hooker and Kevin Byard were ranked in the top five individually, while their cornerbacks finished the year ranked 16th overall. To accentuate just how incredibly formidable the Titans defense can be, look no further than their Week 7 beatdown over Kansas City Chiefs.
According to some, if Patrick Mahomes hung up his cleats this very instance, he’ll be a Hall of Famer. But, regardless of the Super Bowl and regular season MVPs currently sitting on his mantle next to his Lombardi trophy, Mahomes registered arguably the most dismal performance of his career against a bottom-tier defense. Mahomes finished the game having completed only 20 of his 35 passes for 206 yards, no touchdowns, and one interception. He was also held to a passer rating of 62.3, his second-lowest of the season.
Although the defense will ultimately be relied upon heavily, special teams will have a say in the final outcome as well. With regard to the Bengals starting field position, their special teams unit did them no favors. The Bengals averaged just 7.3 return yards in punt return situations and 20.1 paltry yards in kickoff returns. If the Titans can hold Cincinnati to those horrific numbers, Burrow will be forced to drive the length of the field, something he’s capable of all but still incredibly difficult nonetheless.
It’s a monumental ask of a defense. Joe Burrow has been a bonafide MVP candidate and rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase is as good as it gets. However, if Titans hope to survive and advance, they’ll buckle down and make Burrow as innocuous as humanly possible.