The Tennessee Titans are coming off a monstrous 33-30 overtime victory in arguably the league’s most hostile environment down in Seattle. Tennessee needed to have this win in the worst possible way after that disaster of a home opener to start the season.
Now that the Titans got back on track, it’s time for them to use the momentum gained from last week to start reeling off some consistency going forward. The first test of Tennessee’s re-found validity is against the Indianapolis Colts.
With all that said, let’s take a closer look at who are the 10 Titans players we should all be paying attention to on Sunday.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill
Just like the rest of his entire Titans tenure, Ryan Tannehill has had a sneaky great start to the season. Outside of when his offensive line is getting him killed, Tannehill has played brilliantly for the most part through the first two weeks. Pro Football Focus (PFF) has the Titans’ quarterback as the third highest-graded quarterback thus far with an 86.2 to start the year.
Last week, Tannehill received the second-highest grade in the league with a 92.6 after guiding his team to a dramatic come from behind victory in Seattle — the 10th game-winning drive of his Titans tenure — most in the league over that period.
If the Titans are going to end their home drought to the Colts, Tannehill will need to continue to play well on Sunday.
Running Back Derrick Henry
Through two weeks, Derrick Henry leads the league in rushing yards as he rightfully should. Henry had a monster game last Sunday that included him showing off the new weapon in his repertoire.
On top of his whopping 182 rushing yards, Henry added another 55 receiving yards on six receptions. The Alabama product took what the defense gave them in the check down and screen department. This can create a whole other headache for opposing defenses that they likely weren’t planning for when thinking of ways to slow down Henry during the off-season.
We all know what type of threat Henry is on the ground. However, it’s going to be a scary sight for opposing defenses if Henry is able to consistently add a receiving threat out of the backfield to his arsenal.
Be on the lookout for how Henry performs in both the air and ground attacks throughout Sunday’s AFC South showdown.
Wide Receiver A.J. Brown
One of the more unfortunate sights from Tennessee’s 33-30 victory over the Seahawks was the performance of A.J. Brown. On a day when the rest of the offensive skill players finally seemed to be clicking together, Brown was the outcast of the group. The Ole Miss product had arguably the worst outing of his pro career as his day was riddled with bad drops.
The day started rough for Brown as he let a beautiful deep ball from Tannehill slip through his hands. Had he reeled that pass in, Brown possibly has a touchdown on his very first target knowing Brown’s YAC ability.
Instead, that was only the beginning of Brown’s Butterfinger outing as be recorded another three drops on the day.
Fortunately for the Titans, what Brown lacked in the receiving game last Sunday, he made up for with his impeccable effort to block for Derrick Henry. Brown helped throw a key block on safety Jamal Adams that helped lead to Henry’s massive touchdown run early in the fourth quarter.
Brown was determined to impact the game in some type of way, his blocking was consistent throughout the day despite his struggles with catching the rock.
Fellow teammate, Julio Jones, was very vocal in showing support for fellow wide receiver A.J. Brown after he had an off day.
Jones said: “I’ve been doing this for 11 years. They come and go, these types of games. So one game doesn’t define him (Brown). One play don’t define him. He’s a great talent, he’s a great player. And he’s going to be a great player in this league for a long time. He has all the tools, everything. His mentality is there, but if he needs me, I’m there for him. But for me, looking at him as the older guy on the team, one game is not going to define him.”
I wouldn’t bet on this to be a long-term issue for Brown. Look for the talented young receiver to get back to being the true Alpha that he is with the ball in his hand on Sunday.
Look for the Ole Miss product to remind everyone just who Arthur Juan Brown really is on Sunday.
Wide Receiver Julio Jones
After a disappointing season debut, Julio Jones had his typical monster outing early in the season that reminds everyone just how good he still is. The future Hall of Famer was practically the only thing Tennessee had consistently rolling in the first half. Without his early effort, this team probably isn’t in any position to make the comeback they did in the second half.
Jones produced a monster first 30-minutes of play that saw him eclipse the 100-yard mark before halftime. Although the offense featured more of a ground attack in the second half, it was undoubtedly aided by the pressure the defense felt with Jones out wide.
The improvement in Jones’ timing with Tannehill was obvious throughout the day as the two seemed to be in sync while playing with the type of trust and chemistry that we didn’t see in Week 1.
Jones finished the day with six catches for 128 yards. In reality, his stat line should have also included a beautiful six-yard touchdown, but the referees controversially decided to overturn their on-field decision because the pictures below clearly show indisputable evidence of an incompletion (sarcasm).
Barring any blind officiating from the referees, look for Jones to have another statement game. This time in front of the home crowd.
Tackle Taylor Lewan
Prior to last Sunday’s victory, Titans’ left tackle Taylor Lewan aggravated his knee during warm-ups and was a last-minute addition to the team’s inactive list.
This was extremely disappointing for Tennessee’s former perennial Pro Bowler who was coming off one of his worst performances in recent memory. Lewan finished Week 1 with a PFF grade of 39.7 after he accounted for two sacks and five total pressures allowed.
Lewan had the chance to silence his critics last week but unfortunately only amplified them. Hopefully, this is the week that Lewan can return and can start trending towards the comeback season he intended for himself.
Lewan did return to practice as a full participant on Wednesday and Thursday, therefore it seems like he is on track to play again barring another setback.
If Lewan does play, it will be interesting to see which version of Lewan we get. Will we see the perennial Pro Bowler who was once one of the best at his position? Or are we getting the Lewan that doesn’t look healthy and seems to be in his own head?
Hopefully, the version we see on Sunday is closer to the real Taylor Lewan we all know he’s capable of rather than the one we saw against the Cardinals.
Guards Rodger Saffold/Aaron Brewer
Rodger Saffold left last Sunday’s game with a shoulder injury and although he tried to tough it out, he untimely went back to the bench after just 34 snaps. Saffold is an integral part of this offense and will be a massive loss if he is unable to go.
The former All-Pro guard has been durable throughout his Titans tenure, but if he is unable to go, Tennessee will have to send out his reliable backup, Aaron Brewer.
Brewer filled in last week when Saffold was forced out and held his own despite allowing a sack. The Texas State product also has starting experience from last year when he filled in for Saffold against Baltimore. Brewer finished with a PFF grade of 76.2 anytime he was asked to step into the lineup in 2020.
If Saffold is unable to go, Brewer will have to bring his A-game because DeForest Buckner is more than capable of exposing him if he’s not ready to go.
Saffold did return to practice on Thursday on a limited basis. Keep your eyes peeled for his status as we start to get closer to kickoff.
EDGE Bud Dupree
After not practicing on Wednesday, Bud Dupree was a limited participant on Thursday. Dupree is listed with a knee injury as he is still working his way back to 100 percent after tearing his ACL last November.
Dupree visibly looked rusty in his first game back against Arizona, but he showed a ton of promise in his second outing that should get Titans fans excited. Dupree’s impact was felt throughout the game despite not filling up the stat sheet. He wasn’t perfect, but the former Steeler started to show that powerful punch and ferocious instincts that have made him a force in the league over the last couple of years.
Friday should be the day that Dupree is a full participant in practice in order to prepare for Sunday. If not, be on the lookout for his game status as the weekend progresses.
Cornerback Kristian Fulton
The Titans’ second-round pick from a year ago has been borderline spectacular thus far. Outside of the occasional miscommunication issue which has helped leave the defense in a vulnerable position, Tennessee’s secondary has shown drastic signs of improvement. Fulton is a large reason for these improvements as he has developed into the team’s best cornerback through these first two games.
After Sunday’s game, Fulton was asked to elaborate on what he thinks has helped with his recent consistency on the field.
Fulton: “Being confident and just being comfortable. You know, I feel like the game slowed down for me a lot this year. The vets have been helping me, the coaches have been helping me in the film room to try and make plays. So I’ve been trying to build on my games throughout the week in practice.”
Although it’s a small sample size, Fulton has allowed just 2 receptions for 12 yards on 10 targets while defending AJ Green & DK Metcalf. Opposing quarterbacks have a 42.4 passer rating when targeting Fulton through two games, per PFF.
It will be interesting to see if the LSU product can continue his dominant play by shutting down Indy’s Michael Pittman Jr., on Sunday afternoon.
Defensive Tackle Denico Autry
Ever since Denico Autry signed with the Titans back in March, he has had his eyes towards one opponent in particular. Autry signed a three-year deal worth $21.5M, He gets $9M guaranteed and $14.25M over 2 years. Those contract numbers seem like a bargain for someone who produced 20 sacks over the last three years —7.5 of which came in 2020 alone.
Autry agreed with that belief and didn’t shy away from expressing his disappointment that the Colts didn’t want to match Tennessee’s offer. Instead, Indianapolis chose to let Autry walk to a division rival despite being an integral part of their defense.
Autry called Tennessee’s upcoming two games against Indy “personal”, because: “the Colts knew what they had in me”.
The former Colt is coming off an impressive performance against Seattle. That may have been the perfect tune-up for the first of two “personal” games that Autry undoubtedly has had circled since schedule release day.
Autry also admitted on Wednesday that he likes the chemistry the front four have going on at the moment. Look for Autry to try and continue his momentum from last week as he attempts to make a statement against his former team.
Autry finished last week’s victory with three tackles, 1.5 sacks, and two quarterback hits in 37 defensive snaps (69 percent).
Safety Dane Cruikshank
When healthy, Dane Cruikshank has often been one of the Titans’ best and most consistent special teams players. Cruikshank’s biggest downfall when trying to find a bigger role for himself has largely been due to nagging injuries.
Fortunately for Cruikshank, he has seemingly gotten healthy at the right time as he is about to have the first real opportunity to have an expanded role on the defense. Last week against Seattle, the Arizona product played 36 defensive snaps (67 percent).
Cruikshank has the versatility to fill in for Amani Hooker while also being able to excel at the dime linebacker position that is a vital part of Tennessee’s defense.
With Hooker on injured reserve for who knows how long, this is Cruikshank’s opportunity to earn more playing time for himself for the foreseeable future.
Honorable Mention: DT Jeffery Simmons, OT David Quessenberry, G Nate Davis, CB Jackrabbit Jenkins, S Kevin Byard, ILB Jayon Brown