Intriguing storylines surrounding the Titans’ clash with the Saints

The Tennessee Titans (7-2) host the New Orleans Saints (5-3) inside Nissan Stadium for a crucial Week 10 matchup.  Both teams have playoff aspirations and are going to have to overcome a plethora of injuries if they’re going to leave Sunday with a win.

There’s plenty of intriguing storylines surrounding the Titans at the moment, but let’s focus on the five that stand out the most as we head into Sunday’s contest. 

Can the Titans’ front four continue to dominate?

The Tennessee Titans’ front four on the defensive side of the ball have dominated opponents as of late. They have consistently been able to get after the quarterback without blitzing and that alone has helped transform this entire defense.

Being able to consistently rush four allows the Titans to drop seven into coverage which helps mask a ton of their deficiencies on the backend.

The combination of Harold Landry, Jeffery Simmons, Denico Autry, & Bud Dupree has accounted for 20.5 sacks this season — 19 of those sacks have come when using a standard four-man pass rush (T-1st in NFL). 

Tennessee’s defense has a knack for getting pressure without having to blitz. The Titans generate pressure on 30% of their snaps when only four are rushing which is the second-highest pressure percentage in the entire league.

After going through a four-week stretch where the Titans saw upper echelon quarterbacks, Tennessee’s front four now has the responsibility of getting after Trevor Siemian and the Saints’ injury-riddled offense. If Landry, Simmons, Autry, & Dupree can continue their dominance upfront, Tennessee should be able to leave Nissan Stadium with a record of 8-2.

Avoid playing down to an inferior opponent 

This is something that the Titans historically have an issue with. Tennessee tends to have the occasional letdown game when they’re heavily favored against an opponent.

The Saints may be 5-3 at the moment, but they are missing several key pieces at this point in the season. Starting quarterback Jameis Winston is out for the year with a knee injury. Star wideout Michael Thomas hasn’t played due to a nagging ankle injury. And most recently, the Saints have worked out running backs due to a fear that Alvin Kamara could miss a few games as well.

If Kamara does miss Sunday’s game, the Titans defense will be tasked to stop Siemian, Mark Ingram, and Marquez Callaway as the Saints’ new “big-three”.

Tennessee’s defense should be able to continue playing at a high level against that offense especially when they’re at home.

However, if the Titans are going to avoid the upset, they have to be able to put up points on a stout Saints defense. Despite their struggles on the other side of the ball, New Orleans has a top-5 scoring defense in 2021. They’ve only allowed an average of 19.4 points per game (5th in NFL) and are only allowing 347 yards per game (11th in NFL).

This Saints’ defense is more than capable of keeping this game closer than it should be. Nonetheless, there’s no reason why a 7-2 team that has super bowl aspirations should be threatened by Siemian and company.

The Titans must play their brand of football on all three phases and if they do, they should be able to avoid the letdown game that has given so many Titans fans PTSD over the years.

A.J. Brown bounce-back game?

Last week I went off on a whole tangent on how the Titans need to feed A.J. Brown. Before Sunday, he had been averaging over 126 yards per game anytime he saw double-digit targets thrown his way.

Unfortunately, Brown did not live up to that expectation last Sunday night. For whatever reason, Brown has an occasional game here and there where he struggles to make routine catches. Last week, Brown dropped two crucial third downs passes that would have extended their drives.

The Ole Miss product only finished with five catches for 42 yards on 11 targets — easily the lowest total of his career when seeing double-digit targets. His previous career low on 10+ targets was 114 receiving yards.

Fortunately for everyone involved, the Titans’ receiver tends to bounce back anytime he has an off night. And as good as the Saints are defensively, they don’t have anyone that can get you off your game the way Jalen Ramsey can.

With Derrick Henry still on the sideline, look for Brown to get back on track this Sunday as the targets should be coming early and often. 

Does Kevin Byard continue adding to his DPOY résumé?

What can you say about Kevin Byard that hasn’t already been said? The man known as the ‘Mayor of Murfreesboro’ has been absolutely incredible this year, even by his standards.

Byard has officially evolved from a ball-hawking safety to a complete, all-around DPOY caliber player. The Mayor of Murfreesboro has accounted for 40 total tackles, five interceptions (2nd in NFL), 11 passes defended (3rd in NFL), one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, and two defensive touchdowns.

This week he gets the privilege of facing a journeyman quarterback. Look for Byard to try and bait Siemian into a backbreaking turnover(s) as he tries to continue adding to his defensive player of the year résumé.

Is Kristian Fulton’s return looming?

In a relatively surprising move, the Titans waived cornerback Breon Borders who has been a steady cornerback for them anytime he was forced to play extended action.

However, the reason for that release is likely a sign of optimism that Kristian Fulton could be activated off injured reserve in the near future. Prior to the injury, Fulton was hands down the Titans’ most consistent and efficient cornerback.

If the Titans can get Fulton back to playing at the level he was before the injury, this defense is going to be scary. Fulton will be able to match up and hold his own against the opposing best receiver. Combine that with the pass rush being able to generate pressure with just four guys, the other six defenders on the backend can worry about stopping the rest of the passing attack.

Fulton’s return has the potential to turn this Titans defense into a legitimate and balanced behemoth. Keep your eyes peeled throughout the week for any official news on Fulton’s activation.

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