The Tennessee Titans (6-2) travel to Los Angeles to take on the Rams (7-1) on Sunday night football. Both teams have been impressive as of late, each winning their last four games.
There’s a lot of high-caliber players to watch in this one but it’s the Titans’ available stars who are going to have to take over this one if they’re going to leave SoFi Stadium with a victory.
QB Ryan Tannehill
The Titans’ quarterback is undoubtedly the piece that needs to step up the most with the absence of Derrick Henry. For the most part, Ryan Tannehill has played significantly better than his numbers indicate.
A lot of his early struggles can be attributed to the fact that he was sacked 20 times in the first five games. Fortunately, the Texas A&M product has received drastically improved protection. Over these last three weeks, Tannehill has only been sacked four times.
Now that the Titans’ quarterback is starting to get adequate time to throw, he must be prepared to carry more of the load now that Henry is out. This offense doesn’t need to change its identity by any means, but defenses are likely going to change how they defend the Titans. Therefore, Tannehill must continue being confident and efficient when letting it rip now that he won’t have the luxury of overly-stacked boxes being focused on stopping Henry as their first priority.
RB Adrian Peterson
When the devastating news about Henry’s foot injury came down , naturally, the first person the Titans had in mind to help ease the wound was the running back he’s arguably most comparable to.
Adrian Peterson is physically superior than the majority of his opponents and has an unrivaled résumé. Even at the age of 36, he still looks as good from a physique standpoint as he did when he was 26. Unfortunately, Peterson has spent the last couple of years playing irrelevant football down in New Orleans (left after five games) Arizona, Washington, and Detroit.
The former league MVP was productive at each stop anytime he was on the field. Peterson accounted for 3,073 rushing yards and 22 total touchdowns over those four years.
The Oklahoma product showed that he still has some gas in the tank if you put him in the right situation. Peterson will need to get acclimated quickly because he is going against a vicious defense down in Los Angeles for his debut.
This is undoubtedly the perfect situation that the future Hall of Fame running back has been looking for to end that final chapter of his legendary career. No one is expecting to see prime All-Day or expecting him to be Derrick Henry 2.0 or anything.
However, if Peterson can just consistently replicate the four yards per carry average that he had in Detroit, Tennessee should be able to stay afloat until King Henry returns.
According the NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo, Peterson has made a strong impression and has already been moved up to the active roster as a permanent move. He probably won’t get a full workload on Sunday, but there’s no reason why he can’t get double-digit carries.
It will be interesting to see how much and how productive the 36-year old future Hall of Famer has left in the tank.
WR Julio Jones
The Titans’ prize acquisition of the off-season has been extremely limited thus far. Julio Jones’ hamstring has been a nagging issue throughout his career.
Unfortunately, the older he gets, the harder it seems for him to push through it. Whenever Jones is on the field, he has been awesome. He is averaging over 17 yards per catch and still looks physically superior to everyone else. Tennessee has to find a way to maximize their value with Jones on the field without putting him at unnecessary risk.
Jones has practiced for two straight days and seems to be on track to play again.
However, his biggest issue has been his inconsistent availability late in games whenever he does play. Now that Henry is out, this would be a perfect time for Jones to start consistently making the type of impact he had for approximately six quarters from Weeks 2-3 prior to re-aggravating his hamstring injury.
WR A.J. Brown
If there was ever a time to start consistently feeding your star wide receivers, this is probably it. Believe it or not, Brown has only seen 10+ targets in three career regular-season games (one per season).
Last Sunday, he received 11 targets, catching 10 of those for 155 yards and one touchdown. The previous year, Brown’s sole game with double-digit targets came in the season finale against Houston. The Ole Miss product received 11 targets, catching 10 of those for 151 yards, one touchdown.
His career-high in targets came in 2019 when he saw 13 balls thrown his way and caught eight of them for 114 yards, one touchdown.
To simplify all this, good things happen when A.J. Brown consistently gets the ball thrown to him as the feature piece rather than a complementary asset. Brown averages over 126 yards and one touchdown anytime he sees 10 or more targets.
Over the last three weeks, Brown has received at least nine targets and has produced 379 yards and two touchdowns. At minimum, that’s the type of target share he needs to continue getting while Henry is away.
The Titans don’t need to change their entire philosophy and become a drop-back passing offense or anything. But this offense has a talented young receiver who has shown that he can put up superstar numbers if he’s given a legitimate WR1 target share. This week he will likely be up against Jalen Ramsey for much of the night. So, if there was ever a time to show the world how dominant he can be, Sunday night is the perfect opportunity for him to do so.
EDGE Harold Landry
If there’s one thing that contract years tend to do, it brings out the absolute best in someone. There’s no denying that motivation is at an all-time high during a contract year. Especially for a premier position like a pass rusher where you could realistically make north of $20 million per year.
With that said, if you think that’s the only reason that Landry is motivated and has seemingly hit his peak, you haven’t been paying close enough attention. Landry has always been a high-effort pressure player but he is finally finishing the plays himself rather than just being an assister.
Landry is just a half sack shy of tying his career high through eight weeks. He’s tied with T.J. Watt for for second in sacks with 8.5 through eight games. Those 8.5 sacks through eight games are more than any pass rusher has had in franchise history
If the Titans’ defense is going to stand a chance against a potent Rams offense, Landry is going to have to continue his incredible season by making Matthew Stafford uncomfortable all evening. If Landry and company are able to do so, Tennessee should have a legitimate chance at pulling off the monstrous upset.
FS Kevin Byard
Kevin Byard has been the best safety in football for the majority of the last couple of years. Last year, many tried to claim he had fallen off a cliff and acted like he forgot how to play football instead of using common sense and realizing it’s probably because of the putrid pass rush he was forced to play behind.
If there’s anyone who deserved the benefit of the doubt on last years defense, it was ALWAYS Kevin Byard. Since taking over as a full-time starter back in 2017, Byard has 22 interceptions and 50 passes defended — most in the league during that time in both categories.
This year alone, the Mayor of Murfreesboro already has four interceptions, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery that he took for a touchdown.
Byard was named the AFC defensive player of the month and they will need his stellar play to continue going forward. This week he will have the chance to make his mark in front of the entire country as he tries to bait Stafford into giving him his fifth interception of the season.