Titans vs Buccaneers: Week 8 Primer
I’m going to start this preview with a bit of something that my millions of fans don’t see from me much and could be dangerous under the wrong circumstances: optimism.
My optimism could very well be misplaced. After all, the Titans are coming off a 23-20 win against the now 2-5 Chargers who were without Melvin Ingram, Brandon Mebane, and Travis Benjamin. If it wasn’t for a goal line stand by the defense as time expired, any optimism surrounding the Titans would be in regard to how high their 2020 draft pick could be.
But Wesley Woodyard punched the ball out of Melvin Gordon’s hands at the 1-inch line, and the Titans now sit at 3-4, 1-0 in the Ryan Tannehill era. Tennessee still stares up at the other three teams in the AFC South, but sit just one game behind Indianapolis in the win column for the division lead.
Now, I’m not saying it’s LIKELY the Titans will turn the season around and maneuver their way into the final AFC Wild Card spot or even win the division. And yes I know what you’re saying behind your computer or phone screen right now in your best Jim Mora voice. “PLAYOFFS?!?!”
Yes, playoffs. This team is built to win now. Call me crazy. Call me a homer. But there’s talent all over this roster. It may be mostly unproven talent, but talent nonetheless. Let’s go through the checklist, shall we?
Great defense: check
Above average offense line with an anchor at left tackle: check
A great every-down running back with a good complementary back behind him: check
Young, versatile linebackers: check
Good pass rush: TBD
The main box that the Titans didn’t check off was consistent quarterback play, and with Tannehill seemingly a significant upgrade over Marcus Mariota, that box may get checked in the coming weeks.
I’m fully aware the odds are stacked against the Titans playing deep into January this season. Starting the season 2-4 in the AFC and 0-2 in the AFC South is going to be difficult to overcome. According to FiveThirtyEight the Titans have a 14 percent chance to make the playoffs right now, but steeper odds have been overcome. Just last year, the Colts started the season 1-5 and after Week 6, their odds of making the playoffs was at 4 percent. As most Titans fans know, Indianapolis ripped off 9 wins in the next 10 games, with the final win coming against the Titans to claim their spot in the playoffs.
It’s going to take a massive effort by each unit to pull off this improbable push to playoffs, and the Titans can’t drop any more games they’re favored in like this weekend. But after seeing what the offense can look like under Tannehill on Sunday, there’s a small ray of hope hanging over Nissan Stadium this Sunday. We’ll see if it’s still there Sunday night.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Tennessee Titans (-2.5)
Game Time: Noon EDT
Location: Nashville, TN (Nissan Stadium)
Radio: Titans Radio, 104-5 The Zone
Radio Broadcast Crew: Mike Keith, Dave McGinnis, Amie Wells, Jonathan Hutton, Rhett Bryan
Over/ Under: 45.5
Stat Corner with Matt:
I’ll try to keep this on the shorter side since I went a little long on the optimistic/maybe delusional intro. It won’t shock Titans fans to learn that the offense wasn’t getting the job done statistically the first six weeks of the season. According to Football Outsiders, the Titans ranked 28th in the NFL in “drive success rate” (65.1 percent), 29th in yards per drive (24.88), and tied for last in offensive 3-and-outs (20). Not ideal numbers when you’re trying to establish and offensive rhythm.
On Sunday, all those numbers improved under Ryan Tannehill. Tennessee ranked 7th in drive success (76.9 percent), averaged 44.7 yards per drive, and didn’t have a single 3-and-out all day. Again, this came against a lackluster Chargers’ defense, but improvement is improvement. This offense doesn’t have to be elite for this team to have success. It only needs to show competency and rhythm, and Tannehill showed he’s capable of that on Sunday.
3 Things to Watch:
-Adam Humphries vs his former team: The Titans’ big free agent receiver addition got off to a slow start this season, but Humphries seemed to have a better chemistry with Tannehill than he did with Mariota, finishing Sunday’s game with four receptions for 40 yards. The Titans will need its passing game to carry the load this Sunday when they go up against the top-ranked rushing defense in the NFL, which leads me to…
-Use the pass to set up the run: For as long as I can remember, the Titans have been one of the more run-heavy teams in the league. Starting back in the Eddie George days, through the “Exotic Smashmouth” era, and now with Derrick Henry, this team has had its share of work horses. But the Bucs have specialized in shutting down work horses this season. The Titans will need to use the short passing game and play-action early on in this game to have success, something they haven’t been will to do very often over the last decade. But a guy can dream, right?
-More Jeffery Simmons, please: So turns out this Jeffery Simmons guy is pretty good. In fact, he was the highest graded rookie this past week, according to Pro Football Focus. And the guy tore his ACL eight months ago. Mike Vrabel worked Simmons back in slowly, only playing 21 snaps. Look for that number to increase this week as Simmons continues to get more and more comfortable on that rehabilitated knee.
My Prediction: Titans 26, Bucs 24
This Bucs offense can be special when Jameis Winston is on his game. With two elite receivers on the outside and an athletic tight end, this offense can put up some points in a hurry (see Rams game). But when Jameis is off, he’s very off, and I expect the Titans defense to have a couple interceptions, but allow a couple late touchdowns to make this game look closer than it really is.