You made it, Titans fans. The midway point of the 2020 NFL season is here, and the Tennessee Titans are 6-2. There were many times before and during this season that we were not sure if we would get to this point, but here we are. The Tennessee Titans are positioned at the top of the AFC South despite several flaws that have had to be overcome throughout the first eight games.
Last Sunday saw the Titans avoid a three-game losing skid by handling the Chicago Bears 24-17, in a matchup where the game was not as close as the score would indicate. Despite giving up two fourth quarter touchdowns when the game looked out of hand, the much-maligned Titans defense bounced back well against a dreadful Bears offense after a week filled with roster moves by General Manager Jon Robinson.
Next up? A pivotal divisional matchup. The Indianapolis Colts come to Nashville for Thursday Night Football, as Phillip Rivers plays his first game against the Titans as a Colt. Speaking of Phillip Rivers, the Titans defense will hope the same Rivers that struggled in last week’s 24-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens will be the one taking snaps in Nissan Stadium on Thursday. The veteran completed 25-of-43 passes for 227 yards and a pick, capped off by a hilarious attempt at a tackle as Marcus Peters ran back the interception for six. This is a Jekyll-and-Hyde Colts team that has been marred by inconsistency this season but are capable of putting up points and have a top-three scoring defense in the NFL.
3 Things to Watch
Titans pass rush: In his season debut a starter, second-year edge rusher Derick Roberson was more disruptive in seven snaps than Vic Beasley was in seven games, totaling four tackles and a pass defended on the day. The Titans owned up to their $9 million mistake by waiving Beasley last week, and this unit followed it up by sacking Nick Foles three times after only getting home seven times in the first seven games. Yes – it was against a patchwork offensive line and a quarterback that is about as mobile as Athena’s statue inside the Parthenon – but it was still progress. That group got it done without Jadaveon Clowney as well, as he deals with a knee injury. Whether Clowney is back or not, the Titans’ pass rush faces one of the best offensive lines in the NFL on Thursday and will need Harold Landry and Jeffrey Simmons to create chaos against a unit that sits atop the league in sacks allowed per game.
Newcomers: How about a 63-yard scoop-and-score touchdown to introduce cornerback Desmond King to Nashville?
The Titans’ replacement for the recently released Jonathan Joseph provided an immediate upgrade on Sunday after being traded for a 6th round pick from the Los Angeles Chargers. King did this after a week of Zoom meetings, and now has to follow it up on a short week of practice. It wasn’t just the marquee trade from L.A, however. Practice squad cornerback Breon Borders played some quality snaps as the Titans continue to wait on Adoree Jackson’s return from injury and running back D’Onta Foreman has carried the ball 10 times with an average of 4.8 yards per touch as a nice relief option for Derrick Henry alongside Jeremy McNichols. Not to mention veteran Ryan Allen booming eight punts for an average of 50 yards per punt in place of the injured Titans legend, Brett Kern. Jon Robinson’s midseason moves have made the Titans better, for now, but they will need more from these newcomers on Thursday.
Tannehill & Co: This Colts defensive unit has had a fantastic season under defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, and are top three in the league, statistically, in nearly every major defensive category. The Colts have yet to allow a 100-yard rusher this season, and no running back has run for more than 63 yards against a front that has allowed just 83.6 rush yards per game. On the same note, this defensive unit is third in the league in pass yards allowed per game with just over 206, so Arthur Smith’s offense has its work cut out for them. The good news? Derrick Henry is just 15 yards behind Dalvin Cook as the league’s leading rusher, and the Titans have manufactured a worthy supporting cast in the backfield with Foreman and McNichols, despite not having third-round pick Darrynton Evans available. Ryan Tannehill has taken a slight step back in the last two weeks but will need to maintain the connection with AJ Brown and find a way to get Corey Davis – who had zero catches on Sunday – involved.
Where the game will be won
At this point in the season, this Titans offense has earned the trust of its fans. They were able to make enough plays against the Bears on Sunday to win and should be able to find ways to score again on Thursday despite facing another top-tier defense.
Can the Titans carry the defensive momentum from the Bears game into Thursday against a much-better offensive line? If they can set the edge and contain running backs Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines, and make Rivers uncomfortable in the pocket, that should be enough to come away with a win. If this Titans defense reverts back to its form in Cincinnati, this group could find itself in second place in the division after a red-hot start. That’s why Jon Robinson made the roster moves he made, and the success of this team could be predicated on those moves moving forward.
The stakes are simple. An AFC South matchup, with first place on the line, under the primetime lights at Nissan Stadium.
Tennessee Titans (-2) vs Indianapolis Colts
Location: Nashville, Tennessee (Nissan Stadium)
TV Broadcast Crew: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews
Radio: Titans Radio, 104-5 The Zone
Radio Broadcast Crew: Mike Keith, Dave McGinnis, Amie Wells, Jonathan Hutton, Rhett Bryan
Referee: Brad Allen
Weather: Clear skies, high of 66 and low of 43
Gameday hangout/giveaways: 6th and Peabody, light-up Titans necklace