Welcome to Week 13 of the 2020 NFL season, where the Titans are 8-3 and sitting at the top of the AFC South after a 45-26 win over the Colts. Can we just stay here for a while?
In all seriousness, it has been a fun two weeks for Titans fans, who have gotten to enjoy back-to-back road wins over rivals Baltimore and Indianapolis. The two-toned blue is back in Nissan Stadium for the first time since November 12 on Sunday for #CodeBlue, in the third straight game against an AFC opponent with the exact same record as the 8-3 Cleveland Browns bring their high-powered rushing attack to Nashville.
This will be a battle between the NFL’s No. 1 rushing offense and the NFL’s lead rusher, with both coming off dominant performances in Week 12. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt combined for 206 rush yards in the Browns’ win over the Jaguars, while Derrick Henry carried the ball 27 times for 178 yards and three scores as the Titans’ offensive front carved into the Colts’ defense like a knife through hot butter.
So, where will the game be won?
3 things to watch:
The battle in the trenches: As usual, we start with the most obvious storyline. Both teams are going to find success running the football on Sunday, but who will have the edge? The Titans’ offensive line is coming off arguably the best performance of the season, albeit against a decimated Colts front. Left tackle David Quessenberry is not only a great story as a cancer survivor but looked like a more than capable replacement for both Taylor Lewan and Ty Sambrailo on Sunday. The rest of the line remains intact as Saffold, Jones, Davis, and Kelly provide stability.
Meanwhile, the Browns bring in one of the best offensive lines in the NFL this season, with players like Wyatt Teller, Jedrick Willis, and former Titans first-round pick Jack Conklin. This group has led the way as the Browns rush for a league-best 161.4 yards per game.
Defensively, the Browns have allowed 108 rush yards per game while the Titans have allowed over 115 yards per game. Pretty even, right? The difference may come down to pass rush, where the Browns have forced 2.5 sacks per game, and the Titans have struggled with only 1.3 sacks per game. Unfortunately for the Titans, former No. 1 pick Myles Garrett seems to be a go for the Browns on Sunday after coming off the COVID/reserve list this week.
The Titans dialed up pressure after pressure in Indianapolis, and I would expect that trend to continue this week. You may see a lot of stacked boxes from this Titans front on Sunday.
Ryan Tannehill vs Baker Mayfield: Although he’s had a handful of miserable performances this season, Baker Mayfield had a nice day against Jacksonville last week going 19-of-29 for 258 yards and two touchdowns. Tannehill, however, has been the far more consistent player and is No. 6 in the league in quarterback rating this season at 106.7. When the Titans have success running the football, Tannehill has been deadly in play-action. When determining which of these two signal-callers you would want to lead a game-winning drive, all the evidence from the past two seasons points to Tannehill. On top of this, the Browns’ banged up secondary has to go up against the Titan’s physical crop of receivers. Advantage, Titans.
Practice squad contributors: Remember when the Titans were essentially giving away a free 10+ yard reception on every play with Jonathan Joseph starting at corner? This defensive back unit has come a long way since that dreadful loss in Cincinnati in Week 8, and it’s not because Adoree Jackson has returned from his knee injury (he hasn’t, and likely won’t this week). Yes, trading for Desmond King was a great move, but arguably the best defensive back of the last two weeks for the Titans has been Breon Borders.
INT! Breon Borders! 🔒 @breski4
— Tennessee Titans (@Titans) November 29, 2020
A former member of the practice squad, Borders has not been the only one to step up and contribute to the active roster in the last few weeks. We already mentioned the impact left tackle David Quessenberry had last week. Will Compton has shown he can be the defensive signal-caller in place of injured middle linebacker Jayon Brown, D’Onta Foreman has provided nice relief for Derrick Henry at running back, and tight end Geoff Swaim was used as a blocker in several different packages on Sunday and even caught three passes for 30 yards.
Jon Robinson and Co. certainly deserve criticism for the ineffectiveness of first-round pick Isaiah Wilson to this point, and the struggles this defense faced earlier in the season. But credit where credit is due, the development of practice squad players that have been elevated to the active roster is a huge reason why this team is 8-3.
The Titans win if….
The recipe for success feels pretty simple this week. If the Titans win in the trenches, open up play-action for Ryan Tannehill, and grab a first half lead over the Browns, you have to like their chances.
It’s also the first game of December, which means its Derrick Henry time. In the last two seasons, Henry has played in nine December games. In those nine games, Henry has carried the ball 194 times for 1,173 yards and 14 touchdowns. That’s over six yards per carry and 130 yards per game.
Is that good?
Containing Myles Garrett, riding Henry’s December success, and finding open receivers on play-action should allow the Titans to outscore the Browns, and force them to abandon the run game in the second half. A win guarantees a fifth-straight winning season for the Titans and would provide a huge AFC win to inch closer to cementing a playoff berth.
Tennessee Titans (-5.5) vs Cleveland Browns
Location: Nashville, Tennessee (Nissan Stadium)
TV Broadcast Crew: Ian Eagle, Charles Davis, Evan Washburn
Radio: Titans Radio, 104-5 The Zone
Radio Broadcast Crew: Mike Keith, Dave McGinnis, Amie Wells, Jonathan Hutton, Rhett Bryan
Referee: Clete Blakeman
Gameday hangout/giveaways: The Stillery on 1921 Broadway; Titans rally towels
Weather: Partly cloudy, high of 46, low of 28