While an outside shot at a division title may not have materialized with the Houston Texans riding out their quarterback storm, the Tennessee Titans are still alive in the playoff hunt. Hosting the New Orleans Saints this Sunday, they’ll have the opportunity to make a statement and shake up the pack in both the AFC and the NFC. They face an uphill struggle to make that statement with the Saints (still chasing a first round bye), but riding a recent run of three wins in four weeks, the Titans at least carry some momentum with them into this game.
Tennessee’s running game is rounding in to form and the Saints’ defense still is not firing on all cylinders. If the Titans can avoid giving up big plays to the Saints’ defense and can feed the ball to Chris Johnson to control the clock, they may feel they have a chance in this game. To do that, the Titans need to limit the Saints’ offense as well so let’s take a look at a few of the matchups that will either see the Saints keep the pressure on the 49ers in the race for the two seed in the NFC or see the Titans send a much needed shake up through what thus far has been a somewhat predictable amble towards the playoffs.
Drew Brees vs. Titans secondary
By virtue of the Saints open offense and the number of receivers that Drew Brees gets involved in the Saints’ passing game you have to be able to match up with the Saints man for man, even if you don’t run man coverage. Tennessee may just be able to match up with the Saints’ receivers to give themselves a chance of victory. At corner Cortland Finnegan (+10.3) has put some of his discipline issues behind him and is having one of his best seasons as a pro and if Jason McCourty (+5.8) is unable to go, the Titans will need Alterraun Verner (+6.6) who was so impressive in his rookie season to maintain his fine form from nickel sets into a starting role this week. Tennessee will need to play this game close and the man to watch in the secondary could be Michael Griffin (+2.5). Griffin is susceptible to play action and the Saints run play action extremely well, one bad read from Griffin could be all it takes for the Saints to break this game open.
Titans LT Michael Roos vs. Saints DRE Will Smith
Since returning from his suspension in Week 3, Will Smith (+4.8) has been prone to boom-or-bust performances and going up against one of this season’s better performing left tackles in Michael Roos (+11.6) he will be well tested to match some of his better performances. The Titans’ quarterback is prone to throwing off of his back foot under pressure so if Smith can generate some pressure there will be big plays on the table for the Saints’ secondary. Smith has recorded four or more pressures in six games this season and if the Saints’ can establish a lead watch for Smith to pin his ears backs and try to match the six total pressures that John Abraham and the Falcons inflicted on Roos in Atlanta three weeks ago, Roos’ worst game of the season to date in pass protection.
Saints O-Line vs. Titans D-Line
The Saints are throwing the ball at record breaking pace this season but when they are at their best they play with balance on offense. With the form that the Saints’ offensive line is playing in comparison to the Titans’ defensive line, they have a real opportunity to establish dominance in the trenches this week. For the Titans only their two rookie defensive tackles, Karl Klug (+4.8 pass rush) and Jurrell Casey (+9.8 run defense) have shown any really consistently good form this season on their defensive line. The move of Jason Jones (-6.6) to defensive end has not worked out too well in year one and Derrick Morgan (-7.8) has not rebounded well from an injury shortened rookie season. Every single Saints’ starter is grading positively overall, with Carl Nicks (+21.4) leading the charge, and while the Titans may scrap it may not be enough in this game as the Saints look to build their supremacy from their offensive line outwards.
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