The Tennessee Titans week started out with bad news: The team was losing Derrick Henry for the remainder of the regular season, and possibly the playoffs.
Then about an hour it later it got worse. The Los Angeles Rams, Tennessee’s opponent on Sunday, had pulled off a trade for linebacker Von Miller, and the Titans would have to face the league’s 10th-ranked scoring defense, 11th-ranked run defense and the top-ranked pass rush in the NFL.
More on the defense later.
The Titans, who many believe will revert to a one-dimensional offense with the lack of a potent ground game, will have to try and outgun the Rams, who also feature the league’s fifth-best offense in terms of yards per game and scoring.
Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford is currently on pace to shatter his best single-season passing numbers. But at the rate he’s going, he could end up with the third-most single-season passing yards (5,263) and seventh-most single-season passing touchdowns (46) ever.
Stafford currently ranks second in the NFL in passing yards (2,477) and touchdowns (22), and his 68.9 completion percentage is the best of his career. He is also one of just two QBs to average over 300 yards passing this season.
“[Stafford] is at the top in most statistical categories,” Vrabel said. “He has a great grasp on what they want to do. His ability to manage the line of scrimmage, great cadence, his arm talent, the way he moves inside the pocket is very impressive. They are playing extremely explosive, and it will be a great challenge.”
Stopping a QB as red-hot as Stafford is a daunting task in itself, but the Titans secondary also has to stop two of the league’s top receivers as well. Cooper Kupp leads the NFL with 924 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns, and his 63 receptions are second-most in the league.
Meanwhile, Robert Woods is 27th in receptions (38) and 31th in yards (458), and he has four touchdown grabs of his own.
“Not only does he lead the league in touchdowns, catches and targets, he and Woods are two of the best blocking wide receivers in the league,” Vrabel said. “It has been impressive just to watch them not only with their route craft and what they do, but the commitment they make to blocking players. I am not talking just DBs, they are trying to block outside linebacker, cut them off or do whatever they need to do in their offense.”
And one more challenge for the Titans: Rams running back, and former Memphis standout, Darrell Henderson ranks eighth in the NFL in rush yardage (507).
Here’s a further look at Sunday’s matchup:
Why the Titans can win
This one is going to be awfully hard to pull off without Henry.
No disrespect to Jeremy McNichols, Adrian Peterson or D’Onta Foreman, but none is Derrick Henry. McNichols is best suited as a third-down back who plays his best football coming out of the backfield.
Peterson plays with the physicality that Henry is known for, but he’s also 36 and not as fast or explosive as Henry. And though Foreman has great size (6-foot-2, 236 pounds), for whatever reason he hasn’t truly stuck anywhere since being drafted in the third round by the Houston Texans in 2017.
“Jeremy has done a nice job for us when we asked him to or when we have thrown the football,” Vrabel continued. “Obviously, he has a role on this football team. D’Onta has carried it for us before. Now with the addition of Adrian, we will kind of see where everything goes as it plays out through the week and see which guys will be available to play for us on Sunday.
“…[Peterson] has always run extremely hard. He has been decisive, strong with the football. We will see where he is at ... the end of the week and if he will end up helping us.”
With Henry out, more pressure will be put on quarterback Ryan Tannehill and receivers A.J. Brown, Chester Rogers, Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, Marcus Johnson and Julio Jones, who was a limited participant in practice on Thursday.
“I want to do whatever it takes to win,” Tannehill said. “If that is throwing the ball more, then it is throwing the ball more. If that is running the ball more, then it is running the ball more. I just love winning football games.”
Without Henry to pound the ball later in the third and fourth quarters, the Titans will have to put points on the board early and often to have a shot at pulling this one out.
Why the Rams can win
If the Rams weren’t intimidating enough with Jalen Ramsey, Aaron Donald, and Leonard Floyd, they’ve now thrown Miller into the mix, who has 4.5 sacks in seven games. Miller has recorded double-digit sacks in seven of his nine full seasons.
It’s no secret the Titans offensive line has struggled mightily with pass blocking, and Los Angeles leads the NFL with 25 sacks. With the addition of Miller, the Rams now have five players with three or more sacks this year.
“They have playmakers all over the place,” Tannehill said. “You just mentioned three of the top players in the NFL on defense. A ton of respect for those guys and the rest of their defense as well. They are playing good ball all the way round. We are going to have to be at our best, no doubt about it.”
Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_