The Tennessee Titans take on the Washington Redskins on Sunday at 12pm CT, at FedEx Field.
It's unclear at this juncture whether or not Jake Locker will play against the Redskins. Whitehurst took the lion's share of the snaps in practice yesterday, though its not entirely obvious what that means at this point. The Redskins have some holes in their defensive secondary that Locker/Whitehurst and the Titans can certainly exploit, and I would expect more of the same from Ken Whisenhunt as far as the offensive focus; short timing routes underneath, mixed in with the deep play action pass to mismatches down the field like Justin Hunter and Delanie Walker.
Locker/Whitehurst will be tasked with looking off Ryan Clark and Brandon Meriweather, the 'Skins safeties on the back end. That said, the Redskins will be trotting out some inexperienced corners to defend the Titans receiving threats...
The Washington Redskins secondary has been an issue for them this year, with only two interceptions to their name and a slew of other breakdowns that have plagued them over the past weeks. The Titans should have an edge out wide. Kendall Wright was unusually quiet last week, but he will match up against Redskins corners David Amerson and Bashaud Breeland, the latter of whom is a rookie with plenty to learn about keeping up with a slippery receiver like Wright. Similarly, the Redskins have been victim of the big play, and Justin Hunter could pose a big threat to put the offense over the top.
Delanie Walker, who has been tearing it up so far this year, will likely be matched up with a combination of Keenan Robinson and Perry Riley Jr, who on paper are big mismatches for his athletic ability. Walker has proven difficult for Defensive Coordinators thus far in 2014; too big for safeties and too athletic for linebackers. If he can keep up the stellar run blocking , the Titans should be able to keep the chains moving.
With Craig Stevens lost for the year and Taylor Thompson still out with an injury, it will be up to Chace Coffman to fill in. The Titans will need him to be solid in run blocking situations against a Redskins defense with plenty of speed.
Last week, Taylor Lewan got his first extensive action in the starting lineup, having replaced Michael Roos who was lost for the season through injury. Lewan played very well in his debut, but will be singled up against some superior pass rushers on Sunday, notably ROLB Brian Orakpo. That battle may well determine if the Titans can run the ball to the left side, where the team had significant results last week. The Redskins front seven also features Jason Hatcher and Ryan Kerrigan. While the Redskins are yet to find their groove in the pass rushing department (10 of their 15 sacks this year came in one game against Jacksonville), there is no doubt that they have talent on the edges.
The Titans will need a big game from Chance Warmack and Brian Schwenke on the inside. Locker has struggled mightily in the past with pressure in his face from interior positions, much like most QB's. It will also be important to be able to create space for the running backs without stacking the line; so that means plenty of one-on-one responsibilities for Warmack and co.
As illuminated by my fellow writer, SuperHorn, Bishop Sankey and the Titans runners have been playing better when the team operates out of spread formations, and especially from the gun. With that in mind, I hope that Ken Whisenhunt heads more in that direction. Last week we saw Dexter McCluster used in an optimal fashion, and we will likely see him motioned out of the backfield and used as a mis-match receiver more often.
Shonn Greene will still be out this week, and it's unlikely we see him again until after the team's BYE week. That means more responsibility on Sankey's shoulders. Against the Redskins, I think he thrives in that. The Redskins have some hard-hitters on the defensive side of the ball, but I expect the Titans to run it effectively in this one.
The Titans had favorable match-ups last week against Jacksonville. They have a similarly positive outlook this week. The Redskins haven't made the necessary improvements on the their offensive line, and their squad has suffered for it. The Redskins have notched only 99.3 rush yards per game, 23rd in the NFL. That is a poor number to report when you have Alfred Morris in the backfield.
Jurrell Casey will line up against Kory Lichtensteiger and Chris Chester, and I think the Titans have the edge at that spot. Like last week, the Titans will be hoping for contributions from the rest of the line, like Ropati Pitoitua, to help Casey out, and open up opportunities for him. Pitoitua looks doubtful for this week, which would be a significant blow for Tennessee. They missed him earlier in the year when he was sidelined with injury.
Alongside Casey, look for Sammie Hill to anchor in the middle of the line, and help maintain leverage at the point of attack. Karl Klug was a big factor as well last week, and his ability to fill in on pass rushing downs will be important for Tennessee. The linemen have a big task this week in keeping Morris contained and disrupting the backfield. Putting the heat on Kirk Cousins is the blueprint for success here.
Speaking of pressure on Cousins, the Titans will need solid performances from their OLB's. Morgan has played well so far, but the Titans certainly lack dynamism in the pass rush department off the edge. They are going up against a unit that has been arthritic on third down this year. How bad? Through six weeks the 'Skins rank 31st in the NFL with a 3rd down conversion rate of just 32.4%. This number is bested only by one team, our very own Titans who hold the 32nd ranking.
The significance of this is multi-faceted. If the Titans can play downhill against the run with guys like Avery Williamson on the interior, they can force Cousins into the third and long scenario often. While the Redskins have lived (and died) on the big play this season, making sure the Titans are in a comfortable position to commit rushers will be key.
The Redskins have weapons. There is no debate about it either. Pierre Garcon, who led the NFL in receptions last year, DeSean Jackson, who is averaging over 20 yards per catch in 2014, and Andre Roberts, who is very talented for a third receiver. The Titans will need another strong performance from young Blidi Wreh-Wilson, but this is an area of concern heading into Sunday's match-up. Jason McCourty has the experience and the savvy to play the "elite" guys out wide, but behind him the list of players is relatively unproven. Making matters worse, Coty Sensabaugh will likely have another game out. That means more pressure on MarQueston Huff / Brandon Harris. The Titans will need to put a lid on the defense, and ensure they keep plays in front of them.
While we may take it for granted, the Titans have been very good in preventing the deep play this season. The Redskins will put Tennessee to the test in that department. It will be up to Michael Griffin, Daimion Stafford, and the front seven putting pressure on the QB, to ensure they pass that test.