The Tennessee Titans take to the road, hoping to avoid an 0-2 start. They face a far more talented, and balanced, offense in the form of Stafford and the Lions, but a far less imposing defense. Can they learn from their mistakes from last week and exploit the weaknesses of Detroit? Could be a tall order.
The Lions defense suffered similarly to the Titans in week one, but the results were far worse. They gave up four passing touchdowns and near as makes no difference four-hundred yards through the air. The Colts had their way through the air with, admittedly, a very good passing game. Mariota should have the opportunity to bounce back in a big way with a strong corps of wideouts of his own, even with Kendall Wright still sidelined. The Titans offensive line did a decent job of keeping Mariota protected last week, and I expect the focus to remain on plying the underneath and timing routes where Mariota can do so much damage. I also expect Delanie Walker to play a more central role against a weaker defense.
Ezekial Ansah is one to watch off the edge, and the Lions boast a good corner in Darius Slay (even if he didn't have a great game last week). The Lions also have some talent in the linebacking corps, but I will take the Titans cast of skill players over them. Look for Sharpe to have another big day. With Walker likely more involved, it will open up things for both Matthews and the rookie phenom to produce through the air. For what it's worth, Mariota has been money on the road, tossing 10 TD's to just a single INT last year away from home. He will also be looking to make things right after a disappointing debut last week.
When it comes to the run, however; the Lions were a little more sound. They were playing against a team that has a recent history of spurning the ground game though, so it is admittedly hard to project how they will be going forward. I expect Mularkey's reaction to last week's loss to be a hard-headed return to 2001 football; run the ball 30 times or more, regardless of the defense's weaknesses through the air. I really hope I'm wrong in that. Henry and Murray will certainly need to be more involved, however; and along with the offensive line, prove they can win on 3rd and short by grinding it out. That is the crux of this offensive gameplan, like it or not. So if the Titans can't convincingly win in those situations then what can they do?
Last week the coaching staff panicked. Judging by their play calling and personnel groupings after the first offensive error, they abandoned the game plan, despite the success they had with it in the first half. Hopefully they will be a little more resilient in their approach if the Lions jump out to an early lead this week.
Stafford was pressured on under 20% of his throws last week vs Indy. That translated to a monster game in which the Lions had their way through the air, including three touchdowns and an effective short passing attack that made whatever the Colts did on offense irrelevant. The Titans failed to generate any real pressure against the Vikings last week, which doesn't bode well now that they are without OLB Derrick Morgan and going up against a far superior QB. How much of the Titans' weakness against the pass a result of their desire to smother Adrian Peterson? We shall soon find out. Typically when a defense is able to make an offense one-dimensional by taking away the run, the defense is able to exert pass pressure as a luxury byproduct. That didn't materialize at all last week, and the Titans paid the price when the offensive game-plan fell apart. They didn't allow an offensive touchdown, but the Lions bring a whole lot more talent to the table across the board on that side of the ball, and Tennessee can't rely on a kicker missing multiple times against them this week either.
The Lions offensive line were strong performers last week in both the running and passing game; Lebeau and the Titans defense will have to be far more creative, and maybe more importantly, adaptable, to get the best of Stafford and the Lions. Without Derrick Morgan, there will be increased pressure on Brian Orakpo and Jurrell Casey to generate pass rush. If they can't break through, then they could face a long day against Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, Andre Roberts, and Anquan Boldin.
Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick are no slouches in the run game either. The Lions found most of their offensive production aerially last week, and while the Titans did a phenomenal job shutting down the Vikings rushing attack, they can't let off the steam all that much. The two Lions runners form a fairly dynamic pair that can hurt the Titans in a number of ways. Guys like Angelo Blackson, Da'Quan Jones, Jurrell Casey, and Avery Williamson will have to have similarly good games this week to keep up.
Overall this is a grim match-up for most NFL defenses, but it plays directly into the Titans weaknesses from a week ago. Can they turn that around?
The Titans performed just as I expected them to on special teams last week; solid and unspectacular. Mariani allows Titans fans to not cringe every time the defense forces a stop and the opponent punts. Kern is very good more often than not. And Succop has been nothing but consistent since joining the team a few years back now.
The Lions utilize Golden Tate to run back punts (and sometimes kicks too), so he's a guy to watch for. But he doesn't bring the danger of a Cordarelle Patterson like the Titans faced last week. Head to head these units are fairly evenly matched, and I would be surprised if either changed the face of the game this week.
Overall the Titans have a lot to do to overcome a solid Lions squad. Detroit has shown already this year that they can win a shootout, and that ability alone will test the Titans, whose gameplan isn't conducive to opening up the offense and firing it deep on a consistent basis. That said, Tennessee will have an easier task of throwing the ball this week than they did against an elite Vikings defense. The real question is on the other side of the ball; can the Titans slow down Stafford and the Lions passing game? Judging from their performance in the preseason and last week, I have my doubts.
I say it will be close early, but the Lions firepower will be too much to keep pace with. Lions win, 31-24.