Ho, ho, ho!!!!! Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all of the Titans fans, and anyone else who is reading! It’s Santa Claus checking in on his favorite football team. I see that our team has been okay this year; they started off very nicely, but have been very naughty recently. Santa has never seen such an epic collapse! If things don’t change soon, I’m not sure that Mike Mularkey will get the one present he asked me for—a contract extension! That being said, let’s look at today’s game and see if the Titans can earn some presents this Christmas, instead of that giant lump of coal they got last year!
Possible Presents: Run Defense, Run Game, Urgency
Run Defense: The Rams have an MVP candidate at running back in Todd Gurley. He is having a Marshall Faulk-esque season in Sean McVay’s offense, as he racks up the all purpose yards through the Rams’ versatile offense. That being said, if the Titans have one big strength this season, it’s their run defense. Even after losing Daquan Jones, they have been able to manage, even against Kyle Shanahan’s difficult to defend scheme with Carlos Hyde toting the rock. If the Titans want this present, they will need to make tackling a group effort and stay disciplined in their gaps. Stopping Gurley would go a long way towards slowing this white hot offense down as a whole.
Run Game: While Wade Phillips’ defense has been playing very well this year, there are yards to be had in the run game. As much talk as there has been about the no-huddle all week, it may behoove the Titans to slow things down today. The Vikings showed that a few weeks ago when they were able to successfully run against this team, which stopped Aaron Donald and Wade Phillips’ pass rush from pinning its ears back. They also controlled the clock (37 mins to 22 mins), which kept the Rams offense from picking up steam. It depends on how things go, but it will be interesting to see the approach that Mularkey and company take to this game after all of the hoopla this week.
Urgency: This team plays to its competition. It’s been said before, but I will say it again: the small to medium sized games scare me more than the big games. Flashback to exactly 1 year ago today: This team just beat the defending champs and the eventual #2 seed in Arrowhead in consecutive weeks. All that they had to do was beat a 2 win Jacksonville team, and they got rocked. This year, they have beaten Seattle, Jacksonville, and Baltimore, while losing to teams like Arizona, Miami, San Francisco, and Oakland. It seems completely backwards, but it’s something about the sense of urgency associated with big games that gets this team up. They should have that sense of urgency after that road trip.
Possible Coal: Defensive Injuries, Special Teams, Aaron Donald, Not Keeping Up
Defensive Injuries: When you are facing this potent offense, it seems like a good idea to have two of your starting cornerbacks healthy and ready to play. However, as of 10:43 AM ET, it appears as if Logan Ryan will not play today, and Jadaveon Clowney’s boy Leshaun Sims is out for the season. Also, Lou Spanos or someone in the linebacker room must have baked some nasty snickerdoodle cookies (the GOAT Christmas cookie) because Avery Williamson and Wesley Woodyard were both added to the injury report yesterday with an illness. While I’m sure they will still play, it certainly doesn’t help. It will have to be a “next man up” kind of day for this defense in what hopefully results in a bounce back performance after last week.
Special Teams: I’ll tell you what boys and girls, this special teams unit has been one giant lump of coal this year, coached by Steve Hoffman. Adoree Jackson hasn’t been able to break one, and is letting punts bounce. There are penalties on nearly every return. Jon Robinson has not seen returns on this investment. On the other side, the Rams have the best special teams unit in the league, with pro bowlers at nearly every major position on that side of the ball. If Hoffman’s group makes more mistakes today, we could see a big time play that busts this game wide open.
Aaron Donald: This man weighs as much as Santa, but plays with the same speed and power as Rudolph guiding the sleigh. He is an absolute game wrecker (Sidenote: Taylor Lewan is great so please don’t think I am complaining about the pick, but remember when Titans fans wouldn’t even consider Donald because he “didn’t fit Ray Horton’s defense”? That was silly. If your scheme has no room for a potential DPOY, that is coaching malpractice). Anyway, if the Titans have a weakness along their offensive line, it’s on the inside. Ben Jones, Quinton Spain, and Josh Kline will all need to be ready for Donald, as he will move around and take all of them. If they can keep him away from Marcus Mariota, this offense could be able to move.
Not Keeping Up: Again, as much as the no-huddle has been hyped up this week, it would mean that you are ready to keep up with the most potent offense in the league and match their points in a scoring battle. Every time the team quickly scores, it means that Brice McCain et al. are coming right back out. I am concerned that this offense will not be able to keep up. But we shall see.
QB: Titans. I think if Mariota and Goff switched places, Goff would be worse here, and Mariota would make the Rams even better on offense.
RB: Rams. Clearly.
WR: Rams. Robert Woods and Sammy Watkins are playmakers, and Cooper Kupp is tough to defend in his own right. This secondary will be challenged.
TE: Titans, but I want to see Delanie Walker bounce back today.
Coaching: Obviously the Rams.
The Titans have a difficult task on their hands, but guess what? They did this to themselves. Now, they need to answer the bell and save their season. That being said, next week’s game is more important. If the Titans win this game and lose next week, they will probably miss the playoffs. However, if they lose today and win next week, they will likely make the playoffs. So don’t get too down if we receive a little bit of coal today...gifts could be on the way! That being said.....GO TITANS!!!!!