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Matchups to watch during Titans-Buccaneers

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The Titans try to even their record at 4-4 against Jameis Winston and the Bucs in Nashville.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Tennessee Titans Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

The Titans got a critical win in dramatic fashion last week, using a last minute goal line stand to thwart the Chargers 23-20. Despite the close finish, it was pretty clear that Tennessee was the better team throughout the contest. They controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and dominated the majority of the second half thanks to outstanding performances from two newcomers.

Ryan Tannehill made a great first impression as starting quarterback, confidently challenging tight windows with great success in his first full game under center in Tennessee. He finished 23 of 29 for 312 yards and 2 touchdowns on the game while producing three of the Titans seven longest drives of the season.

On the other side of the ball it was the Jeffery Simmons Show. The Titans first round pick made his debut just eight months after surgery on a torn ACL and he dominated despite playing just 21 snaps.

With a second straight home game on tap for the first time this season, the Titans will look to build on last week’s emotional win and see if they can put together a run to get back in the AFC playoff picture. Here are a few of the matchups that will determine whether or not they can do just that.

Titans OL vs Bucs DL

This is the matchup of the game to me. The struggles of the Titans offensive line have been well-documented, maybe even over-documented. Taylor Lewan and Rodger Saffold had their best game together on the left side against the Chargers last week and that’s encouraging, but the Buccaneers front will be a much stiffer test, particularly with the news that Jason Pierre-Paul will he playing for the first time this season.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Tennessee Titans Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Bucs front was good without JPP, but they’ll be even better with him. It sounds like he’ll be on a bit of pitch count on Sunday, but I’d expect to see him used on most key passing downs.

Shaquil Barrett’s 9 sacks are tied for the league lead with Myles Garrett while Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea make life miserable on the interior for opposing offensive lines. Suh isn’t the game wrecker he once was, but at age 32 he’s still capable of causing problems at times. Vea is an ascending talent and at 6’-4” and 347 pounds he’s an absolute load to move in the run game. He’s the key figure in the Bucs top-ranked run defense.

Nate Davis and Jack Conklin appear to be set to go in this game after they both left last week’s game with injuries. All five of the Titans offensive linemen will have their work cut out for them in this game. How they handle the challenge will go a long way towards determining whether they advance to 4-4 or fall to 3-5.

Jeffery Simmons, DaQuan Jones, and Jurrell Casey vs Ali Marpet, Ryan Jensen and Earl Watford

The Titans defensive interior is just as formidable as the Bucs group with the addition of Jeffery Simmons and the Bucs, like the Titans, have some question marks up front.

Dean Pees showed that he’s comfortable lining up Simmons, Casey, and Jones in multiple configurations last week and that means the Titans can find mismatches they like across the defensive front and attack them. Marpet and Jensen are good players, but Watford is a replacement level guard who started the season as the backup to injured starter Alex Cappa.

Los Angeles Chargers v Tennessee Titans Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

I feel pretty good about the matchups for the Titans on the outside with Harold Landry facing off with Bucs left tackle Donovan Smith and Cameron Wake taking on banged up right tackle Demar Dotson. If they can find a way to win on the inside as well, they’ll present a lot of problems for the turnover prone Jameis Winston.

Adam Humphries revenge game?

Humphries will be seeing a lot of familiar faces on the opposite sideline on Sunday as he squares off against the team that gave him his NFL start. The Bucs didn’t want to lose Humphries, but multiple contract extension offers were rejected as the receiver chose to bet on his market in free agency. He was rewarded with a four year, $36M deal from the Titans.

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Jacksonville Jaguars Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Humphries has 25 catches for 229 yards so far with Tennessee. He had 27 grabs for 296 yards through the Bucs first seven games last year before finishing strong with 49 catches, 520 yards, and 5 touchdowns over his final nine games. Can Humphries get a similar closing burst started against his former team?

Second round rookie Sean Murphy-Bunting will likely be the slot corner matched up with Humphries in this game. He’s had just two games with a significant number of snaps in the slot so Humphries will have a chance to take advantage of an inexperienced player lined up across from him.

Ryan Tannehill vs Tampa’s secondary and regression

There are two camps of Titans fans when it comes to Ryan Tannehill:

  • Fans who loved his debut and think there is at least a chance that he unlocks some of the playmakers on the offense over the next nine games.
  • Fans who loved his debut and are terrified that the tight window throws are unsustainable and will lead to an avalanche of turnovers over the next nine games.

It’s really a glass half full or half empty question, but at least everyone can agree that Tannehill’s first game as the Titans starting quarterback was fun to watch. His second game will give us an idea of how sustainable that performance might have been.

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Tennessee Titans Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

As I’m sure you’ve heard this week, the Bucs have the 32nd ranked pass defense in yards allowed per game. With no real plus coverage players, that ranking is earned and the Titans should have a chance to exploit that group, if they can take care of the pass rush.

It is true that the number of tight window throws Tannehill made last week is probably unsustainable, but the Chargers secondary has some very talented players in Casey Hayward and Desmond King. I expect there to be bigger windows this week and the Titans will hope that results in some easier throws for their quarterback.

Logan Ryan vs Chris Godwin and Malcolm Butler/LeShaun Sims vs Mike Evans

On offense, the Bucs aren’t too tough to figure out. They’re unlikely to have a ton of success on the ground, especially against a stout Tennessee front. This game will go as Jameis Winston goes and as we all know by now, there is a pretty extreme range of outcomes with the former first overall pick. He leads the NFL in interceptions since entering the league in 2015 and ranks third in number of fumbles, but he’s also top-12 in passing yards and passing touchdowns over that same timeframe. He’s the ultimate boom or bust player.

His top two targets are Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. At 6’-5” and 231 pounds, Evans is one of the most physically imposing receivers in the league and his ability to win vertically makes him a constant big play threat. The Bucs move him around from side to side quite a bit and the Titans don’t tend to shadow specific receivers so I would imagine that he’ll see snaps against both Butler and Sims in this game.

Butler’s physicality should help him in this matchup, but his lack of height and length will make it tough for him to compete with Evans once the ball is in the air.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Tennessee Titans Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Sims is a little on the longer side compared to both Butler and the corner he’s replacing, Adoree’ Jackson. That length and physicality should be useful in this matchup, though I’d expect Tampa to test him early. Sims is one of the better fourth corners in the league, but this passing attack is a tough test for even the best of the best.

Though Evans has more name recognition, Godwin has been the Bucs most productive receiver so far with 43 catches for 662 yards and 6 touchdowns. He has spent about two-thirds of his snaps in the slot this year which means he’ll see a lot of reps against Logan Ryan. Ryan has arguably been the Titans best defender on a very good defense through seven games so this is a strength on strength matchup to keep an eye on.