I don't know about you, but I couldn't let myself predict that we would beat the Chiefs until I saw it happen. Kansas City was the one big test that Sean McDermott and Josh Allen had yet to pass as they beat us in all phases twice last season. Then Beane went to work in the offseason drafting three enormous humans to help us match the physicality of the Chiefs at the LoS and bringing in Emmanuel Sanders to give us another weapon in the passing game. Star returned from his opt-out year faster and leaner while Dawson Knox aced all his tests at Tight End U. This team went into a hostile Arrowhead Stadium to fight the Chiefs, the refs, and the elements and came out the other side with an eighteen point victory. Allen put on a show, the defense proved it's for real (schedule be damned), and we played with an edge, leaving KC bruised and battered. It was just one game, but it feels like a turning point in the rivalry and a new chapter for this Bills team that just seems to keep heading onwards and upwards.
Looking ahead, the Bills are heading to the Music City to take on the Tennessee Titans. There was a lot of talk before the KC game that the Bills hadn't beaten anyone yet, but you could make a similar argument about the Titans. After their opener against Arizona in which they got dominated, Tennessee has played four games against opponents who have a combined four wins right now and they also generously gave the Jets their first win. Tennessee underwent a lot of change in the offseason, but the bones of this team remain the same. Derrick Henry is the focal point of the Titans offense while Ryan Tannehill has proven to be an efficient and steady-handed game manager. While the Titans have brought in some top end weapons in AJ Brown and Julio Jones, their offensive line has struggled and Tennessee lacks depth behind Brown and Jones at the skill positions. It's also worth mentioning that they lost Arthur Smith as their offensive coordinator/play caller and that seems to have had an effect on the offense in the early part of this season. On defense, Harold Landry, Bud Dupree, and Jeffrey Simmons are all studs, but the Titans back seven is likely one of the worst in football. Tennessee beat us last season with a very similar formula/game plan to what they have rolled out in 2021 so this is another revenge game and a test to see how much the Bills have improved year-over-year.
The Titans are getting healthier, but they must be among the league leaders for most injuries so far this season and most significantly, their top two wideouts are still battling injuries. AJ Brown played last week, but was on a snap count and isn't 100% yet and Julio Jones has missed the past two weeks. However, based on early Wednesday reports, it appears that Tennessee will have Jones and safety Amani Hooker back for this match up. Same as the previous weeks/seasons, I wanted to do an amateur deep dive/scouting session into Tennessee's last three games based on their game highlights (granted it's not the All-22 film but still nearly an hour of tape) and then list some keys/X-factors for our matchup this week. Anyways, hope you enjoy/find this useful:
***Offensive and Defensive Ranks are based on Football Outsiders' Defense-adjusted Value Over Average statistics***
Sunday September 26th- Week 3 Home Win vs. Indianapolis (the Colts (current record: 1-4) have the 20th ranked offense, 23rd ranked defense, and 22nd ranked special teams) by a score of 25-16:
Ryan Tannehill (18/27 for 197 yards, 3 passing TDs, and 2 INT with 56 rushing yards)- Got sacked on his very first drop back by an untouched Bobby Okereke blitzing between the RG and RT, but soon after connected with Chester Rogers for their first score on a quick slant and then made an accurate throw for his second TD pass on a busted coverage. Hurt the Indy defense with his mobility, scrambling for 16 yards to convert a third down after the Colts lost contain and 25+ yards on an impressive second half run. Interestingly he didn't slide even after picking up the first down and took a hit. Missed AJ Brown long on a deep shot. Tannehill was leading a nice two minute drive before HT, but his WR popped the ball up in the air for an Indy INT, wasting their scoring chance. Tannehill threw an ugly INT into heavy traffic over the middle, hard to know what he was seeing on that play and it helped to set up the Colt's first TD. He threw his final TD on a nice wheel route by the RB in the final quarter. The Titans offensive line gave their best performance of the season, mostly providing the time for Tannehill to throw, allowing just the one early sack, and keeping DeForest Buckner quiet.
Titans Running Game- Derrick Henry (113 yards and 4.0 YPC) broke several arm tackles for a 20 yard run to set up a first-and-goal opportunity early in the game. Seemed to get his biggest gains running left behind Taylor Lewan and Roger Saffold and like he typically does, Henry seemed to wear down the defense with his physicality late in the contest. The Titans love to run that misdirection pitch play to him as it allows him to build up speed and attack the wide area of the field, something we have to watch out for and not get overaggressive. Henry also showed off his prowess in the screen game with a huge gain just before HT, trucking Darius Leonard in the process. Scored up the middle on a two point conversion. Jeremy McNichols (2 carries for 6 yards with 10 receiving yards and 1 TD) is Henry's primary back up with Darrynton Evans on IR and wasn't a factor running the ball, but did score through the air.
AJ Brown (0 catches for 0 yards)- Couldn't connect with Tannehill on his early targets and left the game injured.
Julio Jones (3 catches for 47 yards)- Still a physical and vertical threat. Made an outstanding grab to pick up a first down, high pointing the ball over his defender. Was injured in the second half and didn't return.
Chester Rogers (1 catch for 6 yards and 1 TD) and Nick Westbrook (4 catches for 53 yards and 1 TD)- Rogers beat his man to the inside for a short TD catch in the first quarter. Westbrook stepped up after the other WR injuries and scored his first TD of the season. He did lose a fumble in the red zone though.
Titans TEs- No real standouts in their TE room this season, Geoff Swaim (3 catches for 27 yards) was the best of the bunch on this day.
Titans Run Defense- Looked vulnerable to inside runs, allowing too many first downs up the middle and keeping the Colts offense on the field. Allowed Jonathan Taylor (64 yard and 6.4 YPC) to rip off a 20+ yard run through the left side without getting a glove on him. Nyheim Hines (25 yards, 4.2 YPC, and 1 TD) also scored on a 10 yard TD run to the left untouched. Indy probably didn't run as much as they would have liked given that they were playing from behind the entire game.
Titans Pass Defense- Did a really nice job of limiting Carson Wentz (19/37 for 194 yards, 0 passing TDs, and 0 INT with 0 rushing yards) and the Indy passing offense in this match up. It has to be noted that Wentz was not 100% healthy though and played pretty conservatively. Allowed Indy to gain 30-40 yards in under a minute and kick a FG as time expired in the first half. Dane Cruikshank blew up Jonathan Taylor on a perfectly timed blitz and forced a Wentz throw away on third down to kill an early drive. Denico Autry (one of my recent FA crushes) did the same a couple drives later, blowing past his man with a swim move and nearly sacking Wentz. Harold Landry and Ola Adeniyi combined for Tennessee's two sacks including one that forced a key Indy punt as they were starting to build momentum. Breon Borders made a nice play to break up a third down pass in the back of the end zone and force another Indy field goal.
Miscellaneous- Wentz missed a wide-open Michael Pittman in the end zone for the go-ahead score in the third quarter and the Colts wound up settling for a short FG instead, it felt like a turning point in the game. Mike Vrabel was pretty aggressive in this game, going for it on fourth down in the first half and then going for two after going up by 7 points to make it a 9 point (and importantly a two score) game. Tennessee lost the turnover battle 3-0, but still won this game which has to be an anomaly. Tennessee averaged 5.7 yards per play (they went 6/12 on third down) and committed 4 penalties for 24 yards.
Sunday October 3rd- Week 4 Away Loss vs. New JERSEY (the Jets (current record: 1-4) have the 32nd ranked offense, 21st ranked defense, and 7th ranked special teams) by a score of 27-24:
Ryan Tannehill (30/49 for 298 yards, 1 passing TD, and 0 INT with 9 rushing yards)- Was under pressure constantly, his available weapons let him down, and he lacked efficiency in the red zone, settling for field goals too often. Despite all of that, Tannehill nearly saved the Titans by leading a quick and efficient two minute drive to tie the game and force overtime. Tannehill hasn't been effective in the vertical passing game this season, but he threw a perfect deep ball to Reynolds that was dropped. Executed a nice QB sneak for a first down, he's an effective alternative on these short yardage plays where the defense probably expects Henry to get the rock. Was the victim of a high snap by Aaron Brewer (who was replacing the injured Ben Jones) that he did well to recover, but it was a loss of nearly 20 yards on third-and-1 from inside the Jets ten yard line, a huge missed opportunity. Similar to last week's game, Tannehill got pancaked by an opposing LB on their first drive. Unlike the last game, the Jets were able to keep up that amount of pressure throughout the game and ultimately sacked Tannehill SEVEN times. The Titans offensive line really struggled to pick up the blitzes and games the Jets ran, often giving defenders an open lane to Tannehill.
Titans Running Game- Henry (157 yards, 4.8 YPC, and 1 TD as well as 20 receiving yards) bounced an early carry to the right and down the sideline for 15 yards and broke another big gain through the left side of the line to set himself up for a goal line TD carry on the very next play. Henry also converted a key fourth down in OT to keep Tennessee alive. McNichols (1 carry for 11 yards as well as 8 catches for 74 yards) made some excellent plays as a receiving option, making a couple defenders miss and getting the first down on a third-and-21 play and hauling in a key catch on their game-tying drive at the end of regulation among the most significant.
AJ Brown and Julio Jones-both out injured in this game.
Josh Reynolds (6 catches for 59 yards)- #1 WR on paper for this offense without Brown and Jones. Made some routine grabs throughout the game, but no highlight worthy or significant plays. Dropped a perfect deep ball from Tannehill that would have been a 50+ yard gain and set the Titans up in the red zone.
Chester Rogers (5 catches for 63 yards) and Nick Westbrook (3 catches for 29 yards)- Struggled to gain separation from the Jets' man coverage. Rogers came alive late as he drew a huge DPI call that allowed the Titans drive to continue to tie the game at the end of regulation and then made multiple grabs in OT.
Titans TEs- MyCole Pruitt has some sneaky athleticism and had a nice catch-and-run on a TE screen for a first down, did a nice job faking like he was going to block and finished the play strong. He also caught a two point conversion on a crosser as he had a quick release off the LoS and gained a step on his defender.
Titans Run Defense- Again looked soft on runs up the middle at times and gave up a nice reverse play to Braxton Berrios as well, but ultimately played much better and did an effective job limiting the Jets running game (a combined 25 carries for 66 yards). Autry did a nice job of staying with Wilson on a QB bootleg-turned-run and stuffed him for a TFL in the red zone in OT.
Titans Pass Defense- Made a few splash plays, but overall they allowed Zach Wilson's (21/34 for 297 yards, 2 passing TDs, and 1 INT with -2 rushing yards) best performance of his young NFL career and his first win. The Titans secondary allowed several deep shots from Wilson as he escaped pressure and rolled out to the right (Josh Allen's been known to do this once or twice too!). Corey Davis (4 catches for 111 yards and 1 TD) was on a mission to show his old team what they lost and Jamison Crowder/Keenan Cole both had key grabs downfield. Landry made a quick read on a Jets screen play and blew past the blockers for an early TFL and got the Titans only sack of the game later on. Fulton capitalized on a miscommunication between Zach Wilson and former Titan Corey Davis to intercept the pass and return it to the Jets thirty yard line.
Miscellaneous- Vrabel went back to being conservative in this game, kicking multiple short FGs and punting the ball from the Jets 39 yard line at one point (albeit on a 4th-and 13). That approach was punished when Bullock missed the game-tying field goal attempt WIDE left in OT which cost Tennessee the win. Tennessee averaged 4.6 yards per play, went 5/19 on third down, and committed 8 penalties for 98 yards.
Sunday October 10th- Week 5 Away Win vs. Jacksonville (the Jaguars (current record: 0-5) have the 23rd ranked offense, 31st ranked defense, and 26th ranked special teams) by a score of 37-19:
Ryan Tannehill (14/22 for 197 yards, 1 passing TD, and 0 INT with 21 rushing yards)- A quiet enough performance against a bad Jaguars defense, but Tannehill didn't make any mistakes and managed the game. In all three games, it's worth noting that Tannehill's pretty adept at leading two minute drives and he did so again before HT, leading to a Bullock field goal. Tannehill picked up a third down on a well-executed RPO where he kept it and eluded a defender for the first down. He really needs to start sliding though, he takes too many unnecessary hits at the end of his runs for a veteran QB who should know better. The offensive line gave up 3 sacks and lost their best player in Roger Saffold partway through the game.
Titans Running Game- Henry (130 yards, 4.5 YPC, and 3 TDs) put on a show in his return to his hometown, plowing into the end zone for all 3 scores from inside the five/ten yard line. He's difficult to stop in that area of the field (getting interior pressure is probably the best way to prevent those and stop him before he can accelerate). McNichols had 35 combined yards on his limited touches.
AJ Brown (3 catches for 38 yards)- Had a couple grabs on crossing routes where he was able to pick up yards after the catch. It was apparent that he was still limited by his injury though. He seemed slow to get up each time after being tackled.
Julio Jones- missed a second consecutive game.
Chester Rogers (1 catches for 26 yards) and Marcus Johnson (3 catches for 52 yards)- Johnson led the team in receiving and had a nice deep catch down the sideline. Not a ton of highlights as the Titans leaned on the running game.
Titans TEs- Pruitt settled into a soft area of the Jaguars zone coverage and hauled in a short TD pass. Anthony Firkser had 3 catches for 33 yards as well.
Titans Run Defense- A terrible performance from a defense that was trying to stack the box and force rookie Trevor Lawrence to beat them through the air. Gave up a 60 yard run to James Robinson (149 yards, 8.3 YPC, and 1 TD) in the first quarter as Landry got pushed out wide by the tackle and left a huge gap and then Robinson punched it in for a TD a couple plays later. The Titans lost the race to the edges over and over with the Jaguars enjoying a ton of success on off tackle runs and pitches. Tennessee also allowed Lawrence to score untouched on a QB keeper. Their one positive was significant as Teair Tart got into the backfield and stuffed Carlos Hyde on fourth-and-goal in the fourth quarter, preventing a TD that would have made it a one possession game.
Titans Pass Defense- Kept Trevor Lawrence (23/33 for 273 yards, 1 passing TD, and 1 INT with 28 rushing yards and 1 rushing TD) mostly in check and kept everything in front of them in coverage. Elijah Molden made an outstanding play forcing a fumble on Jacksonville's first drive which Kevin Byard recovered and returned for a TD. Our old friend Jacob Hollister beat Landry in coverage for a TD in the second quarter and Tennessee struggled in coverage against the various Jacksonville TEs in general. The Titans also gave up an inexcusable 60 yard catch-and-run to Laviska Shenault, missing at least four tackles on the play. Landry was able to sack Lawrence just before HT to deny the Jaguars any opportunity for points and then sacked him again to force a punt in the second half (Tennessee's only two sacks). Lastly, Byard picked off Lawrence on the final play of the game as he threw into traffic in the end zone.
Miscellaneous- The game felt closer at times than the final score indicated. The injuries continued to pile up for the Titans as Kristian Fulton, Rashaan Evans, Monty Rice, and Roger Saffold all exited the game with injuries. Bullock missed his final XP attempt. Kansas City averaged 6.0 yards per play, went 5/11 on third down, and committed 7 penalties for 44 yards.
Monday October 18th Preview- Week 6 Tennessee (current record: 3-2, the Titans have the 21st ranked offense, 27th ranked defense, and 25th ranked special teams) vs Buffalo (current record: 4-1, the Bills have the 12th ranked offense, 1st ranked defense, and 16th ranked special teams):
Bills On Offense- After finishing near the bottom of the NFL in most defensive statistics in 2020, Tennessee let a lot of those 2020 players walk and brought in a lot of reinforcements this offseason to replace them, but it hasn't made the difference they had hoped for yet. They still don't have enough talent IMO and have been let down by a rash of injuries (Bud Dupree, Jayon Brown, Amani Hooker to name a few). This Tennessee defense has some excellent, disruptive players on their line in Jeffrey Simmons (a potential game-wrecker, the Bills IOL needs to have a plan for him!) and a pair of speedy edge rushers in Harold Landry and Bud Dupree, but Tennessee somehow has the lowest sack rate in the NFL currently. Brown has been out injured so David Long and Rashaan Evans (who PFF has ranked as the worst LB in 2021) are getting most of the LB reps. Tennessee loves showing that double A gap blitz pre-snap that we also like to run, but their current LBs don't have the length or athleticism to pull it off well whether they rush or back out into coverage. The Bills need to attack their LBs the same way we did with the Chiefs and I would predict strong games from Knox and Beasley on MNF. Kristian Fulton is having a really nice year as their top cover man and Kevin Byard seems to be rebounding from an uncharacteristic down year in 2020, but the rest of this Titans secondary is filled with older, underachieving players like Janoris Jenkins and young, inexperienced rookies like Caleb Farley and Elijah Molden who are being slowly phased in. Tennessee's depth in the secondary should be a real concern for them if Daboll decides to bring back more of our spread concepts this week. We also need to target the deep areas and width of the field to test the Titans' speed and communication. Lastly, I've said it a few times recently and it hasn't really happened yet, but it seems like a good week to bring back more of the jet sweeps and misdirection against this subpar LB corps.
Bills On Defense- The first priority when facing the Titans is always limiting Derrick Henry's impact on the game, a tough task for any defense, but we have actually handled Henry relatively well in the past (only 56 yards in 2018, 78 yards in 2019, and 57 yards last season even with all the injuries we had). He's off to a great start this season with 640 rushing yards and 7 TDs and as always, it's important to tackle well and not let him get up to full speed. Henry has been able to achieve this success despite running behind a line with several weak links (Taylor Lewan isn't fully back from his ACL injury at LT, Nate Davis is slumping after a promising start to his career at RG, and David Quessenberry is a below average RT). The Titans are missing Jonnu Smith especially his run blocking a lot from what I saw on film. I wouldn't have paid him the money he got from New England either, but they failed to bring in an effective replacement. The Titans just don't have much at the skill positions beyond that premier trio of Henry, Brown, and Jones although I will say that the Bills should have a plan for covering McNichols when he's in the game as he's been a great safety valve for Tannehill and is pretty elusive after the catch. Our new and improved defensive line needs to get after Ryan Tannehill and make him uncomfortable while also walking that fine line of not leaving our gaps and losing contain, allowing him to scramble. Tannehill is an effective game manager for this offense in the best sense of that term (they don't need him to be anything more) and he's a generally underrated player who has turned his career around in a Titans uniform (21-10 when he starts). Tannehill excels running play action and is getting the ball out quickly this season, mostly focusing on the short passing game (has only completed 3/18 passes 20+ yards downfield). That being said, Tannehill and the offense are not firing on all cylinders as they adjust to their new offensive coordinator Todd Downing. Tennessee has given up 20 sacks so far this season (this equates to 10.4% of Tannehill's drop backs which is very high) against mostly below average defenses so I'm expecting to see a similar performance to what we saw in Week 2 against Miami. I could see big games from Hughes, Addison, Epenesa, and Rousseau off the edges against these tackles that allowed a five sack game to Chandler Jones. Tannehill is only completing 43.8% of his passes when pressured, but he handles the blitz pretty effectively so getting that pressure with four rushers is ideal. The Titans have a top tier pair of wide receivers in the league, but have not been able to keep them healthy this season. Both guys are elite playmakers with a lot of physicality, but Brown has been very limited and Julio Jones has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury. Josh Reynolds hasn't really taken advantage of his opportunity for more snaps in their absence.
On Special Teams- Randy Bullock has provided some level of consistency after Tennessee hasn't even had average kicking for years, but he's very capable of bad misses. Brett Kern is one of the premier punters in the NFL (and a Grand Island native), but he was placed on the Reserve/COVID List on Tuesday and will likely miss this game. Chester Rogers is a very solid punt returner and an average kick returner who handles both duties and takes good care of the football.
Alright thanks for reading! I enjoyed putting this together and will look to do so each week moving forward. Can't wait for Monday Night Football! All the best and Go Bills!