Titans’ reasons for optimism, concern in Week 2 vs. Bills

·7 min read

The Tennessee Titans will meet the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium on “Monday Night Football” in Week 2 after both teams saw very different starts to the 2022 campaign.

The Bills made an early statement with their 31-10 Week 1 shellacking of the reigning Super Bowl champions, the Los Angeles Rams. Buffalo very much looked the part of the Super Bowl favorite it is in 2022.

Meanwhile, the Titans suffered an upset loss to the New York Giants, one of the worst teams in the NFL over the past five years. Making matters worse, Tennessee blew a 13-0 halftime lead.

This is the fifth meeting in five years between these two teams, with Tennessee and Buffalo each winning two apiece. However, the Titans have gotten the better of the Bills in the last two, winning 42-16 and 34-31.

The Titans do have some reasons for optimism going into a game in which they are massive underdogs, but as you’d expect there are more concerns. Let’s see what they are.

Optimism: Rising to the occasion

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The Titans are in a familiar spot going into Week 2 against the Bills: they are massive underdogs and few are giving them a chance to win. However, the Titans have historically risen to the occasion in these situations.

In 2021 alone, the Titans were underdogs to the Bills, Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams, yet were able to beat all three despite not being given much of a chance to do so.

And those are just three examples. We can point to the Titans’ playoff run in 2019 and other regular season contests since then. The common thread between all of those teams? Head coach Mike Vrabel.

The football world might be taking the Titans lightly, but the Bills know just what they’re capable of, as former Titans and current Bills guard Rodger Saffold spoke about recently.

“I hate to say this: But when… [the Titans are] supposed to win, they usually have trouble,” Saffold explained. “But when they’re challenged with a really, really good team, they bring out their best ball.”

Concern: Josh Allen and the Bills' offense

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The Bills’ offensive fire power was on full display in Week 1 when they trounced the Rams, 31-10 — and that was despite four turnovers.

Josh Allen might be the best quarterback in the NFL and can slice a defense up in multiple ways. He also has a slew of impressive weapons in the passing game to throw to like wide receivers Stefon Diggs, Gabriel Davis, Isaiah McKenzie and Jamison Crowder, and tight end Dawson Knox.

Tennessee’s secondary will have to be at its best in this one, but as we’ll go over shortly, the unit might be even more shorthanded than it was coming into the season.

Optimism: Titans' pass-rush

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If the Titans want to stave-off an offensive explosion from the Bills, it’ll all start with Jeffery Simmons and the pass-rush upfront.

Despite not having Harold Landry in Week 1, the Titans still flashed a dominant pass-rush, notching four sacks in the first half. However, the group slowed down as the game progressed, tallying one sack in the second half.

Rashad Weaver stepped up in Landry’s absence, finishing with two sacks. Simmons added a pair himself, and Dupree had one, also.

Tennessee is going to need a more complete performance if they want to secure a win on Monday night.

Concern: Todd Downing's play-calling

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Downing was nothing short of a disaster in Week 1, especially when it came to play-calls on third-and-1 situations. The offensive coordinator did, however, admit to his mistakes on Friday.

“That was a bad call,” Downing admitted, per AtoZ Sports Nashville. “I take full responsibility for that call. Played a percentage off of what we had seen from that defense in short yardage. Obviously, had a little miscue earlier in the game on short yardage and got a little too aggressive with that call. Should have gotten something downhill, and that’s on me.”

It’s good to see Downing’s admission, but now he has to show he has learned from his mistakes. Until we see it in the flesh, and on a consistent basis, concerns will remain about Downing holding this offense back.

Optimism: Derrick Henry

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The best way to keep Josh Allen at bay is to keep him off the field. The Titans can do that by getting a successful run game going with Derrick Henry and holding on to the ball as much as possible.

In the three meetings between these teams from 2018-2020, Buffalo stifled The King. But in 2021, Henry had his way with Buffalo’s defense, torching it for 143 yards and three scores in a winning effort.

Buffalo’s run defense was exceptional in Week 1, but it might be without Ed Oliver in Week 2. Regardless, the Titans shouldn’t be deterred from trying to go with their bread and butter on Monday night.

Concern: Bills' pass-rush

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Tennessee’s offensive line performed very well in pass protection in Week 1, but it wasn’t exactly challenged with the Giants missing their two top pass-rushers in Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari.

While the Bills might be without Ed Oliver, they still have the likes of Von Miller, Greg Rousseau, AJ Epenesa, Boogie Basham and Jordan Phillips upfront, all of whom notched at least one of the team’s seven sacks in Week 1.

This is very much a measuring-stick game for Tennessee’s big boys upfront, and that’s especially true for new starters Nicholas Petit-Frere and Aaron Brewer.

Optimism: The Rookie WRs

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We were wondering who would step up in the passing game with so many new faces in the group in 2022, and in Week 1 it was a pair of rookies who answered the bell.

Kyle Philips (6 catches, 66 yards) and Treylon Burks (3 catches, 55 yards) finished first and third, in receiving yards, respectively, showing they have earned the trust of quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

Philips flashed his great hands, route-running and was called upon to make a huge catch late in the game. Burks was a force after the catch, reeling in a pair of receptions over 20 yards.

The only problem was their usage, as Burks saw just 22 snaps and Philips 26. After looking like Tennessee’s two best receivers in Week 1, the Titans have to get their rookies more playing time in Week 2.

The best way for the Titans to attack Buffalo’s defense might be through the air with star cornerback Tre’Davious White out. Going deep will be difficult with Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde back deep, but the good news is Burks and Philips are very good in the short-to-intermediate passing game.

Concern: Titans' secondary

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Tennessee’s defense let up some big plays in Week 1, with one of the biggest culprits being cornerback Kristian Fulton, who allowed Sterling Shepard to score a 65-yard touchdown reception.

Fulton’s overall performance was already cause for concern, but now he’s dealing with a hamstring injury and hasn’t practiced this week, leaving his status up in the air for Week 2.

The Titans can ill-afford to lose their best cornerback for this game versus a potent Bills passing attack, which would be on top of Tennessee not having its top slot cornerback in Elijah Molden, who remains on the PUP list.

If Fulton doesn’t play, it’ll be a golden opportunity for Caleb Farley, who is basically a man without a role right now. Whether or not he seizes that opportunity and makes the most of it remains to be seen.

Concern: Titans' run defense

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Tennessee’s run defense, which was No. 2 in the NFL in 2021, was awful in Week 1. Saquon Barkely ran wild to the tune of 164 yards and a touchdown, including a 68-yard scamper.

I originally chalked it up to some Week 1 rust and jitters, but there may be more to it than that.

Our Tyler Rowland did a thorough film study of the Titans’ run defense from Week 1 and it was clear how much this team misses the speed of Landry off the edge, something Rashad Weaver, Bud Dupree and Denico Autry cannot match.

I figured the pass-rush would suffer the most without the Boston College product, but run defense might be more impacted. If the Titans have to deal with a successful rushing attack on top of Josh Allen, they’ll be toast.

Story originally appeared on Titans Wire