Titans vs. Saints: Tennessee’s keys to victory in Week 10

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The Tennessee Titans (7-2) host the New Orleans Saints (5-3) in a crucial interconference game. Both teams have legitimate playoff aspirations and are equally facing a ton of adversity at the moment.

Both teams are going to have to overcome high-profile injuries if they’re going to leave Sunday with a win.

The Saints will be without their top quarterback, running back, wide receiver, and left tackle on offense. The Titans, on the other hand, will be without two of their cogs on offense in Derrick Henry and Julio Jones.

Fortunately for the Titans, they have set themselves up in a great position with some room for error should anything go wrong. Tennessee is entering this weekend as the No. 1 seed in the AFC and will be leaving this weekend as the No. 1 seed regardless of what happens around the league.

Tennessee also has the chance to start creating separation from the rest of the conference with a win as they have their eyes set on that coveted first-round bye.

The following keys to victory will help ensure that Tennessee leaves Nissan Stadium with an 8-2 record.

Establish the run and play-action

Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Ever since Henry’s injury become public knowledge, many have wondered how efficient Tennessee’s play-action attack would still be. Last week in LA was a difficult week for this offense to try and start life without Henry but at least they still managed the game enough to secure a dominant victory, largely due to the Titans’ defense.

This week doesn’t get much easier for Tennessee’s offense as they host the New Orleans Saints and its No. 5 scoring defense.

The Titans’ offense has had over a week now to get used to life without Henry’s presence. Both newcomers Adrian Peterson and D’Onta Foreman have had a chance to watch the film of themselves in this offense and can reflect on what they need to correct going forward.

Last week, the two of them, along with Jeremy McNichols. only accounted for 74 yards on 22 carries (3.3 yards per carry). Ideally one of these three running backs will separate themselves over the next few weeks.

However, at minimum, Tennessee needs the three of them to combine for something close to 100 yards on the ground. Otherwise, this offense could become dangerously one dimensional.

If these running backs are able to hold their own later today, this will then open up the play-action attack for the Titans, which then opens up the entire playbook for Todd Downing.

Look for A.J. Brown in particular to have a big game off play-action as he attempts to bounce back from last Sunday night’s game where he struggled to make routine catches.

Should Tennessee get both the ground and play-action attack going again sans-Henry, they should be able to comfortably walk away with a win in this one.

Tennessee’s front-four continues its dominance

AP Photo/Ashley Landis

The combination of Harold Landry, Jeffery Simmons, Denico Autry and Bud Dupree has accounted for 20.5 sacks this season. In fact, 19 of those sacks have come when only rushing four guys (T-1st in NFL).

Tennessee’s defense has consistently gotten pressure without having to blitz this season. The Titans generate pressure on 30 percent of their snaps when only four are rushing, which is the second-highest pressure percentage in the entire league.

After going through a stretch where the Titans saw star-studded offenses, Tennessee’s front four now has the responsibility of getting after the Saints’ B-team offense. The Saints will be without Jameis Winston, Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas, and Terron Armstead.

If Landry, Simmons, Autry, and Dupree can continue their dominance upfront against this injury-riddled offense, Tennessee should be able to leave Nissan Stadium with a record of 8-2.

Kevin Byard plays like a DPOY candidate

AP Photo/Ashley Landis

Through nine games, the man known as the “Mayor of Murfreesboro” has accounted for 40 tackles, five interceptions (second in NFL), 11 passes defended (third in NFL), one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, and two defensive touchdowns.

He’s also PFF’s top overall safety (91.2) and the best coverage safety (91.3), along with the ninth-best defensive back against the run (80.8).

According to Next Gen Stats, Byard has the highest “ballhawk rate” in the league at 42 percent, which is the percentage of targets where the nearest defender made a play on the ball (an interception or pass deflection).

Byard entered this season with zero defensive touchdowns on his résumé and has already added two of them within the last five weeks. If the Titans’ All-Pro safety can make it a third later today, that not only increases his team’s chances to win but also increases his growing reputation as the best safety in the game.

After an extended stretch of playing some of the league’s better quarterbacks, Byard now gets the opportunity to face a journeyman who can be baited into making the occasional mistake.

Look for the Defensive Player of the Year candidate to try and lure Trevor Siemian into a back-breaking turnover throughout the day as Byard aims to have a big game against an extremely short-handed Saints offense.

Avoid turnovers and three-and-outs

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One thing the Titans must avoid doing is giving the Saints more possessions. Anytime Tennessee’s offense has gotten themselves in trouble, it’s usually because they either start giving the ball back to the opponent after lifeless short drives and/or turnovers.

The Titans’ defense has been rolling as of late and is capable of holding any opponent down if needed. Tennessee doesn’t need the high-scoring offense to survive as they have in years past.

However, the last thing you want to do is find yourself in a low-scoring game late in the fourth where this undermanned Saints offense can suddenly find a spark of confidence and steal the game late.

Tennessee must ensure they are consistently moving the ball and at minimum putting their Pro Bowl punter in a situation where he forces New Orleans to drive the distance of the field on a stout Titans defense. Preferably, the Titans put at least three points on the board on every possession, and ideally they can punch the ball into the end zone more often than not.

But for any of this to be possible for Tennessee, they must avoid the lifeless drives that tend to happen when things aren’t going well.

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