Tennessee Titans vs. Denver Broncos Preview:
The Titans did their best Dr. Jekyll - Mr. Hyde impersonation last week as they reversed roles from their dismal week 1 performance against the Jacksonville Jaguars, to an unexpected dominant victory over the hated Baltimore Ravens. Many expected (including me) Tennessee to get trounced after what the Ravens did to Pittsburgh Steelers in their decisive week 1 victory against the Super Bowl runner-ups. The Titans showed a new and improved aerial attack as Matt Hasselbeck proved that if you can hold him upright, then he can deliver as he finished 30/42 for 358 yards and 1 TD pass. He and Kenny Britt, and Nate Washington made sweet music all day as Britt had 9 catches for 135 and 1 TD and Washington had 7 catches for 99 yards. It was by far the best passing performance I’ve seen from the Titans in quite a long time.
However, the one downside to the passing game was the inability of Chris Johnson to break loose. He was held to 53 yards on 24 carries, which amounts to 2.2 yards a carry. You can tell Johnson is still getting into game shape as well as learning the nuisances of new OC Chris Palmer’s offense. Its good to chuck the ball all over the field but the Titans bread and butter has always been the running game. Johnson has a great chance to get back into his groove against the porous defense of the Broncos. Denver comes into this game as the 28th ranked rushing defense allowing 131 yards a game on the ground and 4.4 yards per carry. If Johnson can’t run on this play-doe soft D, then he can’t run on anyone. I think this is the game he breaks off one of his signature long runs, he should be in better shape after being with the team and practicing for a few weeks now. As effective as the passing game was last weekend the need for Johnson to get his game back is a bit subdued. But think about if Hasselbeck continues to find success with Britt and Washington catching everything as they did last week and then you add the electric running of Johnson. It would make for a dangerous offense that would be capable of putting up points on any team.
The defense also looked surprisingly well against the Ravens as well. They held Ray Rice and the Baltimore run game in check and got pressure from all different sides on Joe Flacco. Derrick Morgan showed why he is a former 1st round draft pick as he was in Flacco’s face all game long and he recorded a sack and numerous QB hurries (That personal foul penalty was bogus by the way). Jonathon Babineaux and Barrett Rudd were also impressive as they played physical and delivered a few big hits on the Raven receivers that made them have alligator arms. This was such a stark turnaround from the team that was run on at will against Jacksonville. It’s like an entirely different team was on that plane for week 1.
So now the Titans take on a Broncos team on the decline and in disarray. It has been well chronicled that the fans of Denver prefer Tim Tebow over Kyle Orton as their QB even if Tebow is stuck at 3rd on the depth chart. Tebow did get some action last week as he was placed in as a receiver for blocking purposes. As far as the rest of the team, they are not very impressive. They are ranked 15th in total defense which isn’t too bad considering all things but they have sustained some injuries to key players on that side of the ball with Ty Warren out, Champ Bailey and Elvis Dumervil questionable. Their offense is pedestrian at best ranking 23rd in league averaging 314 yards a game (Tom Brady or Cam Newton would have that many yards by halftime) and they only average 22 points per game. They will get some help on that side as Brandon Lloyd is expected to be back at receiver and also RB Knowshon Moreno. Willis MaGahee did rush for over 100 yards last week and should get more of the load until Moreno is fully healthy. Eric Decker has also been a nice surprise as he had over 100 yards receiving and 2 TDs against the Bengals.
Now that we have an understanding of both teams let look at the three key factors that will determine the game:
2. How will the pass rush follow last week’s game? The Titans pass rush looked like the old days of Jim Washburn coaching as they just harassed Flacco all over the field last game. It was good to see as the Titans are known to usually have a strong defensive line. The Titans had three sacks on the Ravens and they will need more of the same against the Broncos. Kyle Orton shredded the Titans last year as he was 35/50 for 341 yards and 2 TDs. Now I don’t believe that is happening this year but if the Titans don’t get pressure on him it’s a possibility. Orton is underrated and as long as he is protected he can put up big numbers. The defensive line will look to add pressure to him as Jerry Gray has a nice mix of young and veteran players at his disposal. It will be interesting to see how that part of the game develops. If Orton is going down or getting hurried a lot, it could lead to a blowout for Tennessee.
3. Is this the week CJ kicks it into high gear? It seems like this has been one my key factors for every game this season. If you remember back to last year it took Johnson a few games to get it right but when he did boy was he a load. I think this is the week he starts on the upward trajectory as the Broncos will have plenty of holes for the explosive Johnson to run through. Mike Munchak has made it very public that the Titans will keep feeding their 53.5 million dollar man and I’m sure CJ wants to prove he is worth that kind of money. I look for him to go over the century mark this game and to do so with no problem. The Broncos don’t have the best LBs with rookie Von Miller probably already their best so Johnson has every opportunity this game to do his hands to the face dance multiple times.