NASHVILLE -- The Titans face the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Here’s a look at six things to watch:
Protect the QB
Marcus Mariota was sacked nine times in the team’s loss to the Jaguars, and he’s been sacked 17 times in three games this season. If the Titans quarterback is going to be able to stand in the pocket and throw with confidence, the team is going to have to do a better job protecting him. And yes, he’s going to have to get rid of the ball quicker on occasion, too. The Falcons have just five sacks in three games, but they’re fast and dangerous up front. Titans coach Mike Vrabel has hinted about getting rookie guard Nate Davis in the mix, so we’ll see if that’s part of the solution as the team plays its last game – if all goes according to plan – without left tackle Taylor Lewan.
Run the Ball
One of the best ways to slow down the opposing team's pass rush is by running the football, and this is where running back Derrick Henry comes in. Henry is averaging over four yards per carry, but he only has 51 carries on the season. The Titans need to get him the football more, especially late in games, where he can wear teams down. The Vikings ran for 172 yards against the Falcons in Week One, and a week ago Colts running back Marlon Mack averaged 4.6 yards per carry. Running the ball against Atlanta can be done.
A Fast Start
And, of course, the best way to be able to run the football is by building an early lead – something the Titans haven’t been able to do this season. The Titans have fallen behind in all three games in 2019, and it’s an ugly trend that needs to stop. A week ago, the defense got an early stop, but they allowed a touchdown after a miscue on special teams, which gave Jacksonville a layup. Starting fast is a point of emphasis this week. But it’s also a talking point for the Falcons -- they've been outscored 27-0 in the first quarter of their three games so far.
Limit Big Plays
The Falcons are dangerous on offense, led by quarterback Matt Ryan. Their offense is loaded with playmakers, from receivers Julie Jones, Calvin Ridley and Mohamed Sanu to tight end Austin Hooper to running back Devonta Freeman. The Titans won’t be able to keep the Falcons from making plays, but they need to limit their big plays. If you watched Atlanta’s Week 2 win over the Eagles, you saw Jones take a short pass and take it to the house for a 54-yard touchdown. The Titans need to make the Falcons work for everything they get.
Touchdowns, Not Field Goals
Scoring points – it’s the way to win a football game. Everyone knows this. Everyone also knows the Titans haven’t been scoring enough of them. A seven-point output and a 17-point output haven’t been good enough to win in the past few weeks, and it’s time for the offense to get cranked up again. The Titans need Mariota and Co. to finish drives with touchdowns and not field goals against an Atlanta offense with firepower. Is this the week receiver Corey Davis takes off?
The Titans have faced Matt Ryan twice during his career, and they haven’t sacked him on 70 pass attempts. Ryan likes to get the ball out quick, so sack opportunities are sometimes tough to come by – he’s been sacked just five times in three games this season. But the Titans need to at least be able to make him uncomfortable by getting in his face and hitting him. Defensive coaches have preached ball disruption all week, and that includes everything from interceptions to causing fumbles to batting down balls at the line of scrimmage. If the Titans let Ryan sit in the pocket too long it could mean trouble.
Former Titans tight end Frank Wycheck scores two touchdowns within one minute of each other as the Titans storm back from a 21-point deficit to defeat the Falcons 38-31 on Nov. 23, 2003 at the Georgia Dome. (Photos: Donn Jones)
Titans Online looks back at the all-time series against the Atlanta Falcons. (AP Photos)