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The Spy: Titan Tactics & a Tennessee Takeover 

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Almost a year ago to the day, a promising but distracted Buffalo Bills team rolled into Nashville on a primetime Tuesday to face a Titans team fresh out on release from the COVID dungeon they put themselves in. A presumed drubbing of the Titans, instead, met the “reverse” UNO card. The Bills limped away from Nashville suffering a sobering loss by a score of 42-16. Yes, Bills Mafia takes over the city and the stadium in Nashville. Yes, the Bills had the higher win probability (at least in the last two seasons). But these BUF-TEN matchups are always steeped in complexity and layered storylines, indicative of a rivalry of sorts.

This season, these two teams are even more opposite from one another than ever before. The Bills lead the NFL in four major statistical categories: defensive scoring, points scored per game, point differential, and turnover margin. The Bills are the better team in this matchup in every conceivable way, save only for rushing (a la Derrick Henry) and win this game most of the time. Despite that, we should not assume superiority before evaluating the 2021 Titans. What is this team made of? How do they threaten the Bills? Read on to find out. 

SPY 1: Controlling the King

Derrick Henry is a runner unlike any other, or rather, no other is quite like him. Henry is Buffalo Fanatics’ “Must Stop Power Player” for this week’s game, and for good reason. On the season, he has already amassed a whopping 642 yards from scrimmage to go along with a 4.5 yards per attempt average (Y/A). This Y/A is surprising but may lend itself to game one of this season where Henry saw himself shut down by a stifling Cardinals defense and unfavorable game script. This is to say, that Arizona’s ability to put up points made running Derrick Henry disadvantageous for Tennessee.

Derrick Henry’s biggest weapon as a runner is sheer power. Even with Tennessee’s underperforming offensive line, Derrick Henry can still bull rush his way through a defense. However, without Arthur Smith as the offensive coordinator, Henry’s run play variation has declined in terms of variance and creativity. Most of his runs in the 2021 season seem to be plain and uninspired. Given Henry’s power, he must be stopped in the backfield or in the initial stages of a run play. Once Henry picks up momentum, he is extremely difficult to tackle.

Due to the offensive line struggles, there is almost no discernible pattern for run charting (where Henry is running the ball most). If the Bills defensive line can control the trenches in this game, it will become difficult for Henry to run effectively. If Henry makes it around the edge or gets to the second level, he will gain a head of steam. (Josh Norman knows well what happens when Henry gets his steam.)

VERDICT

On defense, establishing consistent, penetrative pressure on early downs will control Derrick Henry and wear down both he and the maligned Tennessee offensive line. On offense, the more points the Bills score, the less Tennessee can rely on Henry, making the run game increasingly ineffective and unviable. 

SPY 2: Dissecting the Offense

It should come as no surprise that Derrick Henry is not the only player the Bills will focus on come Monday night. The Titans offense comes complete with a powerhouse tandem of wide receivers that can break a defense. Both are (arguably) future hall of fame candidates in Julio Jones and A.J. Brown. Do note that this is Julio’s return to the gridiron due to injury earlier in the season. It will be interesting to see the details of his game-script. Jones could potentially be on a snap count or simply be unable to handle high volume targeting. The Bills secondary will be challenged by this duo. Expect Tre White to shadow the hot hand in this game.

From a passing standpoint, QB Ryan Tannehill is having a bit of an odd season. He is leading the 10th-ranked offense in the league and posting good numbers in terms of yards per passing attempt and yards per completion. On the other hand, he has seen a drop in completion percentage and is under pressure far more in 2021; no doubt a direct knock-on effect of the poorly performing offensive line. Another effect this has is that it makes execution of the play-action passing game far more difficult to pull off. The Titans offense, much like Henry’s run play variety, is more vanilla this season. The departure of OC (now Falcons HC) Arthur Smith has caused stagnation to occur within the offense. The team may still be working to implement some parts of new offensive coordinator Todd Downing’s scheme at this point.

SPY 3: Depreciated Defense

The Titans defense, despite numerous upgrades in the off-season, continues its 2020 struggle into this season. The most perplexing of aspects related to this struggle is the enigma of DE/LB Bud Dupree. During week 12 last season, the (then) Pittsburgh Steeler suffered a devastating ACL injury. Since “returning” to active NFL play, Dupree has barely played, posting a measly two tackles. Yes, that is the extent of his 2021 statistics, per ESPN. Dupree will be active for the matchup on Monday, but The Spy will forecast this here and now: Bud Dupree will not be a factor.

Geoffrey Knox, a Titans reporter for Fansided, recently made the following comments regarding Dupree’s troubled season thus far:

“One would have to imagine that he would have never been signed to a massive deal in the offseason had there not been confidence that he’d be able to contribute this season. Still, with the way things are trending, one must ask if he returned much too quickly from an ACL tear, he sustained in Week 12 last season.”

OLB Harold Landry currently leads the Titans defense in sacks (4.5) and is assuredly, the Titans defense’s greatest threat to the Bills up front. However, with how mediocre the remainder of the Titans defense is, it will be difficult for Landry to consistently pressure Josh Allen, especially considering the recent improvement of the Bills offensive line. Josh Allen was not sacked at all during last week’s drubbing of the Kansas City Chiefs.

Speaking of Josh Allen, and the Titans secondary, a key player in that matchup is S Kevin Byard, a reliable and accomplished NFL veteran. Byard also leads the Titans in interceptions, posting two on the season thus far. Despite this, he is not a premier cover safety in this league like Micah Hyde or Budda Baker. He leans more into the Landon Collins spectrum. It is my assertion that Byard’s misused in his current role. Furthermore, he can be easily looked off and neutralized by top-end QBs such as Josh Allen and Kyler Murray. Offenses with top-end talent at the QB and WR positions tend to shred the Titans secondary.

VERDICT

It should be the Bills’ top offensive priority to overwhelm this Titans defense with their dynamic pass game and propensity to score massive amounts of points. 

DARKHORSE BONUS POINT

The coaching matchup of McDermott vs. Vrabel is truly fascinating. These two coaches share some similarities, but are much more different than most would see on the surface. McDermott is quiet, reserved, stoic, and strategic. Vrabel is bombastic, overt, and aggressive. What should (and likely will) be a major concern for the Bills, especially Sean McDermott, is Vrabel’s propensity to turn the NFL rulebook into his personal Play-Doh. Vrabel is a practiced, habitual, and known rule bender. In this way, he is like his former coach and mentor Bill Belichick. Keep an eye on Vrabel’s coaching decisions in key moments of the game.

THREAT RATING: Each opponent will be ranked on a 1-10 scale. The higher the number = The greater the threat.

Threat Rating = 7

In closing, please follow The Buffalo Fanatics on all platforms, trust the process and go Bills.

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