The 5-7 Tennessee Titans travel to Denver Sunday to take on the reigning AFC forerunner Broncos who still atop the conference at 10-2. The big story for the game is the cold but for the Titans it might as well be the injuries. Mathematically, the Titans are still in the playoff hunt but practically they have to win out.
The Titans are currently down two tight ends in Delanie Walker and Craig Stevens who are questionable for Sunday’s tilt with the Broncos. Damian Williams is likewise questionable though is absence isn’t as missed with the newly signed Leon Washington on the roster. Finally, right tackle David Stewart is questionable as well. Mike Otto all purpose player is an option to play both right tackle and tight end if called upon. Full back Collin Mooney left the Colts game too and is now in injured reserved.
On the field, the biggest matchup has to be the Titans excellent secondary against Peyton Manning and his high octane passing game. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas is over 1000 receiving yards on the year at 1061 (10 touchdowns) with Eric Decker right behind him at 971 (7 touchdowns). Slot receiver Wes Welker has slowed down but has 717 receiving yards.
Not to be overlooked, and if you know the Titans you know where I’m going here and that is tight end Julius Thomas who has battled knee injuries but is listed as probable for Sunday. The Titans linebackers haven’t been as good in coverage as they could be and will need to try to contain Thomas who has 590 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns.
Here is an interesting fact for you. The top 4 Broncos receivers have combined for 36 touchdowns. The Titans as a TEAM have only 30, 27 of which are offensive. The Broncos has 60 total touchdowns. This game was a test without injuries. The Titans need to get pressure on Manning without blitzing because he will make you pay. Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey leads the Titans with 9 sacks.
The Denver run game is nothing to sneeze at either. Knowshon Moreno is knocking at a 1000 rushing yard season at 842 and is averaging 4.2 yards per carry. He has 9 touchdowns. All this despite sharing the backfield this year, primarily with rookie running back Montee Ball, who has 379 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns and a 4.3 yards per carry average. Moreno is a threat in the passing game too with 42 receptions for 414 yards and 2 touchdowns. He is their 5th leading receiver.
For the Titans offense, it goes without saying they must protect the football. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw 3 interceptions in his last game against Indianapolis and lost a fumble to boot. They simply cannot turn the ball over.
Fitzpatrick relies on tight end Delanie Walker who as I mentioned earlier is questionable to play. If Walker is out, second year tight end Taylor Thompson must rise to the task of filling his shoes. Thompson had a dreadful game against Indianapolis.
The Titans offensive line needs to contain Shaun Phillips who has 9 sacks on the year. Pass protection has struggled and the Titans brought in running back Shonn Greene to help in pass protection after losing Walker and Stevens in the Colts game. The Titans have also brought back Quinn Johnson at fullback but he is dealing with a hamstring injury. They could see the field Sunday as Chris Johnson is a terrible blocker.
Speaking of Chris Johnson, the Titans run game has been pretty miserable this year though somehow they have managed to grind out 1044 yards not counting quarterback runs. Chris Johnson is averaging 64.5 yards per game and has 774 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns. Titans quarterbacks Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jake Locker are 2nd and 3rd with Shonn Greene, who has missed time with injuries, coming in 4th with 144 yards and 1 touchdown.
While it’s certainly true from a numbers point that Peyton Manning doesn’t play well in cold weather, it’s generally difficult for many players. From a common sense standpoint you can understand why. The Titans will need to bring their A game to win. They cannot continue to make stupid mistakes. Even then it will be a tough task.
Game notes: The game kicks off at 3:05 p.m. CST at Mile High Stadium (Sports Authority Stadium). The Titans lead the all time series 21-14-1. They have only won 1 of the last 5. They are currently 11 points under dogs per Vegas. The forecast is a high of 28 and a low of 7. Scott Green and his officiating crew will handle the game. The game will be broadcast on CBS with Jim Nantz and Phil Simms getting the call.
Final score prediction: