Tennessee Titans fans may be getting an early Christmas present in the form of Sunday’s game.
Here in mid-December, for the first time in five years, the Titans are playing in a game with playoff implications.
Don’t think for a minute that that is lost on the players and coaches as they prepare for the reigning Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos to visit Nissan Stadium on Sunday.
“I don’t think about much playing last year’s Super Bowl champion. I look at it as they’re standing in the way of us getting to the playoffs. So that’ the mindset I think everyone has here,” tight end Delanie Walker said. “We know they’re gonna come in here excited. We’re excited to play. It’s good competition and I know there’s gonna be a lot of coverage because it’s the Broncos coming in here, and we play well when we get in that type of atmosphere.”
Just to be safe, Coach Mike Mularkey will probably reiterate the game’s importance to his players again before game time, as they enter Sunday in a three-way tie for the AFC South lead.
“I think they know, but I’ll probably, again, bring that up. That’s part of us learning how to win games, especially in December-the games that you have to win if you want to win a Super Bowl. These are the kind of games you’ve got to win,” Mularkey said.
So, what do the Titans have to do to win this game?
First down: Keep Von Miller contained – The Broncos have a slew of star players, from Demarcus Ware at end to Aqib Talib and Chris Harris in the secondary, but it starts with Super Bowl MVP Miller, a one-man wrecking crew, who can change a game at any moment. As Miller said earlier in the week, he only has to win once to turn a game around, which means the Titans bookend tackles – Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin – will have a challenge before them on Sunday.
Second down: Be turnover free – Denver’s defense has lived off takeaways all season long with 12 interceptions and 11 fumble recoveries. The Broncos are plus-7 in turnover margin. Earlier in the season, the Titans were turnover-prone, but that has subsided in recent weeks to the point where Tennessee is actually at break-even in turnover ratio after being near the bottom of the league in the first half of the year. That means Marcus Mariota must be protected and must make good decisions with the football. That also means staying out of third-and-long situations that only intensify the pressure.
Third down: Bring the pressure – Whether the Broncos start a gimpy Trevor Siemian or go with rookie Paxton Lynch, the Titans need to pressure the quarterback. They have to protect their suspect secondary that has been carved up on a number of occasions already, and big plays from Demaryius Thomas or Emmanuel Sanders are something Tennessee cannot let happen.
Fourth down: No special teams errors – The Titans woes on special teams has not reared its head in the past few games. That needs to continue. If the coverage units or the return units can make a big positive play to change momentum or at least flip the field, then all the better. But the Titans simply cannot afford to make costly mistakes in the kicking game.