The door is still wide open for the Tennessee Titans, despite their many missteps this season.
Even though they severely damaged their AFC South hopes last week by losing at Indianapolis, the Colts returned the favor by losing Thanksgiving night to Pittsburgh to fall back to 5-6 alongside Tennessee and behind Houston.
The Titans may catch another break this week in that they play the reeling Chicago Bears, whose roster has been decimated by injuries and suspensions. The Bears aren’t expected to have Jay Cutler, instead using largely untested Matt Barkley at quarterback. They also won’t have the suspended receiver Alshon Jeffrey or injured tight end Zach Miller. And receiver Eddie Royal has been bothered by a toe injury.
So it is a depleted Bears team that takes the field Sunday trying to defend its home turf against a Titans team that can ill afford to lose many more games in order to stay afloat in the division race.
Here are the key elements for the Titans to pull off a win and even their record at 6-6.
First down: Get off to a fast start – A slow start last week against the Colts killed the Titans, who fell into a 21-0 hole right off the bat. They spent the rest of the day trying to catch up and came up short, 24-17. The Titans cannot afford to give Chicago any thought of hope by allowing the short-handed Bears to hang around in a low-scoring game in the first half. A game that is 7-3 or 13-6 at the half, allowing the Bears to hang around, is not in the Titans’ favor here. They need to jump out quickly with offensive dominance, especially with a huge advantage at QB with Marcus Mariota.
Second down: Harass Matt Barkley – Earlier in the week, we spoke of the Titans’ penchant for losing to sub-par quarterbacks. They have to put Barkley on the ropes in this one one. Young quarterbacks have a tendency to stare down their intended targets, and the Titans defense, which has struggled to force turnovers, might have opportunities they can take advantage of in this one.
Third down: Run the football – Soldier Field is notorious for the winds that can affect the passing and kicking games. That means the running game is the only aspect not affected by the weather. That also means a healthy dose of DeMarco Murray and possibly Derrick Henry on Sunday.
Fourth down: Get Delanie Walker involved – The Colts did a good job of limiting Walker’s effectiveness last week, with only four catches for 36 yards. The Titans would like to get their best pass catcher back involved in a big way, perhaps allowing him to catch some short to intermediate throws and being able to run after the catch.