Subject: Six matchups to watch during Titans-Bills The 3-1
Content:  Both teams have had very strange starts to the season Youth Dennis Kelly Jersey , but in very different ways. The Titans fought through a rash of early injuries to key players to beat two division rivals and the defending Super Bowl champs.The Bills opened with a blowout 47-3 loss against the Ravens which prompted an immediate break-glass-in-case-of-emergency call to rookie quarterback Josh Allen. Since making the QB change, Buffalo is 1-2 with the win being the most shocking result of the season as the Bills went on the road and their defense stifled the Vikings on the way to a 27-6 win.This has all the makings of a trap game for Tennessee. On the road against an inferior opponent, coming off an emotional win against the defending champs, big home game against Baltimore looming next week. However, these are games that good teams win and if the Titans don’t sleepwalk through this one that’s exactly what they should do.Dean Pees vs Josh AllenChristopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY SportsJosh Allen was as polarizing a quarterback prospect as I can remember heading in to the draft earlier this year. Some fell in love with the 6’-5”, 237 pound frame, cannon arm, and excellent athleticism. Others saw a guy who had it all physically, but was an inaccurate thrower and seemed to have a lack of understanding with regards to how to attack defenses. For the record, I fell in with the latter group, partially because I’ve lived through the Jake Locker Experience before and didn’t particularly enjoy it. Now is not the time to judge Allen’s ability as a pro. If we’ve learned anything from Jared Goff’s career, it should be that a bad rookie season — even an awful, all-time bad one — isn’t necessarily the end of the road for quarterbacks. That being said, Allen is not a good quarterback right now. His raw numbers are a trainwreck: 55 of 103 (53.4%), 666 yards, 2 TDs, 4 INTs, and 18 sacks. That leaves him with an ANY/A — Adjusted Net Yards/Attempt, a metric that measures total QB effectiveness — of just 3.12 which would be the 14th worst showing in that metric in the last decade for quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts per Allen has often been surprised by blitzes over three starts and Buffalo has allowed an NFL worst 21 sacks through 4 weeks. On the other hand , Dean Pees’ creative pressure packages and talented front seven have picked up 12 sacks, good for 7th in the NFL. I would expect the Titans to regularly get pressure against a bad Buffalo offensive line and possibly force Allen in to some rookie mistakes. This feels like the week that Kevin Byard gets his first pick of the 2018 season. Rashaan Evans vs LeSean McCoyChristopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY SportsLeSean McCoy has been virtually invisible for the Bills so far this season with just 29 total touches over 3 games (he missed the Vikings game with a rib injury). In last week’s 22-0 loss to the Packers, he got just 5 carries before leaving the game with a hand injury. He will be back in action this week and the Bills have talked throughout the week about getting him more involved. The Titans defense has been susceptible to opposing running games so far this year. That’s partially due to the fact that they’ve taken the tact of staying in nickel defense regardless of their opponent’s personnel. Will they stick with that approach against a Bills team that wants to run the ball and take the pressure off their rookie quarterback? They’re currently allowing 4.9 yards per carry which ranks them 27th in the league through 4 weeks. Even for a team that is clearly focused on stopping the pass first, you’d like to see that number come down a little bit.Tennessee will be without top inside linebacker Wesley Woodyard on Sunday which means we will see heavy doses of Jayon Brown and first round pick Rashaan Evans in this game. Evans got his first extended action against the Eagles last week after Woodyard went down early and the results were mixed. He sometimes looked lost and unsure of what he was supposed to be doing, particularly in zone coverage. However, when he was able to read and get downhill, he showed the immense physicality that helped make him a top prospect in the draft. If the Bills do try to establish the run game with McCoy early, Evans will be a big part of the Titans plan to stop him. This is a big opportunity for Evans to show progress from the week before and try to carve out a bigger role on this defense moving forward.Taylor Lewan vs Jerry HughesDouglas DeFelice-USA TODAY SportsWhen the Titans have the ball, this will be one of the biggest matchups on the field. Hughes isn’t on the same level as guys like Derek Barnett, Brandon Graham, Chris Long, and Michael Bennett that the Titans faced last week, but he’s still a potentially disruptive player. Two weeks ago, he was a key part of the Bills win in Minnesota as he racked up an insane 13 pressures during the game per PFF. He will be facing Titans Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan this week. Lewan has allowed just 4 pressures all season and ranks 3rd in the NFL among offensive tackles in ESPN’s new fancy pass blocking stat that measures the percentage of snaps that a pass blocker holds up for at least 2.5 seconds. He’s been excellent as usual.The Bills got the win over Minnesota by harassing Kirk Cousins all game. They pressured the quarterback 32 times, hit him 6 times, sacked him 4 times, forced 3 fumbles, and recovered 2 of them. It was a dominant performance up front from Buffalo. The Titans offensive line has allowed just 28 pressures all season and ranks in the top 10 among pass blocking units through 4 weeks. If they can keep Marcus Mariota clean in the pocket, that would go a long way towards helping them win this game.Corey Davis vs Tre’Davious WhiteThe Tennessean-USA TODAY NETWORKCorey Davis broke out against the Eagles with a massive 9 catch Jonnu Smith Jersey , 161 yard, 1 touchdown game including hauling in the clutch game winning grab in overtime. It was a game that had been boiling under the surface all season. The offense finally got healthy enough to showcase what Davis had been doing all along. Now he has to follow that up and continue to build on it. Playing opposite Davis this week will be another star of the 2017 draft class in Tre’Davious White. White was outstanding during his rookie campaign, finishing as the runner up behind Marshon Lattimore in Defensive Player of the Year voting. He’s off to another good start this year as well, allowing just 10 catches on 17 targets for 118 yards through 4 weeks.Last week, White shadowed Packers top receiver Devante Adams in over 76% of his routes per PFF, allowing 4 catches for 46 yards on 7 targets. That was the first game that the Bills have used White to shadow the opponent’s top target and it will be interesting to see if Davis gets the same treatment coming off his big week. If White does track Davis, the Titans could look to Taywan Taylor and Tajae Sharpe more often. Those two are also coming off good performances and will be matched up with rookies Ryan Lewis and Taron Johnson. Both guys have performed pretty well early on, but I’d imagine Matt LaFleur will be interested to see if he can catch the young guys biting on a double move at some point.Derrick Henry vs Bills Run DefenseChristopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY SportsAccording to DVOA, the Bills run defense ranks as the 14th toughest in the NFL through 4 weeks. That’s decent, but it stands as the worst run defense the Titans have faced this season. The Dolphins (12th), Texans (2nd), Jaguars (6th), and Eagles (3rd) all rank higher and are a big part of the reason the Titans run game hasn’t gotten going to this point. Those teams are hard to run on even when your offense is fully healthy and clicking. The Titans offense hasn’t been, but it is now and that could mean we finally start to see a break through from the ground game.Derrick Henry has just 163 yards on 54 carries for a 3.0 yards per carry average this season, well below his averages of 4.5 and 4.2 in his first two seasons. Getting Henry on track against a good-not-great Bills run defense would do a lot for the offense. Malcolm Butler vs Kelvin BenjaminJasen Vinlove-USA TODAY SportsThis is a matchup of two struggling players and one will likely leave this game at least temporarily feeling better about their early season performance. Titans fans know Butler’s issues well at this point. He’s simply allowed far too many big plays. The 4 long touchdowns over 4 games isn’t going to cut it for a guy the team gave $61M to this offseason. On the opposite side, the Bills can’t be feeling great about the trade to give up 3rd and 7th round picks in exchange for Benjamin last season. The jumbo-sized wide receiver has just 7 catches for 92 yards and a touchdown so far in 2018 and looks pretty ridiculous for claiming that Cam Newton was “holding him back” in Carolina. The problem with Benjamin for the Titans is that they simply don’t have anyone who matches up particularly well with big wide receivers. Butler will probably draw Benjamin most often simply because of alignment. He is a very physical corner even if he is a bit undersized. It will be interesting to see which of these guys get back in their fan base’s good graces this week.Winners and losers from the Titans’ 31-17 loss to the Packers The Titans started hot and finished cold in this one as they dropped their preseason opener in Green Bay by a score of 31-17. The new uniforms were looking sharp and so was the first team offense, but most importantly the team seemingly avoided any catastrophic injuries to critical players tonight. Here are the players that I thought stood out for both good and bad reasons.WinnersMarcus MariotaMariota only threw three passes, but the first team offense looked extremely crisp, marching 71 yards in 9 plays for a quick opening touchdown. You couldn’t have asked for a better start for the Matt LaFleur era. Mariota completed 2 of his 3 passes for 42 yards Authentic Will Compton Jersey , including the 4-yard touchdown pass to Darius Jennings to cap it off. He also chipped in a 7-yard run on a play action bootleg where he kept it and outran a defender around the edge. Mariota’s accuracy was on point, hitting a tight window throw on a slant to Nick Williams for 38 yards on his first pass attempt. His sole incompletion came on a well-thrown goalline fade to Taywan Taylor when Taylor slipped during the route. After tossing the touchdown to Jennings on a nice rub concept, Mariota threw on a ball cap and watched Blaine Gabbert and Luke Falk mop up.The other positive development for Mariota was seeing him playing without a knee brace for the first time since his rookie season. He had not been wearing it during OTAs and camp, but it was good to see him playing without it while facing live reps. He looked good moving around tonight.This is exactly the start we hoped to see from Mariota and the first team offense. Harold LandryLandry didn’t take long to make an impact in his first preseason game. With the Packers offense on the move during their second drive of the game, Landry used his go-to dip move and beat the Packers left tackle to get a strip sack on Brett Hundley. The Packers were able to recover the fumble, but these are the types of game changing plays that the Titans need from him. Landry followed that play with another nice rush on the very next snap, nearly getting a hand on Hundley’s throwing arm again. The sack essentially killed the drive though, as the Packers punted just two plays later. It’s silly that Landry fell to pick 41 in the draft. Anybody who saw him play in college saw this exact move and result on tape countless times. We still need to see him translate that to top competition in a real NFL game, but the early returns are extremely promising. LeShaun SimsSims got his night started with an excellent special teams play, punching the ball out of Packers punt returner Quinten Rollins’ hands on the first punt of the night. The Titans weren’t able to recover — and rookie Dane Cruikshank got hurt trying — but it could have been a big play if the ball had bounced another way. Sims’ primary contributions will be on special teams as long as the Titans top three corners are healthy so it’s good to see him making a play there.Sims was targeted frequently at corner after the first team defensive backs came out of the game, but he held his own. He broke up several passes, including a nice play on a 4th and goal fade route at the end of a long Packers drive. Sims may be the best CB4 in the NFL right now.Sharif FinchFinch was one of the guys I was excited to see perform and he didn’t disappoint. After coming in for an injured Gimel President — who was also very good — Finch regularly appeared in the Green Bay backfield creating pressure. He picked up a sack early in the second half, drew a holding call on a play where he was beating the tackle again, and added two more quarterback hits throughout the game. Finch helped his cause to sneak on to the 53-man roster this week. David FluellenFluellen didn’t get a ton of work, but what he did get, he made the most of. He finished with 3 carries for 21 yards, including a really nice 11-yard run where he was able to make multiple defenders miss. Also, helping his cause to remain as the third running back on the roster was a couple rookie mistakes from his competition. LosersBlaine GabbertGabbert wasn’t Matt Cassel bad, but he wasn’t good either. He has a big arm and some mobility Youth Dion Lewis Jersey , but the accuracy just isn’t there. Gabbert missed some relatively easy throws that could have kept drives alive. His 5.1 yards per attempt fell squarely in the Osweiler Zone (or should I say Flacco Zone, it’s so hard to tell them apart these days). I still think he’s going to be fine as a backup to Mariota, but this is what he is honestly. Malcolm ButlerIt was just one play and the coverage was actually pretty good, but Butler got torched for a deep ball on his first opportunity in a Titans uniform. The play was oddly reminiscent of Logan Ryan’s first opportunity against the Jets during last year’s preseason. Davante Adams made a really nice late adjustment to catch the perfectly thrown ball from Brett Hundley and there just wasn’t much that Butler could do despite being in good position. Butler will have no doubt better days, but I’m sure he would’ve liked a different start.Anthony FirkserOne of my favorite players from camp struggled in his first preseason game for the Titans. He stumbled after catching a short pass in the flat during the second drive of the game which cost him a likely first down. Later he had a bad drop on an easy throw from Luke Falk. I think we’ll see more from him next week, but for a guy fighting for a potential roster spot, this was less than ideal. Akrum WadleyWadley wasn’t terrible tonight. He had some nice moments and looks like a very natural pass catcher out of the backfield. However, he put the ball on the ground with a costly fumble and bobbled a kickoff that luckily rolled out of the endzone instead of at the 1-yard line. That’s life with a rookie and you hope that he’s able to bounce back from those miscues as the preseason continues.The Cornerback DepthOutside of the top four, the Titans don’t have a whole lot to be excited about among the cornerbacks. The Packers backup quarterbacks and wide receivers absolutely roasted Kalan Reed, Rico Gafford, Joseph Este, Jarell Carter, and Joshua Kalu for the entire second half. It was an embarrassing performance from many of these guys. Reed was definitely the best of the group — really not saying much — and seems likely to be the 5th corner on the 53-man roster. This shouldn’t matter a whole lot because all the rest of these guys are likely to be cut, but I’m not looking forward to seeing this bunch play second halves for the next few weeks. It was like watching 5 Perrish Cox’s running around out there at the same time — the stuff of nightmares. More coverage of the reaction to Titans-Packers as well as previews of Titans-Buccaneers to come throughout the week!We broke the game down on the podcast here.