The Denver Broncos travel to the south where southern hospitality does not include welcoming opposing football teams with open arms. As Music City sings its fine country tunes from Music Row, the Broncos will try to go for the kill next to the Cumberland. The Tennessee Titans (2-1) are in a mad dash for first place in the very tough AFC South. The division has a 3-way tie for first place with the Colts and Texans also at 2-1. The bottom line is the Titans need a win this week since divisional rivals, Indianapolis and Jacksonville, already beat the Broncos this season. This is certainly a Titan of a game for the Broncos as well. The team looks to get back to .500 and get their two-game road swing off on the right foot. The Titans are not a familiar face for the Broncos. The two teams have met just three times since 1992. My Prediction: Titans 28 Broncos 24
Broncos – The goal this week is 7 points when in the red zone. It doesn’t matter how they come – Run, screen pass, pass to the corner of the endzone. Heck the Titans could even Volunteer a wide open gap up the middle for Kyle Orton to run it in. The point being is the Broncos need points. All of the offensive production in the world doesn’t matter unless the team can get into the endzone. We learned that lesson last week after 519 yards of offensive output, but just 13 points. There’s no better test than the Titans for red zone efficiency. They’ve only allowed 3 TDs this season. While the Raiders and Steelers are not necessarily known for their offensive skills, the Titans held the Giants to 10 points last week. Balancing out the Broncos offense is key. Rushing yards need to come from somewhere, even if it’s from the Great Smokey confines of the bench.
Titans- This Grand Ole Offense depends on running back Chris Johnson who is averaging 100 yards per game and has 4 TDs on the season. He’s helped the Titans to a 5th-ranked offense. The Titans are 31st in passing, but 8th in rushing. Just as all ski traffic goes through I-70, all rushing plays go through C.J. Johnson has carried the ball on roughly 74% of Tennessee’s rushing plays. Vince Young was benched during week 2 against Pittsburgh for throwing two picks and fumbling the ball, but he returned to the starting lineup last week against the Giants. There he went 10-16 for 118 yards and 1 TD. While he produced a quarter of what Orton did last week, his team still won the game off of a solid 125 yard rushing performance by Johnson. Young’s main targets have been Nate Washington and Justin Gage when the rock isn’t handed to Johnson.
Broncos – Denver’s 10th ranked rushing defense is much improved from last season. This will be a great test for them as they go helmet-to-helmet with the best running back they’ve faced this season. Maurice Jones-Drew was a different kind of beast in the first game of the season. At 5’7”, he was hard to grab a hold of (Case in point: Ryan McBean’s two facemask penalties) with his small size, speed, and powerful legs. At 5’11, Chris Johnson is lighter than Jones-Drew, but cuts much quicker, and has the breakaway speed that’s one-of-a-kind. The Broncos defense will need to focus on keeping Johnson in the middle of the field. If he cuts to the outside and has the time to pick up speed, he will take it to the house. The running game has been the Titans bread and butter, so containing that will help put clock-control in the Broncos favor.
Titans- The Titans 5th-ranked defense (5th in passing, 17th in rushing) is allowing just 14.0 points per game. They’re good at getting to the quarterback (10 sacks in three games), they’ve forced 4 fumbles, and have 3 interceptions so far this year. The Broncos will be Tennes-seeing a much stronger defense than what the Colts showed last week. Against the Titans last week, Eli Manning put up big numbers going 34-48 for 386 yards, but he threw 2 INTs and couldn’t get into the endzone. If the Broncos have a day like the Giants did, digging their own grave, the Titans defense will have no problem shoveling the dirt on top of the coffin. Michael Griffin is leading the team in tackles while Will Witherspoon is leading the team in sacks (3). Three other players have 2 sacks a piece on the season.
Broncos – Eddie Royal took over punt return duties after a muffed punt return by Perrish Cox last week. Cox will continue handling kickoff returns. Hopefully, this doesn’t put much wear and tear on Royal and his success as a slot receiver.
Titans- Marc Mariani is 9th in the league in punt returns (10.6 yard average) and 16th in kickoff returns (24.1 yard average). Kicker Rob Bironas has made all of his field goals and point after attempts. We will get to see former Broncos punter, Brett Kern, once again. He’s the 6th best punter in the league (one behind Britton Colquitt) averaging 47 yards per punt. The Titans did give up a touchdown on a kickoff return in their loss to the Steelers.
Broncos – Josh McDaniels has narrowed his focus on third-down plays in practice this week. The Titans are stopping third down conversions nearly three-quarters of the time this season. McDaniels is also focusing on getting his offensive line prepared to handle Tennessee’s blitz packages. They blitz from all angles. The safeties get in on the action as do the linebackers, and the unpredictability is what makes them this team one of the best defenses in the league.
Titans- Jeff Fisher has taken a lot of heat as far as balancing the run plays and the pass plays. Fisher says that the team will continue doing whatever puts them in a position to win the game. If that means throwing 15 times per game and putting the ball in Johnson’s hands the rest of the time, then that’s what they’ll do. There are no quotas by the Cumberland.
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