The 5-1 Atlanta Falcons will travel to Nashville in Week 7 to take on a struggling 1-4 Tennessee Titans team that will be without starting quarterback Marcus Mariota. Mariota suffered an MCL sprain in last week’s embarrassing loss to Miami and the team decided on Friday that backup Zach Mettenberger will get the start on Sunday. Mettenberger has shown flashes of being a good quarterback at times, but his 0-6 overall record as the Titans’ starting quarterback is concerning to say the least.
The Falcons have a few concerns of their own following a mistake plagued Week 6 performance against the Saints that ended their undefeated run. Atlanta will be looking for a rebound performance against a Titans team that would like nothing more than to simply forget Week 6 altogether. Tennessee head coach, Ken Whisenhunt, now has the daunting task of trying to resurrect the confidence of a team heading in the wrong direction. If he is somehow successful, the Titans could earn their second victory of the season against an NFC South opponent.
This will be the 14th meeting all-time between the Titans and the Falcons dating back to 1972. Tennessee holds a slight edge in the series with a 7-6 overall record against Atlanta. The teams last met in 2011 with the Falcons coming away with a narrow 23-17 victory. The Titans had won five in a row against the Falcons prior to that 2011 loss.
Atlanta at Tennessee
Kickoff: 1 p.m ET (Sunday)
Spread: Atlanta -4.5
Three Things to Watch
1. The Falcons’ Offense vs. The Titans’ Defense
In spite of a terrible 1-4 record, the Titans have actually played pretty well on the defensive side of the football this year. They rank third in the NFL in yards allowed per game (313) and first in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game (184). That being said, Tennessee has yet to face an offense nearly as potent as the one they will compete against in Week 7.
The Titans will be hard pressed to slow down a Falcons passing attack that can be dominant with Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. Tennessee will be equally tested by a Falcons run game that features a red hot Devonta Freeman and explosive rookie Tevin Coleman. Freeman has been torching opposing defenses all season, accumulating ten touchdowns in his last five contests. A top flight Atlanta offense is unlikely to repeat a bad Week 6 performance, even against a solid Tennessee defense. The Titans will likely meet their match and then some in Week 7.
2. Tennessee’s Offensive Line
Without question, the Titans’ biggest liability so far this season has been the offensive line. In five games, Tennessee has already allowed twenty sacks. The Titans gave up six sacks last week to a Dolphins defense that had just one sack to their credit all season prior to Week 6. To make matters worse, Tennessee will be without starting center, Brian Schwenke, who was lost for the year to a severe ankle injury suffered in last week's loss.
Like most of the Titans’ previous opponents, the Atlanta Falcons do not come into this matchup with impressive pass rush numbers. In fact, they are currently tied for the fewest sacks in the NFL with just seven on the season. Regardless, the Falcons will make it their mission to exploit a weak Titans offensive front, especially considering that Mettenberger isn't nearly as mobile in or out of the pocket as Mariota.
3. Delanie Walker’s Breakout Performance?
In Week 6, the Saints were able to expose a significant weakness in the Falcons’ defense. The inability to cover the tight end. New Orleans’ tight end, Benjamin Watson, who had put up very pedestrian numbers prior to Week 6, managed to have a field day against the Atlanta defense. In fact, Atlanta has allowed an opposing tight end to score a touchdown in each of their last three games. Two of those touchdowns coming from backup tight ends that you have probably never even heard of.
This should be an area that the Titans will also look to exploit in Week 7. The biggest potential benefactor being Delanie Walker. In spite of a somewhat disappointing season so far, Walker is Tennessee’s second leading receiver, and a major focal point in the Titans’ offense when it is at its best. He is also one of the better tight ends that Atlanta has faced so far this season. The Falcons could not make the necessary adjustments to slow down an aging Benjamin Watson in Week 6, so it stands to reason that they will be vulnerable against a younger and more explosive Walker in Week 7. A weak Falcons secondary could also have their hands full with receivers Kendall Wright and Dorial Green-Beckham. Green-Beckham is also a prime candidate for a breakout performance if the Titans can find some semblance of a passing attack on Sunday.
Regardless of who starts at quarterback or the challenges provided by a porous offensive line, the Titans may still be able to find some success through the air against the mediocre Falcons’ pass defense. On the other side of the ball, a solid Titans defense probably won’t be enough to overcome an elite Falcons offense set on redemption. In addition, Tennessee may have lost more than just their starting quarterback in last week’s pummeling at the hands of the Dolphins. They may have lost their spirit.
As for Atlanta, even really good NFL teams sometimes fall victim to the occasional bad week. That appears to have been the case for the previously undefeated Falcons in Week 6. Logic alone would suggest that Atlanta’s Week 6 debacle against the Saints is not likely to repeat itself, especially against a 1-4 Titans team that showed few signs of life in Week 6.
Prediction: Falcons 31, Titans 17
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.