Titans head north to face floundering Vikings
The Tennessee Titans and the Minnesota Vikings are two teams headed in opposite directions. The Titans (2-0) are the lone undefeated team in the AFC South and in the early driver's seat to win their first division title since 2008. Tennessee rode a brilliant game from quarterback Ryan Tannehill to squeak out a divisional home win against a feisty Jacksonville squad last Sunday, 33-30. While the defense has left a lot to be desired, they're still a unit capable of making game-winning plays. When it all comes together for the two-tone blue, they're likely the least-flawed team in their division.
I'm typically not the type to overreact after only two weeks, but I feel rather comfortable saying that the Vikings are, simply put, a bad football team. Even with an expanded playoff format and less-than-stellar NFC North schedule, Minnesota looks like anything but a functional operation. The Vikings' losses have come by an average of 13 points, but neither game was particularly even that close. It took 24 fourth-quarter points against the Packers in Week 1 to make that game even appear compelling, while their 11-point, 175-yard (total) outburst against the Colts was — well, just — grisly. Things don't get much easier this week with the Titans' balanced offensive attack coming to town.
Tennessee at Minnesota
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 27 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Titans -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Red-hot Tannehill
If Mugatu were an NFL analyst instead of an eccentric fashion tycoon and comedic movie villain, he'd likely say something along the lines of, "That Ryan Tannehill, he's so hot right now!" And the fictitious inventor of the piano key necktie wouldn't be wrong, except Tannehill has been hot for some time.
Last Sunday against Jacksonville was just another stop on the Tannehill Tent Revival, his ninth straight game throwing at least two touchdowns. He was brilliant yet again, completing 18 of 24 throws, tossing four touchdowns, and posting a dynamite 145.7 passer rating. He is currently tied for second in the league in TD passes (6) and fourth in passer rating (127.0).
Tannehill is now proving he can win games as the primary offensive catalyst. The Titans' passing game no longer solely relies on Derrick Henry and the running game to establish the play-action passing attack that Tannehill thrived on last year (78 percent completion rate, 14.8 yards per completion, 143 rating in 2019). This season, opposing defenses have understandably sold out to stop Henry at the line of scrimmage, thus taking away the deceit of the play-fake and requiring Tannehill's arm to beat them. And that is exactly what he is doing. Tannehill is doing damage on standard, non-play action throws, completing 72 percent of those passes, 61 percent of which are first downs to go along with three touchdown passes and a 112 rating. In short: Tannehill has become a weapon.
This week Tannehill faces a Minnesota defense in absolute shambles. Look for the Titans' new franchise quarterback to keep up his great start in 2020, because, ya know... he's just so hot right now.
2. Speaking of franchise quarterbacks...
...Kirk Cousins is playing like anything but right now. Cousins' career has been polarizing for football carnival barkers since he took over as Washington's full-time starter in 2015, replacing the oft-injured Robert Griffin III. Fresh off a $66 million extension and a Pro Bowl season, Cousins is giving his detractors plenty of ammo in 2020. His 61.9 passer rating is currently the lowest in the NFL, his 58.5 expected completion percentage is third lowest, and his 58 percent completion rate is fifth lowest.
His performance last week against the Colts was the worst of his career. He was just 11-of-26 for 113 yards, three picks, a safety, and a comically bad rating of 15.6. At one point late in the third quarter, Cousin's passer rating was somehow at 1.5.
"Congratulations, Kirk you're at the top of the Delta pledge class."
While the Colts did a good job of pressuring Cousins on more than a third of his dropbacks (34.5 percent), all three of Cousins' interceptions came with a clean pocket and plenty of time to make accurate throws. On average, the Vikings' offensive line gave him 3.23 seconds of time to throw per attempt, the second-most amount of time allowed in Week 2. Cousins simply could not make the throws, pressured or not. Many of his attempts lacked any sort of zip, often throwing balls short and into double coverage. He might as well have been throwing pop-ups to an Indianapolis Little League team.
I'd expect that Dalvin Cook will play a bigger role in the Vikings' offense this week after getting only 14 touches against the Colts. Perhaps if Minnesota can control the running game with Cook against a less-than-impressive Titans' run D (165 yards, 6.1 ypc vs. Jacksonville), it will take some of the pressure off of Cousins.
3. No rest for the weary
Minnesota's front office felt like their defense could be one of the best in the league coming into this season. After signing nose tackle Michael Pierce and acquiring pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue from Jacksonville, the Vikings' brass certainly had reason for optimism, even after letting nine players from last year's unit walk in free agency. But Pierce opted out, and now four-time Pro Bowl linebacker Anthony Barr is out for the rest of the season after tearing his pectoral muscle last week, joining defensive end Danielle Hunter on injured reserve. With the front seven depleted, opposing quarterbacks have been able to pick apart the young and inexperienced Vikings secondary.
The absence of so many playmakers has been palpable. Without their stars, Minnesota's defense simply cannot get off the field, ranking dead last in plays and time allowed per possession (7.7 plays, 4:07) according to Football Outsiders. Head coach Mike Zimmer's defense has been on the field for nearly 80 of the season's 120 total minutes or about 66 percent of actual game time. Indianapolis had the ball for 17 more minutes than Minnesota, and in Week 1, the Packers held a plus-23-minute advantage.
Sadly for Minnesota, it could be more of the same against Tennessee. The Titans are currently in the top 10 in plays and yards per drive (7.4 plays, 42.3 yards) and drive success rate (0.790). It could be another long Sunday afternoon for a once-promising Vikings defensive unit.
The Tennessee Titans have proven that their offense can pick up their defense when needed. And for as flawed as the Titans' defense is, it's still a group that can make a big play when the occasion calls for it. We can't say any of that for the Vikings. Granted, it is only Week 3 of a 16-game schedule, but another embarrassing loss for the Vikings could have fans longing for a complete rebuild and reaching for a bottle of SKOL.
Prediction: Titans 31, Vikings 27
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.