Two first-place teams square off on Sunday afternoon when the Tennessee Titans pay a visit to the City of Brotherly Love to take on the Philadelphia Eagles.
Despite last week's home loss to the Bengals, the Titans (7-4) still find themselves with a comfy three-game lead in the AFC South. Even with the cushion and seemingly inevitable playoff berth, questions still linger about this team, mainly on offense. Tennessee is only scoring 19 points per game, 26th in the NFL. The Titans have scored more than 24 points just once this season and have failed to break the 20-point threshold in five of their last six games.
Meanwhile, the Eagles (10-1) are the undisputed class of the NFL and coming off a 40-33 win on "Sunday Night Football" against Green Bay. Philly has remarkable balance on both sides of the ball that has allowed this team to win in every way possible this season — blowouts, defensive struggles, fourth-quarter comebacks, shootouts — the Eagles have proven they're capable.
Tennessee (7-4) at Philadelphia (10-1)
Three Things to Watch
1. Eagles' soaring ground game
Philadelphia's rushing attack was unstoppable last week, amassing 363 yards on the ground against the Packers, the second most in franchise history. Quarterback Jalen Hurts lead the way with 157 yards — not to mention another 153 yards and two touchdowns through the air — with Miles Sanders tacking on another 143 and two scores. Hurts and Sanders are the first teammate tandem to each top 125 yards in the same game since Colin Kaepernick and Frank Gore in 2014.
While last week's performance was certainly an extraordinary outlier, Philly has been getting the job done on the ground all season long. The Eagles rank second in the league in rushing attempts (378), third in yards (1,788), and first in touchdowns (21). While Hurts and Sanders are the largest beneficiaries, the dominance starts up front with an outstanding offensive line. But, more on them in a minute.
This week, Philadelphia faces a Titans defense that has been reliably stout against opposing rushing attacks. Tennessee has given up the third-fewest rushing yards in the league (930, 3.9 ypc) and grades out as Pro Football Focus' third-best run defense. Last week against the Bengals, the Titans allowed 100-plus yards (108 yards) on the ground for just the third time this season and the first since Week 2 against Buffalo. Tennessee is 0-3 in games in which the defense has allowed opponents to reach the century mark this season.
2. Second-half Henry?
A quick look at Derrick Henry's season numbers would make you think that everything is just fine, that he is dominating as usual. He's top three in the league in rushing attempts (247, first), yards (1,048, second), and touchdowns (10, third). In Weeks 4 through 9, Henry surpassed 100 yards in each game, averaging 135 rushing yards per contest, 5.2 yards per carry, and seven scores. Typical King Henry stuff, right?
But in the words of the great Lee Corso, "not so fast my friend."
In the last three weeks, those numbers have come crashing down and the Titans' offense has become all the more predictable as a result. Or maybe it's the other way around? The offense has become too predictable, and as a result, Henry's production has been stymied. Either way, in the last three contests Henry is averaging just 59.3 rushing yards on 2.7 yards per attempt and has scored once. Lucky for Tennessee, two of those games came against teams with losing records (Green Bay and Denver).
But what is more worrisome is that Henry isn't getting the same production we're used to seeing in the latter stages of games. That's been his modus operandi during his career — putting teams away in the second half. In his last two full seasons (2019, '20) Henry averaged 5.7 yards per carry in second halves, including 5.6 yards in the fourth quarter, along with producing 21 total second-half touchdowns, 14 of which came in 2019 alone. In his injury-shortened 2021 campaign, Henry reached pay dirt in the second half eight times in just eight games played.
This season? Henry's production is front-loaded. He's averaging a mere 3.4 yards per rushing attempt in second halves, 3.3 in the fourth quarter, and has just two touchdowns after halftime, neither of which were in the final frame. It's not a coincidence the Titans' entire offense has been abysmal in the second half this season. They've mustered only six total touchdowns in 22 combined quarters with only one score occurring in the fourth. And I think I know why…
3. Trench warfare
The Titans' offensive line is not good. In fact, they're bad. Pro Football Focus has them ranked 31st in the league, ahead of only the horrid Rams. Last week, not a single Titans' offensive lineman graded out above average in run blocking against the Bengals — hence why Henry had just 38 yards on 17 attempts. But it's been a season-long ailment. The Titans average 0.8 rushing yards before contact, the worst rate in the NFL. In layman's terms, that means that Henry can't even run three feet with the ball before being hit by an opposing defender.
The Tennessee pass protection isn't much better. Actually. It's worse. The Titans are the lowest-graded team in the NFL in pass protection, according to PFF. Look for the Eagles to target the Titans' left side of the line where guard Dillon Radunz and tackle Dennis Daley (replacing the injured Taylor Lewan) have been extra vulnerable. Philly brings pressure on 38 percent of dropbacks and is third in the league with 36 sacks.
On the other side of the ball, the Eagles' offensive line is their catalyst. According to PFF, they are the best unit in the game right now, ranking second in pass blocking and fifth in run blocking, with all five starters grading out above average. But they, too, will have their hands full with a stout Tennessee front, a group that is very good at pressuring quarterbacks despite only blitzing 15 percent of the time. If all-world defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons can make a bigger impact than he has in recent weeks (he's been hampered by injuries), the Titans have a fighter's chance to turn this game into a low-scoring slog. Just the way head coach Mike Vrabel likes it.
It's hard to discount a team with a three-game division lead this late into the season. But the fact is, the Eagles have a far more balanced and talented team right now compared to the Titans. For having seven wins 12 weeks into the season, the Titans leave an awful lot to be desired. Their plus-four win differential indicates as much. They can not let this game turn into a shootout — they don't have the ammunition to keep up. (Don't forget that this will be Eagles wide receiver A.J. Brown's first game against his former team.) Tennessee's only shot is to hope its offensive line can create holes for Henry and he wears down the Philadelphia defense late into the game, something that unit hasn't done all season long.
Prediction: Eagles 29, Titans 20
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.
*Price as of publication.