Key Matchups: Tennessee Titans Vs Los Angeles Rams
No More Derrick Henry vs Rams Light Box Defense
Less than a week ago this matchup looked very different. Derrick Henry was not only doing Derrick Henry things, but doing it better than he ever has before. Henry was having the kind of season that made some of the nerdiest analytics wonks admit, at least, that THIS running back matters.
Henry was going to face off against a Rams run defense that “dares teams to run” by rarely stacking the box. Which is sort of like daring Tyson Fury to punch you in the gut. They have also struggled with fundamental tackling. Which is sort of like daring Tyson Fury to punch you in the gut and then daring him to steal your lunch money. Henry leads the league in rushing by almost 300 yards and also in missed tackles forced with 33.
But Henry is out and Adrian Peterson is in. Peterson is 36 and coming off a season producing one of his lowest yards per carry of his career. Obviously no one can replace Henry and Peterson is well past his prime, but the Titans offense is built to run the ball. So at the very least, Peterson is landing in a place that will offer him a better shot than he had last season in Detroit.
Nowhere is the soft landing more evident than when running behind this offensive line. It is made up of guys known mostly for their run blocking prowess. Particularly at center with Ben Jones and at guard with former Ram Rodger Saffold. They even drafted a talented run blocker this year in Dillon Radunz.
It is hard to call it luck that the Rams won’t have to face Henry, but it is (if I may be callous) just that. The Rams run defense has also been lucky in that they have faced some of the worst rushing teams in the league by DVOA. Houston 32, Giants 29, Detroit 27, Arizona 23, Chicago 16. And even with that, Chase Edmonds showed what could be done against this defense. He had the second best performance of his career in that game, yet Pro Football Focus grades him 35th best rusher in the league. Point being, teams can run on the Rams and if the Titans commit to pounding the rock with Peterson they could hang in this game.
It also should be pointed out that the Rams high scoring offense bolsters the run defense by forcing opponents to play more aggressively. AKA: A lot more passing. The offense sputtered against the Cardinals and therefore they could continue to feed Edmonds.
This will also be an interesting matchup for those analytics nerds. If Peterson has some amount of success in an offense built to run it will lend credence to the idea that any replacement level running back is good enough for some teams.
Peterson joins Jeremy McNichols in the Titans offensive backfield. He is used primarily in the passing game, so he won’t be a factor in this particular matchup. Earlier this season the team also lost second year back Darrynton Evans to injury.
Rams Pass Rush vs Titans Offensive Line
The Titans offensive line is one of the best blocking for the run, but against the pass rush, not so much. By Pro Football Focus they are graded sixth in run blocking and 26th in pass blocking. This has resulted in Ryan Tannehill being sacked 24 times, second most this season. In the Titan’s two losses, Tannehill was sacked a combined 13 times. The Titans weakest link when it comes to allowing pressure is guard Nate Davis. He alone has given up 26 pressures this season.
Being weak in the interior is bad because that’s where Aaron Donald plays. Donald leads the league with 38 pressures.
Short Story, shorter; Nate Davis is going to have a long day.
Cooper Kupp vs Titans Secondary
If there is anything that Matthew Stafford has unlocked about this offense it is the greatness of Cooper Kupp. He is leading the league in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. If he keeps this pace he will catch 133 passes for 1,964 yards. 1,964 just so happens to be the current single season record set by Calvin Johnson in 2012. (Go look up which quarterback threw to Johnson). Of course, Kupp will have an extra game to hit that number, but with his current yards per game average he would put him at 1,848 in 16 games. He would then be tied for third most yards with Jerry Rice. Not a bad company even if it is currently only hypothetical company.
Stafford has a lot to do with his success. One of the biggest statistical leaps that Kupp has made is his yards before catch per reception. In the previous three seasons his YBC/R was 6.03 with his lowest coming last season at 4.9. This season his YBC/R is 8.9. By the way, yards before the catch is another statistical category in which Kupp leads the league. Of course, the quarterback can’t take all the praise. The wide receiver is the one that needs to run the route and make the catch and turn it into a play.
The casual observer may not think of Cooper Kupp as one of the top five receivers in the game, but with Stafford rather than Jared Goff, Kupp is proving it. To those who have watched him closely, we have always known that he is a superb route runner with amazing hands and is a legitimate playmaking pass catcher. Now, he has a quarterback that can allow him to shine. While he hasn’t been talked about as one of the YAC Gods, Kupp is also raking up yards after the catch. He is currently second among wide receivers and is on pace to break the current record (I could only find YAC stats going back to 2006).
What is amazing about this is Kupp’s yards after the catch statistic has been consistent over his career. He has averaged 5.9 yards after the catch per reception over his career and this year he is averaging 6 yards. But because he is finally getting more opportunities, his playmaking talent is getting its due attention.
So far this season the Rams have played against some of the worst teams in coverage. One of the best they have played was Arizona. The Cardinals are third in PFF grade and Tennessee is second.
The unit is anchored by safeties Kevin Byard and Amani Hooker, who are both having career years. None of the cornerbacks are what you would call shutdown corners, but this squad is a testament to acquiring solid depth. This depth has allowed them to hold up to some pretty spectacular passing games as well as several injuries.
The cornerback that will likely see the most action across from Kupp will be rookie Elijah Molden. He is primarily used against the slot receiver, where Kupp has played mostly. Molden was selected in this year’s third round, well after Caleb Farley who was the 22nd overall pick. Molden surprised the Titans by outperforming his draft mate. Farley only played 60 snaps in three games before tearing his ACL in week six. Meanwhile Molden has played in seven of the eight games including a lot of playing time against the Chiefs and the Bills. Against the Chiefs he helped the team hold Tyreek Hill to just 49 yards. Kupp will be another good test for the young nickelback.
The Rams vs The NFC Elite
Another thing to watch will be how the other teams at the top of the NFC standings due this week. Green Bay will be without Aaron Rodgers because he contracted COVID-19 despite being what he called “immunized,” but in fact did not receive a vaccination. They head to Kansas City to play the Chiefs.
The Cardinals may be without Kyler Murray in their second game against the 49ers. San Francisco held their offense to just 17 points in their first meeting. New Orleans also lost Jameis Winston for the season.
A loss from any these teams would go a long way in the Rams securing a first round bye heading into the playoffs. Of course, that is if the Rams win. Which Vegas is betting they will. The line says they are favored by around 7.5 points, according to MyBookie.ag.