We had the privilege of chatting with Jimmy Morris headed into this Titans vs Chargers matchup, and Jimmy was kind enough to give us some key insights. The Chargers (-2.5) will be challenged by one of the best running backs in the league, and history suggests the Bolts’ run defense will grant plenty of opportunities for Derrick Henry. DraftKings Sportsbook currently has this game at an Over/Under set at 45.5 despite the teams scoring only 31 points combined in last year’s showdown, but let’s see how Jimmy feels about the game.
1) It was pretty shocking to see Derrick Henry receive less snaps than Tyjae Spears last week against the Saints. It looks like he retained the majority of the rushing opportunities, but was brought off the field on many passing downs. Is this indicative of how Coach Vrabel plans on using the two, or should we expect a shift back to Henry being a heavy usage, dual threat back?
Derrick Henry has pretty much always come off the field on passing downs. His only real usage in the passing game has been screen passes. This year they have Tyjae Spears behind him who is the best, most complete back they have ever had behind King Henry. Spears got more run than I expected in week 1. It will be interesting to see how they use the two going forward. In an ideal world, they would like to get away from relying so heavily on Henry, but if Ryan Tannehill continues to play as poorly as he did last week they will have no choice but to feed the ball to Henry 25+ times per game. I would expect a pretty heavy dose of Henry on Sunday.
2) Two years in a row, the TItans have traded up to draft a Day 2 quarterback. How long of a leash does Ryan Tannehill have before Vrabel considers moving on to Will Levis or Malik Willis? Is it a pretty open competition for that spot, or did Levis’ selection signify dissatisfaction with Willis?
I thought Tannehill had a long leash heading into week 1, but after how poorly he played in that game, I’m not sure anymore. Tannehill has been really good overall for this team. He will be given some time before they pull the plug. We are all hoping (praying) that last week was just a product of Tannehill seeing his first real game action coming off ankle surgery. He also had a new offensive line, some new weapons, and a new playcaller. Those are all excuses for how he played. How valid are they? It will take some time to get that answer.
As for the competition behind him, they absolutely drafted Levis because they were dissatisfied with Willis. However, Willis put in a lot of work in the offseason and pretty solidly beat out Levis for the #2 spot in the spring and training camp. As it stands right now, Willis is pretty easily the next man up. Now, if they did decide to pull the plug on Tannehill, my guess is that they would pretty much re-open that competition.
3) The Chargers have a reputation of struggling against the run, and Coach Staley build his defense with an emphasis on defending the pass. It’s a great matchup for a team with an elite back like Henry. Do you see Vrabel moving to a more balanced playcalling approach after calling 43 pass plays vs 20 running plays against the Saints?
Vrabel likes to attack what the opposing team is bad at. Last year when these two teams played Henry went for 21/104/1. Vrabel would be perfectly happy if he could replicate that line. The thing that could take the Titans out of the plan, of course, is if they were to get down a couple of scores in the 2nd half. That would force them to put the ball in Tannehill’s hands more, but hopefully that isn’t what happens here.
4) I would be a little perplexed if I was in Coach Vrabel’s shoes, trying to set a defensive game plan against these Chargers (because we’re perplexed as fans!). They really exploded with a strong rushing attack against the Dolphins, bucking the trend of their underperforming rush offense of years’ past. Despite their passing offense being the Chargers biggest strength, it sputtered in key moments. How would you anticipate Vrabel to approach his defensive gameplan?
The Titans’ defensive front is really good. They don’t have to scheme up a whole lot to stop opposing rushing attacks. They are able to line up with Jeffery Simmons, Denico Autry, and Teair Tart. Vrabel would love for Staley to try and force the run on that group. The problem they are going to have this week is that they will likely be without starting safety Amani Hooker (concussion) and possibly corner Kristian Fulton (hamstring). That means they will have two backups starting. That’s not great against the Chargers passing attack. Hopefully, that front we talked about before, with the addition of Arden Key and Harold Landry can keep Justin Herbert uncomfortable for most of the day and hide the guys on the back end.
5) DraftKings Sportsbook currently has the over/under for this matchup at 45 points. Last year, the point total was only 31. Do you see another defensive bout, or do you think Vrabel will have more success in his outing against Staley’s defense, much like Mike McDaniel had last week?
I’d bet the under here. The Titans aren’t going to be able to attack the Chargers like the Dolphins did last week. While DeAndre Hopkins and Treylon Burks are good players, they aren’t the same as Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. Tennessee would be perfectly happy to play a game similar to the one last year. This time they just need to not give up 51 yards to Mike Williams on two plays with less than a minute left!
Thank you again to Jimmy for joining us on this crossover article. We at BFTB hope this helped get some insight on this upcoming game! Also be sure to check out our answers to his questions at the Music City Miracles page.