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VOL. 45 | NO. 46 | Friday, November 12, 2021

7-2 Titans are an anomaly in pass-happy NFL

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Jeremy McNichols is one of a handful of running backs the Titans are using to fill the void left by Derrick Henry following his foot injury. The Titans were able to top the Rams without Henry.

-- Photo By Kyusung Gong | Ap

Those who grew up on Sesame Street will remember the game and accompanying song: “One of These Things is Not Like the Other.”

In the NFL version, always go with the Tennessee Titans as the odd man out.

Even before Derrick Henry was lost last week with a foot injury, the Titans were different from NFL franchises, relying on a 1980s run-first philosophy rather than depending on a flashy, elusive quarterback like Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen. They also are not to be confused with teams led by the likes of Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady that toss the ball around 40 times a game.

Before the Titans went out to Los Angeles to face the Rams, Mike Vrabel warned Tennessee’s offensive philosophy would not radically change just because Henry was out of commission. Something about not wanting to drop back and throw it 45 times, to paraphrase the coach.

With Henry out, it was easy to discount the Titans against the Rams, a popular Super Bowl pick with veteran quarterback Matthew Stafford finally leading a supporting cast superior to what he endured for 12 years in Detroit.

But the one thing that’s hard to measure when setting a point spread or making a prediction is resilience, something the Titans put on display in their five-game win streak against some of the NFL’s top brands for 2011.

How else does one explain the defense playing perhaps its best game of the season, getting two consecutive interceptions – including one by Kevin Byard for a touchdown – or racking up five sacks of Matthew Stafford en route to a convincing 28-16 victory.

It’s a team that takes its cue from Vrabel and his hard-nosed, no excuses, next-man-up philosophy.

“We obviously understood the situation this entire week with Derrick, but we’re just a resilient bunch,’’ Byard says. “I’ve been saying that all year. Some games, the offense doesn’t play very well and the defense has to hold it down and vice versa.

“It’s all about being a team. It’s not about the defense winning it, but we pretty much did what we had to do to get the W.’’

In consecutive weeks, the Titans have defeated Jacksonville, Buffalo, Kansas City, Indianapolis and Los Angeles. They haven’t gone into a game as the favorite to win since Jacksonville.

As soon as news came last week of Henry being out and needing surgery, the point spread against the Rams jumped to more than a touchdown.

But those things don’t seem to faze these Titans. How else do you explain the fact that Tennessee can run guys like D’Onta Foreman, Bobby Hart and Chris Jackson out there and get enough productivity to win – convincingly.

The Titans formula is about contributions from every player and overcoming adversity and mistakes. There are a few stars sprinkled in here and there – Henry, A.J. Brown, Julio Jones, Jeffery Simmons, Byard and Ryan Tannehill – but the contributions of useful role players can’t be discounted.

What also can’t be dismissed is the fact that the Titans coaching staff, which has had its share of criticism this season, has the team ready to play in most every week and every situation – Week One against Arizona notwithstanding. And then there was the loss to the now-2-6 Jets.

With Henry down, the Titans defense knew more was needed from them and delivered in a big way Sunday night. That must continue if the Titans are to stay among the top teams in the conference.

“We played a complete game on defense,’’ says Simmons, who had three of Tennessee’s five sacks. “We gave up a couple of plays here and there, but what more can you ask for, guys out there flying around and having fun, getting sacks and getting turnovers.’’

Going forward, the Titans – currently the top seed in the AFC – would seem to get a break in the schedule. Only three teams remaining on their schedule have winning records. One of those is 5-3 New Orleans Saints, who visit Nissan Stadium Sunday after falling at home Sunday to the 4-4 Falcons.

Of course, as the Titans know full well, now is no time to coast to the finish line.

It’s next game up and likely next man up for the rest of the ride, for a team that has forged an identity that is unique among NFL teams.

Terry McCormick publishes TitanInsider.com and appears 2-4 p.m. weekdays on the George Plaster Show on WNSR-AM 560/95.9 FM.

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