Titans ready (or not) for prime time

Sunday Packers game seen by players as beginning of playoffs

Friday, December 25, 2020, Vol. 44, No. 52

Derrick Henry, the NFL rushing leader with 1,679 yards, has already eclipsed his league-leading 1,540 total from last season and has a shot at 2,000. He had 147 yards against the Lions last week.

-- Photo By Brett Carlsen | Ap

We know this much about the Tennessee Titans after 14 games: The offense is prolific – the best we have ever seen from the club since it moved to Tennessee in 1997. The Titans have scored 30 points or more nine times this season, and scored 40-plus points for the fourth time this season in Sunday’s 46-25 romp against the Detroit Lions.

Along the way, some gaudy numbers have been put up, ones that if they continue could put this year’s Titans team among some of the most elite offenses in NFL history.

As for the defense, well, mama always said if you can’t say anything nice . . .

On Sunday, the defense had some of its usual problems – allowing the Lions to convert 58% of their third-down tries and again recorded zero sacks of Matthew Stafford. Tennessee’s highlight was three takeaways and a fourth-down fake punt stop when rookie wide receiver Nick Westbrook-Ikhine stopped the Lions’ C.J. Moore a half yard short of the first down marker.

With all that is so good about the offense and so questionable about the defense, exactly what should we expect from this Titans team once the playoffs roll around.

At their best, the Titans look like they can complete with the NFL’s elite. A thrashing of Buffalo when the Titans were coming off their COVID battles remains a season highlight.

At their worst, we have seen them lose to a two-win Cincinnati team and trail 38-7 at home to Cleveland.

While it is good the Titans have taken care of business the past two weeks against NFL dregs like Jacksonville and Detroit, the real test to see just how much of a contender the Titans might or might not be comes in front of the entire nation Sunday night at Lambeau Field.

All eyes will be on the Titans to see how Derrick Henry, Ryan Tannehill & Co. stack up against a Green Bay Packers team led by future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers and coached by one-time Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur.

The Packers are the No. 1 seed in the NFC and a bona fide Super Bowl contender, especially if the NFC playoffs run through the Frozen Tundra.

Coach Mike Vrabel and his players know Sunday night’s game is a measuring stick for where the franchise stands among the league’s best teams. It also is vital in the race for the AFC South, with the Titans having the same record but holding a tie-breaker advantage with the Indianapolis Colts.

A division championship would mean at least one home playoff game.

Safety Kevin Byard knows it will take a great effort to win in Green Bay.

“We want to be playing our best ball in December, and we feel like we can play better,’’ he says. “So that’s a great feeling knowing that we can always improve, so that’s going to be the main thing this week.

“We’re going to have a big matchup Sunday night against Green Bay, top in the NFC North, so we’re going to have a big challenge, so we’re going to have to get up on them boys. Kind of enjoy this for right now and maybe in a couple of hours I’m going to start watching film of Aaron Rodgers.”

Cornerback Malcolm Butler, who has played in his share of big games, proclaimed after the Detroit win that the Titans should consider their prime-time matchup with Rodgers and the Packers a postseason dress rehearsal.

“Basically, it is a playoff game,” he said. “You have got to go out there and play against one of the best teams in the NFL. Of course, they’ve got Aaron Rodgers, (Davante) Adams, and they’ve got a good defense. It’s a solid organization, so we got to prepare good and be ready to play.”

Linebacker Will Compton echoes Butler’s assessment and says the challenge is at hand for the Titans to prove themselves.

“At the end of the day, we are playing a December game, we are on a roll right now. Green Bay is on a roll right now. They are the best team in the NFC, and we are going up North in their territory, so it is damn near playoff football,” Compton says.

“We have got to get ready for this one. You are going to have Christmas and stuff, some distraction this week, but I know the guys are going to be hungry for this one, but we got to make sure we stay sharp, keep improving each and every day.

“We got a big one up north in Green Bay.”