The Giants will play an unfamiliar opponent on back-to-back weeks when they face the Titans and Colts for the first time since 2014. The Giants blew out Tennessee, 36-7, four years ago with Zach Mettenberger as the Titans' starting quarterback. Tennessee is 7-6 and right in the middle of the battle for the final AFC wild card spot. Here's what the Giants can expect from the Titans.
When the Titans Have The Ball
The Spotlight: Quarterback Marcus Mariota
Mariota's overall numbers this year are humble. After battling through a nerve issue in his throwing arm earlier in the season, he has only 2,330 passing yards and 11 touchdowns versus eight interceptions in 11 starts. He is averaging career highs in completion percentage (69.1%) and yards per pass attempt (7.8).
Mariota is mobile. He can avoid the rush and uses his legs to get outside the pocket and run for first downs. He often scrambles to run rather than pass. He is a dangerous runner with playmaking ability. He often holds the ball because he has confidence in his ability to run away from pressure. It's one of the reasons he has been sacked 39 times this year.
Inside the Numbers: Mariota has a career-high 61 carries this season. He ranks sixth among quarterbacks with 339 rushing yards and is 11 away from his career high. He has nine fumbles this season.
At times, Mariota displays great touch and placement on his passes. He throws an accurate deep ball with a lot of arc. He is at his best when he can throw it to his first read on time. When he has to re-set his feet and scan both sides of the field, plays tend to break down.
Inside the Numbers: Since entering the NFL in 2015, Mariota ranks 19th in completion percentage (63.2%), 27th in passing yards per game (218.6), 21st in passer rating (89.5) and 24th in TD/Int ratio (69/42). Mariota's production has jumped in his last six games (perhaps due to more distance from his arm injury), completing 72.3% of his passes for 216 yards per game for eight touchdowns and just three interceptions.
He’s a scrambler. We got to plaster very good and everybody just has to stay on your man. CB Janoris Jenkins
The Matchup: Running Back Dion Lewis
Derrick Henry had the monster 238-yard rushing performance against Jacksonville last week; however, Dion Lewis is a more versatile weapon for the Titans. Lewis is undersized at 5-8 and 195 pounds but is elusive and can make people miss in the open field with his quickness. He has powerful legs and can run through arms tackles.
Inside the Numbers: According to Pro Football Focus, Lewis has 355 rushing yards after contact, which accounts for 74% of his rushing yards. He has not gotten the help from the offensive line that he got in 2017.
Lewis is averaging just 3.3 yards per carry and has 477 rushing yards. He has 50 catches for 348 yards and is a constant target in the screen game. The Titans use him somewhat similarly to how the Bears use Tarik Cohen, though Lewis does not run as many downfield routes.
Inside the Numbers: Lewis has not been targeted on a pass that has traveled more than 10 yards in the air all season long.
• The Titans have not as been as efficient and productive in the run game as they were a year ago. The offensive line has struggled at times. Jack Conklin, their starting right tackle, was placed on injured reserve this week. Dennis Kelly, who has played well in over 200 snaps this year, will start for him.
Keep an eye on these five players as the Giants take on the Titans Sunday
Inside the Numbers: Despite not running the ball as effectively, the Titans are still one of the heaviest run teams in the league. They run the ball 59.5% of the time on first down, the third-highest rate in the league. They run it on 47.5% of the time overall, the second-highest rate in the league.
• Derrick Henry stole the show last Thursday night when he ran for 238 yards. He is a big, fast straight-ahead runner at a massive 6-3 and 247 pounds. He can run inside or outside. Henry and Lewis have the exact same number of carries this season: 145.
You got to have the whole army with you and it just takes everybody, all 11 of us, rallying to the ball like we’ve been doing and making sure we try not to have any one-on-one tackles with (Henry). Like you said, he’s a big back and hard to bring down. For us, it’s just about flying around and making sure everybody’s at the ball. LB Alec Ogletree
• The Titans run play action as much or more than any team in the NFL. They will run it from under center with 12 or 13 personnel on the field, or out of shotgun (including pistol) where they will utilize both RPO's (run-pass options) and read-option running plays. Especially when they are under center, the Titans will run vertical routes off of play action to try to make big plays down the field.
• The Titans will move the pocket off of some of those play action opportunities, but Mariota has struggled to throw accurately on the move this season. He will tuck the ball and run for big gains.
Inside the Numbers: The Titans are a different team on the road. They are 2-5 as visitors (5-1 at home) and have been outscored by 37 points in those games, thanks in part to a minus-6 turnover ratio away from home. Since their bye week in Week 8, the Titans offense is much improved, averaging 24.2 points per game and 363 yards per game. Overall, they rank 28th in the NFL in yards per game and 27th in points per game at 19.3.
• The Titans are a big screen team. They try to get Dion Lewis or their wide receivers into space to make plays with the ball in their hands. They also run misdirection plays with end-arounds. Derrick Henry will be featured in wildcat formations. They test a team's discipline in trusting their eyes and film study.
• Off the vertical routes, the Titans run deep outs to keep cornerbacks guessing. The Titans run iso-routes where the receivers have to win one on one to get the ball.
The quarterback scrambling and creating plays that are off-schedule is certainly something we’re going to have to be great with, the perimeter passing game, the screens, and the shots down the field. Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher
Inside the Numbers: The Titans are converting 41.5% of their third downs, 10th best in the league. Their red zone touchdown percentage is only 52.5%, 24th best in the league.
• Corey Davis is the Titans' best weapon on the perimeter. He is a bigger-bodied wide receiver at 6-2 and 209 pounds. He is the Titans big play receiver.
Inside the Numbers: The Titans have excelled against the blitz this year, with a quarterback rating of 112.83, which ranks fifth in the NFL. The Titans, however, are not a big play team. They have only 34 pass plays of 20 yards or more, tied for 27th. Their 42 20+ yard plays (run and pass) is better than just two other NFL teams.
Keys for the Giants defense:
1. Stop the Titans run game
2. Contain Marcus Mariota on the move
3. Be disciplined against the Titans play action and screen game.
When the Giants Have the Ball
The Spotlight: Defensive Lineman Jurrell Casey
Casey is similar to the player the Giants saw two weeks ago in Akiem Hicks. He is a big-bodied defensive tackle with the quickness and power to be disruptive in both the run and pass game. He plays defensive end in their base 3-4 defense and then lines up at the three technique when the Titans go into their nickel or dime sub-packages.
Casey's power makes him difficult to move in the run game, and his quickness and hand usage allows him to get penetration into the backfield to disrupt running plays before they start. In the pass game, he is a problem for opposing guards to block one-on-one. He can be a game-wrecker if allowed to be.
Inside the Numbers: Casey has seven sacks this season, and Pro Football Focus also credits him with four quarterback hits and 26 hurries. According to Pro Football Reference, he has two forced fumbles and 11 tackles for loss.
The Matchup: Titans Linebackers vs. Saquon Barkley
Given the physical status of Odell Beckham Jr., the Giants will have to rely on Saquon Barkley as much as ever on Sunday. Everything the Giants have done well the past few weeks has started with successfully running the football. The Titans rotate a group of linebackers who will look to prevent Barkley from having some of the same big runs he had against the Redskins last week. They are an aggressive group that attacks the football but will have to be gap sound to prevent big runs.
Wesley Woodyard, Rashaan Evans, Jayon Brown and veteran Will Compton make up the rotating group of inside linebackers. Evans was the Titans first round pick (22nd overall) in the 2018 draft. He is a big hitter who gets downhill and plays his best against the run. Woodyard is the veteran of the group at 32 years old. He leads the team in tackles with 85, and he usually plays about 45 snaps per game.
Brown leads the Titan inside linebackers in snaps and has excelled as a blitzer with six sacks. Brown was a fifth round pick of the Titans in 2017 and plays his best on passing downs. Will Compton is on his second game back from a hamstring injury and played sparingly last week.
Titans Scheme and Tendencies
• The Titans play a 3-4 defense and will go to a more traditional four-man front in sub-packages. In obvious passing situations, they often stand up their rushers at the line of scrimmage to make it tough on offenses to figure out who is coming on the blitz and who is dropping into coverage. The Titans use twists and stunts up front to try to generate pressure on the quarterback.
Quotebook: Left tackle Nate Solder, "Dean Pees and (Mike) Vrabel, they got a lot of experience, lot of time under their belt. They understand how to win games, so they put up multiple fronts, they put up multiple blitz schemes, lot of stunts and blitzes and games and things up front. Then they got really good players, so you mix that combination of guys, it becomes a pretty salty defense."
• The Titans need to bring pressure because they lack a dominant edge rusher. Rookie Harold Landry and Kamalei Correa have 2.5 sacks a piece, while Sharif Finch and Brian Orakpo both have 1.5. They blitz their linebackers and their defensive backs. They also use some delayed blitzes from the middle of the defense.
Inside the Numbers: The Titans have been an effective blitzing team this season. Opposing teams have a passer rating of 72.27 when the Titans bring extra rushers, the third lowest in the NFL.
• The Titans are the second best red zone defense in the NFL, with their opponents scoring touchdowns on only 44% of their red zone opportunities.
• In the secondary, Tennessee mixes up its coverages. They show single or two high and then switch post-snap to confuse opposing quarterbacks. They play man or zone depending on the situation. 2017 first round pick Adoree' Jackson is probably their best cover guy, with his ridiculous speed more than making up for his 5-11, 185-pound frame. Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan (slot cornerback) are dependable veterans.
• Kenny Vaccaro and Kevin Byard rotate their duties playing at the line of scrimmage and deep. Both players know what they are doing, with Byard flashing Pro Bowl level play on both levels of the defense. Vacarro is better when he is closer to the line of scrimmage.
Inside the Numbers: The Titans are holding teams to a 36.4% third-down conversion rate, sixth best in the NFL. They do struggle defending the pass on first down, with opponents accumulating a 101.8 passer rating, 23rd in the NFL.
• The Titans defense is a fundamentally sound unit. You don't see a lot of blown assignments or free runners when looking at their game film. To score points, the Giants are going to have to sustain some drives, something they didn't have to do last week.
Inside the Numbers: The Titans have allowed only 43 plays of 20 or more yards this year; only four teams have allowed fewer. Only six teams have allowed fewer than their 162 plays of 10 yards or more.
Keys for the Giants offense:
1. Run successfully on early downs
2. Handle the Titans blitz packages
3. Sustain long drives by avoiding negative plays