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What to know about the Falcons - Titans matchup in Week 4

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It’s the team’s most favorable matchup yet, but that has meant little to this point.

NFL: OCT 25 Falcons at Titans Photo by Jeffrey Vest/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Let’s talk about the upcoming matchup, because I’m sure you’re as tired of talking about the Colts game as we are. If you can’t feel good about the team—and most of us don’t right now—you can at least look forward.

2019 Ranks & Records

The Titans have looked sloppy and lousy for a couple of weeks now, after somewhat flukily blowing out the Browns in week one. Where does that leave them stacked up against the Falcons, you ask? Glad you did.

Falcons - Titans Side-by-Side

Team Record Points For Yardage For Passing Yards Rushing Yards Point Against Yardage Against Passing Yards Against Rushing Yardage Against Turnovers Created Turnovers Allowed
Team Record Points For Yardage For Passing Yards Rushing Yards Point Against Yardage Against Passing Yards Against Rushing Yardage Against Turnovers Created Turnovers Allowed
Falcons 1-2 21 10 6 27 21 8 8 12 16 29
Titans 1-2 16 27 28 12 8 7 3 21 8 3

You’ll note some troubling things here. The Titans offense has obviously been a sore spot, as they’re one of the league’s worst passing attacks and have made the most of limited red zone chances, but they’re predictably one of the league’s better rushing attacks with Derrick Henry leading the charge. They’re not going to beat you in a shootout, but obviously Henry can make your life miserable.

The larger problem is on the other side of the ball. The Titans have one of the league’s stingier pass defenses thus far, as they’ve been top three in yardage, though just 19th in scoring. Their run defense is more gashable on paper, but the Falcons are ill-suited to take advantage of that with so-so run blocking and the possibility that Ito Smith will be on the shelf this week. The Titans have also created five turnovers and committed just one and have been penalized 20 times through three games, pointing to a more disciplined group than Atlanta can muster.

That matters because we don’t know what the Falcons are going to do in this one. Atlanta’s shot themselves in the foot in one way or the other in all three games thus far, and while the Titans have scored just 24 combined points the last two weeks, a good defense and a group that doesn’t make a ton of major blunders can absolutely beat this bumbling incarnation of the Falcons. Atlanta should blow them out because they are the vastly superior team on paper, but that’s meant nothing this year and it’s not hard to imagine the Titans grinding it out with Henry, hanging in until the end, and capitalizing on Falconly mistakes.

How the Titans have changed

Chiefly, the Titans have made additions on defense, with most of their draft class going to shoring up that side of the ball. They won’t get to enjoy Jeffrey Simmons until next year, but they’re breaking in linebackers David Long and D’Andre Walker and safety Amani Hooker, who all have bright futures but aren’t real contributors on defense just yet. Third round rookie guard Nate Davis was a guy the Falcons sniffed around during the pre-draft process, but he hasn’t gotten on the field for the Titans yet. Top draft choice A.J. Brown has done some nice things—he’s averaged over 18 yards per reception—but has only seven catches on 14 targets thus far in 2019.

They also lost kicker Ryan Succop to injury and added Cairo Santos, if you’re interested in kicker comings and goings. Otherwise, this team had a fairly quiet offseason and saw Taylor Lewan suspended four games, which means he won’t be suiting up against the Falcons. That’s a clear advantage for Atlanta.

Tennesse’s road to relevance, even in the crummy AFC South, is far from clear. They probably just need to fix their quarterback situation and continue to draft well, but at the moment they’re just kind of a blah team with few elite players and position groupings.

What should you know about this game?

The Titans have a problem at quarterback. We’ve reached the stage where the 2015 NFL Draft class at quarterback is beginning to look like an abject disaster, with first overall pick Jameis Winston continuing to throw boneheaded picks on a weekly basis and Marcus Mariota looking like a timid game manager with a propensity to put his team in bad positions. Mariota may cede his starting job to Ryan Tannehill, himself a 2012 first round bust formerly of the Dolphins. Tannehill might actually be an upgrade, but he’s not a long-term solution at age 31, meaning the Titans are probably going to have to dip into an upcoming quarterback class to fix this.

That quarterback situation is a fairly huge liability for Tennessee. Everyone liked to complain about the Falcons making Jacoby Brissett look good a week ago, but Brissett is good, as is Carson Wentz. Mariota is the worst quarterback the Falcons have faced by a wide margin thus far, and outside of a burst of productivity in Week 1 against a disappointing Cleveland Browns team with three touchdowns, he has just one touchdown in the two weeks since. Never say never, given the way the Falcons prop up opposing quarterbacks, but Mariota is unlikely to break this game open by himself.

The problem, once again, is a running back and a rushing attack. Henry has not had a stellar year, but he’s carried the ball 51 times, grinds out yards in physical fashion, and can break big gains. Mariota, for all his warts, has carried the ball 14 times for 90 yards, averaging four carries and 30 yards per game. If they can establish that, especially with Keanu Neal on the shelf and the rest of the defense blowing hot-and-cold stopping the run, it could be a problem.

This article has been pretty doom and gloom because I think we’ve got to expect the worst based on the first three weeks, but let me turn that around for a moment by noting the team’s advantages. Mariota’s offensive line has not been great and he has a bad habit of holding on to the ball forever, which is why he’s been sacked 17 times in just three games. The Falcons can absolutely bounce back from a ho-hum performance against the Colts with that matchup, and the Titans have a weak passing attack in general that the Falcons can probably hold in check. If the run defense is even solid in this one, the Titans aren’t going to score a ton of points.

The Titans defense is very good, but the Falcons are capable of eviscerating even good defenses, as Matt Ryan has done in between the costly interceptions these last couple of weeks. They are flat out not good enough to shut down Atlanta’s offense entirely, and that paired with their own mediocre offense should mean the Titans get their butts kicked in this one.

Finally, the Falcons are at home and are well aware their season is on shaky ground. If they can’t get it together at this time against this opponent with the home draw, they’re likely not going to.