clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

What to know about Falcons vs. Titans in Week 8

Wearing their Houston Oilers throwbacks, Tennessee will likely have a throwback day offensively, as well.

Houston Oilers v Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons took care of business against the Buccaneers, even if it wasn’t pretty. Atlanta had the chance to absolutely blow that solid Tampa Bay team out of the water and might have if not for three red zone turnovers, but now the Falcons are first in the NFC South, back above .500, and eyeing bigger and better things.

A nice start would be beating the Titans on the road. Atlanta badly needed to throw that particularly hobgoblin under the wagon wheels, as they hadn’t won a road game in over a full calendar year, and now they’re 4-3, atop the NFC South, and angling for bigger and better things. They can keep their winning ways going Sunday against Tennessee.

This will be a reunion of sorts for Arthur Smith, Jerry Gray, and others on this Falcons coaching staff, but it’s the sort of reunion where you realize just how old and decrepit everyone has gotten. The Titans are a pale shade of the team that posted six winning records in a row from 2016 to 2021 and made the playoffs four of those years, as they’re fresh off a 7-10 season and are currently 2-4. Ryan Tannehill is banged up, the team traded away one of their true defensive stars, and significant change is likely on the way in the offseason.

None of that means a Falcons team that has turned the ball over six times in the past two weeks can coast, as Atlanta will need to be sharp and play a cleaner brand of football to emerge victorious. This does look like one of the most winnable games on the entire schedule, however, and we’ll discuss why below.

Falcons - Titans Rankings


Team Record Points For Yardage For Passing Yards Rushing Yards Points Against Yardage Against Passing Yards Against Rushing Yardage Against Turnovers Created Turnovers Surrendered
Team Record Points For Yardage For Passing Yards Rushing Yards Points Against Yardage Against Passing Yards Against Rushing Yardage Against Turnovers Created Turnovers Surrendered
Falcons 4-3 29 13 17 8 9 3 7 8 25 29
Titans 2-4 25 28 22 14 11 17 22 14 27 12

The nicest things you can say about the Titans is that they run the ball well and don’t turn it over super often, a pair of traits that can help them navigate close games. Their defense is also quite stingy in the red zone, another important piece for keeping things close.

Everything else is sort of mediocre to a disaster. The offense has looked like one of the league’s least inspiring, with Ryan Tannehill’s two touchdowns versus six interceptions making it clear his best days have passed him by. Derrick Henry is still Derrick Henry and Tyjae Spears is a lethal young back averaging 5.5 yards per carry, but the Titans need games to be reasonably close to maximize their usage. The defense is still good, with a pass rush that gets the job done and that aforementioned red zone stinginess, but it’s hardly great and is now down one of its best players with the Kevin Byard trade. The Titans are sort of where the Falcons were in 2022: Talented enough to have interesting games and stretches, but not talented enough to consistently win.

The Falcons have everything pointing in the right direction except for turnovers, as they just had a solid day on the ground against a quality Tampa Bay front and threw the ball well all day. The defense is also a top ten unit by most metrics at this point, an impressive feat you can credit to Ryan Nielsen and the new additions to the group, as well as standard-bearers of excellence like Grady Jarrett and A.J. Terrell. The only thing really wrong with Atlanta is that they’re one of the worst teams in the league at taking care of the ball, and that is a glaring problem that has either cost them or nearly cost them the majority of their games this season. Fix that, and they’re simply better than the Titans.

How the Titans have changed

Levis is one of the noteworthy new additions. The Titans have now used second day picks in back-to-back seasons on quarterbacks; it appears that Levis will get his shot to prove he belongs under center for the long haul, starting this week against the Falcons. This is very likely to be Ryan Tannehill’s final year in Tennessee, meanwhile.

They’ve added DeAndre Hopkins, Arden Key, an abysmal Andre Dillard, Sean Murphy-Bunting, and Daniel Brunskill via free agency, helping to stem some losses in free agency and from last year’s disastrous A.J. Brown trade. The big changes to the offensive line have not helped the offense, but rookie guard Peter Skoronski looks like he’ll be a good one over the long haul. They also cut a ton of players who had been important pieces of the last great Titans team, including Bud Dupree, Taylor Lewan, Nate Davis, David Long, and several others.

A tiny draft class brought in some talent the Titans hope will work wonders over the long haul, including gifted running back Tyjae Spears, Levis, and Skoronski. The net effect of all those moves was supposed to be contending while bringing some of the young players up to speed; it hasn’t really worked out that way. The Titans are sitting on $87 million in cap space heading into 2024, however, so any woes they suffer this season can be swiftly remedied next offseason.

This team is very different than the one the Falcons saw in 2019, which decisively dispatched them behind Smith’s offense featuring Ryan Tannehill, Derrick Henry, and A.J. Brown. Only Henry is still here to bedevil Atlanta, and bedevil he will.

What to know about Sunday’s game

The Titans still have talent, but that talent is inherently diminished by age, injury, and recent roster moves. Ryan Tannehill is ancient and currently on the shelf; he’ll give way to rookie Will Levis, who will be making his NFL debut. Left tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere is making his NFL starting debut at the position after playing 32 snaps last week and grading out with a rough 17.4 Pro Football Focus pass blocking grade. Safety Kevin Byard, the heart and soul of a great, grind ‘em down Titans defense for years, is off to the Eagles. Tennessee feels like they’re on the verge of dismantling this thing entirely with an eye on building around Levis, rookie back Tyjae Spears, and a few other key pieces.

The element of the unknown is here—maybe Levis is great!—but this is tough sledding for the Titans. They’re trotting out Derrick Henry and Spears against a very good Falcons run defense, and while they can and will have positive plays and possibly plenty of them given the talent and physicality here, the passing game has to at least function for them to have a chance. Tennessee has only cleared 16 points twice this season thus far, rolling up 27 in each of their two wins against the shaky Chargers and at-the-time reeling Bengals, and have scored 16, 16, 15, and 3 in their other four games. The presence of DeAndre Hopkins gives the Titans a fighting chance if Levis can operate well and the line can keep him somewhat safe, but both of those are major unknowns. The excellence of this Falcons defense, which has yet to allow more than 24 points in a game, suggests Tennessee will have to fight hard to get the job done on offense.

Defensively, Tennessee is better equipped to give Atlanta fits, though Byard’s absence will be keenly felt. The Titans have just two interceptions and a largely forgettable pass defenses outside of the red zone, but their work in the red zone, ability to force fumbles (they have seven already this season), and solid pass rush means a sloppy day from the Falcons will likely be punished. Denico Autry is the kind of monster defensive lineman (9 quarterback hits, four sacks already) who can give this offensive line fits, and Jeffrey Simmons, Arden Key, and Harold Landry all have real pass rushing chops themselves. It will be yet another test of this improving offensive line.

The Titans are also, it should be noted, set at kicker, where Nick Folk is a perfect 16/16 on field goal tries with a longest attempt of 53 yards. If it comes down to needing three points, they’re in pretty good shape.

All that said, are the Titans good enough to beat a Falcons team operating at the peak of their powers? No. Are they good enough to beat a Falcons team playing like they did against the Commanders? Sure. Atlanta’s been a sloppy squad too often this year, prone not to just turnovers but unnecessary penalties and errors of execution that have doomed drives. Clean those up, as the Falcons did against Tampa Bay outside of those infuriating fumbles and a few shaky defensive penalties, and you force a rookie quarterback to try to come from behind and ask a Titans defense now down a critical piece at safety to stop an offense loaded with playmakers. It can be one—there’s talent on this Tennessee side—but it would take the best the Titans have to offer paired with at least some of the worst Atlanta has to offer.

Honestly, though, this will come down to a pretty simple question: Can the Falcons take care of the football? If so, their defense is good enough to slow the Titans and limit their scoring opportunities with a rookie quarterback at the helm, and their offense has been good enough to put up the kind of points it will take to win a game that’s likely to be yet another slugfest. If the Falcons can finally limit themselves to zero (or hell, even one) turnover while cleaning up penalties and mistakes, this might finally be the week they win a game decisively.