The Atlanta Falcons upset the division-leading Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 7, and after the Bucs’ loss on Thursday Night Football, Atlanta now leads the NFC South by 1.5 games. Hoping to build on their advantage, the Falcons travel to Nashville to face the Tennessee Titans—a team with a multitude of connections and similarities to Atlanta.
Here at The Falcoholic, we like to think we keep you incredibly well-informed on all things Falcons. We’re not nearly as diligent in covering the Titans, so I’ve enlisted the help of Tennessee expert Jimmy Morris. Jimmy is the editor-in-chief over at Music City Miracles, SB Nation’s site covering all things Tennessee Titans.
I brought five questions to Jimmy on a variety of topics, including who we should expect to see at quarterback on Sunday, if the Titans will make any more moves prior to the trade deadline, and more.
1. It seemed very unlikely that Ryan Tannehill would play in Week 8, but Mike Vrabel seemed to leave the door open with his comments. Who do you think starts at QB for the Titans this week? Who do you want to start at QB this week? Does it matter?
Jimmy Morris: Well, Mike Vrabel certainly stirred up a hornet’s nest earlier this week when he said both quarterbacks would play if Ryan Tannehill can’t go. That sent a lot of Titans fans into a frenzy. I think that was probably just gamesmanship. Ian Rapoport reported that the Titans are preparing Will Levis to start. There might be some plays in the game plan for Malik Willis, but I expect Levis gets the vast majority of the snaps in this one.
As for who I want to see, the answer is Levis. I have seen enough of Willis to be pretty confident he isn’t a long-term starter in this league. They need to know if Levis can be heading into the offseason so they can know if they need to draft a first round quarterback or just try to build around Levis. The only true way to get that answer is to get him game reps for the rest of this season. This team isn’t going anywhere this year. They need to spend the rest of the season learning about some of the young guys on the roster. Levis is at the top of that list.
2. The Titans have already traded Kevin Byard, and reports suggest that might not be the end of Tennessee’s moves heading into the trade deadline. Do you expect the Titans to make any additional trades? Which players are most likely to be on the move? Could I convince you to part with Denico Autry, by chance?
JM: The Titans probably aren’t done with trades. There are a lot of rumors surrounding Derrick Henry. The leader in the clubhouse there seems to be the Baltimore Ravens. I will throw up if Henry goes to the Ratbirds. Hopefully, a few other teams will jump in the mix and if they trade him it will be to someone else.
The Titans should be making and fielding calls on anyone they don’t think has a chance to help them in 2025 - that being the next year they have a shot to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender. That list includes DeAndre Hopkins, Ryan Tannehill, and yes, Denico Autry. I won’t be surprised if all or none of those guys get moved. As for Autry, he’s such an underrated player. Jeffery Simmons gets all of the publicity, and he deserves it for sure, but this defense had a noticeable dropoff last year when Autry got hurt. He’s more valuable than most people know. Send us a 3rd and we’ll send him your way!
3. Regardless of who has been under center, the Titans offense has struggled mightily in all statistical categories outside of rushing—and even there, they seem to be underperforming relative to expectations. What has been the biggest issue for Tennessee thus far, and is there any hope of correcting it in 2023?
JM: A big issue for the offense has been the offensive line. They have been inconsistent at best. They signed Andre Dillard to a 3-year contract this offseason hoping he would be an upgrade at left tackle. He hasn’t been and now he has been replaced. They drafted Peter Skoronski in the first round. He’s been solid at left guard but missed three games after having an appendectomy. The rest of the line has been up and down.
The other problem has been the inconsistent play of Tannehill. They would have won in New Orleans week 1 if he hadn’t missed two wide open throws that would have been touchdowns. He missed another pretty easy touchdown throw in the loss to the Colts. Things would look pretty differently had he made two of those three throws, but he didn’t. So mainly it comes down to inconsistency all across the offense that has held them back.
4. Despite the offensive struggles, the Titans can hang their hat on a stout defense. Who are the biggest contributors that Falcons fans should be aware of, and what are Tennessee’s biggest strengths?
JM: Outside of the Colts game, this team has been really good against the run. They pride themselves on that. It starts up front with Simmons and Autry. It also looks like they will get Teair Tart back on the defensive line this week. He’s missed the last couple of games and was certainly missed.
The pass rush was supposed to be really good as well. It hasn’t been to this point. It should get better as Harold Landry continues to get further removed from the ACL injury that forced him to miss the 2022 season. Hey, maybe this will be the week that he returns to his pre-injury form!
5. The Falcons are 2.5-point road favorites against the Titans in Week 8, according to DraftKings Sportsbook. What’s your prediction for the game?
JM: This team is impossible to predict. With the trade of Byard this week, it seems that they are starting to plan for the future. The guys in the locker room have to feel that. Will they rally to try and convince the front office to not blow it up, or will they let it be a distraction that keeps them from playing as well as they can? Time will tell. My prediction is that it is a hard-fought game where Levis struggles and the Titans lose 16-13.
Many thanks to Jimmy for taking the time to answer my questions. If you’re in the mood for a Titans perspective on things, you can follow Jimmy at @jmorrisMCM and Music City Miracles at @TitansMCM. You can find my answers to Jimmy’s questions here.
Looking for more Falcons-Titans coverage? Check out our Dirty Birds & Brews game preview show.