When the Tennessee Titans go into Oakland on Sunday afternoon, they’ll do so as a 7-5 team with a real chance to make the playoffs in the AFC. The Oakland Raiders are coming off two blowout road losses and are just trying to get back to playing good football.
Inserting Ryan Tannehill into the lineup at quarterback has given the Titans’ offense wings, and the team as a whole has responded. Yet, on paper this matchup looks fairly even.
Here are three matchups the Raiders need to neutralize, if not win, in order to emerge victorious on Sunday:
Jurrell Casey/Jeffery Simmons vs. Brandon Parker
With Trent Brown out Sunday, Brandon Parker gets the start and the unenviable position of having to take on one of the more talented groups of defensive ends in the league, particularly of the 5-tech variety.
Jurrell Casey is an All-Pro caliber player and Jeffery Simmons is a rookie who would have likely been taken much higher than No. 19 in last year’s draft if not for a pre-draft ACL tear. Many scouts considered him a top-five talent.
It’s a tall order for Parker, who has an interesting career resume. And that’s being kind. Naturally, the Raiders will do a host of different things offensively to neutralize their effect and give Parker a chance to be effective.
One thing you can count on is adding a tight end to Parker’s side all but guarantees a matchup against the veteran Casey. Setting the tight end to the opposite side gives Parker a chance against the rookie.
That might be the best bet, coupled with chipping Simmons with a back or sending a tight end across the formation after the snap. But occasionally, Parker will have to win a one-on-one matchup. If he doesn’t, David Sharpe could end up being inserted into the right tackle spot later in the game. It’s already puzzling why the coaching staff gave Parker the start over Sharpe.
A.J. Brown vs. Trayvon Mullen
There’s a chance that without Adam Humphries in the lineup the Titans could look to use rookie wide receiver A.J. Brown in the slot more than they normally would.
Coming out of Ole Miss, Brown profiled as an excellent slot receiver who could also be used quite effectively out wide. Regardless of where Brown lines up, it is clear he is already the Titans’ best receiving option, and thus it makes sense for the Raiders to counter with their most physical cover corner in Mullen.
It’s a fun rookie-on-rookie matchup of second round selections; the kind of matchup that could become a little rivalry over the years if both players and teams have the futures they’re currently on a trajectory for.
Brown is both quick and fast, but also more muscular and strong than he is thought to be — mainly because he happened to be college teammates with the most muscular receiver in the draft, D.K. Metcalf.
He’s a route-running technician with good hands. Even at a young age, Brown has become a pretty complete receiver. It will be a tough matchup for Mullen, Daryl Worley or Lamarcus Joyner every snap.
Ben Jones/Roger Saffold vs. Maurice Hurst/Johnathan Hankins
Few teams are as good at running the ball up the middle as the Titans. Yes, Derrick Henry is capable of running away from the defense down the sideline, but most of those plays come on designed inside runs.
Ben Jones, Rodger Saffold and Nate Davis wear on defensive tackles as a game goes along. They double team interior linemen at the point of attack before getting up to the second level.
The key in this game is for Hurst and Hankins to defeat those double teams, or ensure the double team has to be sustained, in order for Raiders linebackers and safeties to be able to come up and swarm Henry.
When the Titans do elect to run outside, it is imperative that Hurst or Hankins have a quick get-off to get penetration in the backfield, particularly when the play is run towards them. Hurst has created a ton of pressure as an interior pass rusher, grading out as the fourth best interior pass rusher in the NFL thus far by Pro Football Focus. But his undersized frame for the 3-tech position can make him a liability when facing bigger-bodied offensive linemen.
The Raiders need to neutralize these matchups, if not win them. If they cannot, it could be a long day.