Breaking down Bears 2020 Opponents: Tennessee Titans
|Friday, August 7, 2020, 9:28 AM- -|
Finally, we have reached the end of the Bears opponent stories as we have reached their final opponent to cover. The Tennessee Titans are that team, and let me tell you they will be an interesting opponent to prepare for. The Titans are a classic example of a team getting hot at the right time.
Not only did they get hot, but they made it to the AFC title game last season, picking up early leads against the Chiefs before falling short. Knowing the style of offense they played during that two-month run, and the Titans chose to bring back two significant pieces of their attack to continue to succeed.
First, after several injury-plagued seasons, Ryan Tannehill stepped in to replace Marcus Marriota last season and played the best football of his life. For the first time in his career, Tannehill wasn't asked to do too much. Instead, he just did what the playbook was designed to do. In turn, he played the best football stretch of his career, which earned him a three-year contract to remain in Tennessee this offseason.
After watching this team the final month-plus of the season, there is no secret to their success as they are one of the rare run-first football teams. That all starts and ends with last season's rushing champ in Derrick Henry as he is a beast to bring down. Not only is he a huge running back standing 6-3 and weighing 250 LBS, but he runs a 4.5 40, which makes him a nightmare to bring down. Henry single-handedly put the team on his back during the final two months of the season and has now signed a four-year contract extension with Tennessee.
While teams will do whatever they have to in order to stop the run, Tannehill does possess a strong and accurate enough arm to beat you in the passing game, which he did in the playoffs multiple times. Second-year man A.J Brown emerged as a star during his rookie season and made for a nice pairing with Corey Davis. Adam Humphries should provide better numbers from the slot position this season, but the tight end spot is where things will hurt. Losing long time veteran Delanie Walker will certainly hurt as Jonnu Smith will have huge shoes to fill.
To be a great running team, you need to be physically upfront, which is what the Titans have been. With Taylor Lewan and Rodger Saffold anchoring the left side of the line, Tennessee will be in good shape again, as they should be able to control the trenches. The one significant change on the offensive line will be at right tackle after Jack Conklin's departure in free agency. Dennis Kelly is slated to start there, but it is only a matter of time until first-round pick Isaiah Wilson replaces him.
The Titans were a strong running team last season, but they were an excellent defensive team also which shouldn't come as a surprise. Long time NFL linebacker Mike Vrabel spent time on the Patriots learning under Bill Bellichek as a player. Vrabel learned a lot from him and has taken his defensive approach into his coaching style to help the Titans turn into a physical football team.
Much like the Patriots, Vrabel elects to play with less generic down lineman as the game has changed a lot. Jeffery Simmons and DaQuan Jones are the men upfront as they are surrounded by linebackers and edge rushers galore. Harold Landry and Rashaan Evans were the leading names last season, but the Titans will be much deeper in that department in 2020.
Free agent signee Vic Beasley, who was rumored to be in the running to join the Bears, elected Tennessee to give them an elite pass-rushing specialist. Add in Kamalei Correa and others to the LB group, and that should help the Titans make up for the loss of Jurrell Casey upfront as he was traded to Denver this offseason.
If the Titans want to take that next step and make the Superbowl, they will have to go through Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs once again. To beat KC, you not only have to control the clock but stop the pass as Mahomes has proven time and again he doesn't need tons of time to put up points.
Although the Titans defense is built back to front, meaning the secondary is the best part of their defense, they still have some questions that need to be answered. Malcom Butler certainly improved a lot in 2019 until his injury, but he still has yet to live up to his contract. Tennessee needs him to start playing at the contract level he signed.
Cornerback Adoree Jackson and safety Kevin Byard are slated to have big seasons this year, but they are two young secondary players that the Titans certainly feel confident building around. Add Kenny Vaccaro as the veteran presence at safety, and you can see why the Titans are built back to front. Perhaps the most crucial piece of that secondary falls on the hands of rookie Kristian Fulton. Not only is he going to be tasked with having a pivotal role this season, but if Butler continues to not live up to his contract, then Fulton may overtake Butler in terms of guarding team's No. 1 receiver.
Projection: The Bears will head to Tennessee this season in November in what should be a very physical game. You have two physical defensive football teams, but you have a team known for stopping the run in Chicago against the best pure RB from last season in Henry.
Do I think Chicago can stop the run? Yes, to a point, but there is a difference between stopping and containing. Given the skill set that Henry has, I don't think any team will ever stop him entirely. I do believe Chicago will be able to contain him, which will put more pressure on Tannehill and that passing game. If the ball is in his hands, I trust Chicago more.