22 Dec Are the 49ers Headed for a Titanic Collapse in Nashville?
The San Francisco 49ers are ranked 7th overall in team DVOA. The Tennessee Titans on the other hand, are 23rd, but there are some valid reasons for this.
There’s a saying that I find very applicable in many areas of my life, none more so than football:
“There lies, there are damned lies & then there are statistics.”
The saying comes from the fact that stats (what happened) can tell a story, but that story may be very misleading, and often without context (explaining why things happened the way they did). Please allow me to provide you with some context regarding the Tennessee Titans, which some might call excuses.
First off, the Titans are 9-5, with some notable Ws against: (the two teams that played in the Super Bowl last year) the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Rams, Buffalo Bills, New Orleans Saints, Indianapolis Colts twice & those are just the playoff teams! In full disclosure, they did also lose to the New York Jets & the Houston Texans. They are 1-3 in their last 4 games, but their super star WR AJ Brown was out. So was WR Julio Jones, who hasn’t been his old self this season, but is still a very solid WR. Titans’ DE Bud Dupree has also missed some time. All three may return Thursday night, which could mean trouble for the 49ers.
Let’s face it – the 49ers are weak at RT. Don’t get me wrong, Tom Compton has turned out to be an amazing run-blocker, but he most definitely struggles in pass-protection.
Don’t be fooled by the mirage of RT Tom Compton’s near spotless performance in the Falcons game, because they simply have anemic DEs. The Bengals game, where Compton struggled heavily, is more like what I expect to see vs Harold Landry, Denico Autry & Bud Dupree on Thursday night. Speaking of the Bengals game, the only offensive lineman on the 49ers to have a worse game and allow more pressures than Compton, was RG Daniel Brunskill. Brunny will certainly have his hands full trying to slow down DT Jeffrey Simmons, who is one of the best in the biz. I am extremely concerned about both of these matchups. The best way to combat a very aggressive pass rush, is to run right at them, throw screen passes, run reverses/jet sweeps & pitches in the outside run game.
The worst kept secret in the entire NFL: the 49ers are weak at CB. Veteran Josh Norman is good… for a CB off the street who was unsigned not long before the season started. Now, if we’re comparing him to other starting CBs? Not so much. Dontae Johnson has been cut & re-signed by the 49ers more times than I can count. Despite other teams passing on the chance to sign him, he has actually had a fairly solid season. Unfortunately, his mother passed away a few days before the Bengals game. It was thought that he might join the team in Cincy, but he was not able to make it. Johnson didn’t practice until the Friday before the Falcons game & I don’t think he played at all, despite not being listed as inactive.
Rookie Ambry Thomas got to start at the Bengals & vs the Falcons. If we’re being honest, he was pretty bad in both, but seems to be improving. Thomas maintains proper position & turns his head around when the ball is in the air, but he needs get better at making plays once the ball arrives. None of these CBs should be left alone on AJ Brown, if the 49ers want to have any hope of stopping the Titans’ passing game. Julio Jones is big & strong enough to have a noticeable impact as well. The 49ers might have to do it without their first & second string strong safeties, Jaquiski Tartt & Talanoa Hufanga have both been banged up and limited in practice this week. There is a good shot neither of them play on Thursday night.
Here are the passer ratings for QBs targeting the 49ers’ DBs in the Bengals & Falcons games.
One way that the 49ers can help their CBs, is to put pressure on TEN QB Ryan Tannehill. He is a lot like Jimmy Garoppolo, in that he plays up (or down) to the talent by which he’s surrounded. The Titans’ offensive line isn’t very good at pass-blocking, so Nick Bosa, Arden Key, Samson Ebukam, Charles Omenihu, Jordan Willis & Arik Armstead should have big nights as pass-rushers. Tannehill is tied for the league lead in INTs with Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow, each with 14 on the year.
On the other hand, Tennessee’s offensive line is very good at run-blocking. They rushed for over 200 yards last Sunday in Pittsburgh, despite not having the best RB in the league, Derrick Henry. Luckily, the 49ers have been very stout against the run lately.
Aside from the Titans’ team DVOA, here is another big area where the stats may be deceiving: Jimmy G’s QB rating.
During this 8 game stretch, the 49ers have gone 6-2. However, in 4/6 of the wins they ran the ball 32, 37, 42 & 44 times, perhaps to hide Jimmy G. & his deficiencies. The 5th win against the Bengals was only possible due to Cincinnati making some big mistakes, including: 2 muffed punts, a critical taunting penalty & a dropped pick-six, plus LB Logan Wilson being out and DE Trey Hendrickson getting injured in the 1st half and not returning. The 6th win, at ‘Da Bears’, was only possible due Chicago missing their best 2 defenders in DE Khalil Mack & S Eddie Jackson. I predict that the Titans’ defensive line & run defense will be much more difficult for Jimmy G. to overcome, unless he can get the ball out quickly to George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, or of course, if the 49ers are effectively running the ball.
Jimmy’s Kryptonite has always been talented LBs & safeties lurking in the middle of the field. He has thrown INTs to S Quandre Diggs (x2), S Budda Baker & S Harrison Smith. The Titans have two talented safeties, but Kevin Byard is otherworldly.
In many ways, both teams are remarkably similar. However one area where the 49ers have been struggling mightily, is special teams. Not only have they lost three fumbles on kick returns, they also fail to gain any significant yardage when they do hang on to the ball, while allowing way too many yards on their opponents’ returns. Not to mention veteran kicker Robbie Gould has been shaky at best beyond 40 yards recently as well.
The last area of concern for the 49ers, is travelling across the country on a short week to play on TNF. I expect the crowd to be very loud, as the Titans certainly have a lot to play for as well.
As of now, I’m leaning towards a ‘Titanic Niners Collapse.’ Not really! I think it will be a close low scoring game, but I don’t think the 49ers should be favored, especially on the road.
With all that being said, things could change. As of now, I’m not expecting LB Azeez Al-Shaair or RB Elijah Mitchell to play. If one (or both) of them surprise me, then I might change my pick.
As always, be sure to keep an eye out for my formal score prediction on Twitter about an hour prior to kickoff, once we know exactly who’s playing & who isn’t.
What do you think? Make your pick below!