Rams vs.Titans Overview: Both teams are a little banged up for this game, but the Titan's loss of running back Derrick Henry is by far the most significant injury. He's probably the best running back in the NFL right now, and losing him throws the Titan's offense into unknown territory. But in one sense, it complicates things for the Rams defense as well.
When Henry is active, he's the centerpiece for their offense, the one player you need to stop. Without him, do they try to win on the arm of Ryan Tannehill? Do they rely on 36-year-old Adrian Peterson to step in for Henry and remain the "ground and pound" attack? Maybe a little of both? Only the Titans know for sure, and they aren't saying.
Titans Offense vs. Rams Defense: Rams fans were expecting to see the debut of linebacker Von Miller may—or may not—have to wait until next week. Miller listed as questionable according to the previous report with an ankle injury, and coach Sean McVay said whether he will play remains a "game-time decision.'" Even if Miller does play, he's had virtually no practice time with his new team, so we probably can't expect him to play a huge role.
The loss of Titan's Henry is a huge deal; as the former Alabama running back was on a historic pace, the Titans signed Adrian Peterson as his replacement. Peterson, in his prime, was close to Henry in terms of running ability. At 36 and just off the street, it's probably asking too much of the former Minnesota Vikings star to step in and replace Henry without missing a beat.
The Titans may also be missing two other vital pieces, left tackle Taylor Lewan and receiver A.J. Brown, who are both listed as questionable. We guess he will play, but how much their injuries may affect their performance is anyone's guess.
For the Rams, Jalen Ramsey and inside linebacker Earnest Jones are questionable. As of Sunday morning, Ramsey appeared likely to play, but Jones is uncertain. He got the game ball last week after stepping in for the traded Kenny Young and having an outstanding game. If the Titans remain a run-oriented offense, not having Jones on the field could be a problem for the Rams, especially with the loss of nose tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day, who is out for this game and maybe the season with a pectoral injury.
With Henry out, the Titans' offensive line may—and we emphasize the word may—be called on to do more pass blocking, which is not their strong suit. Even before getting Von Miller, the Rams were leading the NFL with 25 quarterback sacks. In particular, Aaron Donald and Leonard Floyd live in the opposing team's backfield, and the Titans perhaps having a limited version of Taylor Lewan at left tackle doesn't help matters.
All of the injuries in this game make it tough to focus on possible headline matchups. However, Ramsey against Brown or Julio Jones might be attractive, assuming Ramsey and Brown play. Jones only has 17 catches thus far this season, but the Henry and (possibly) Brown injuries could make him the focal point of the offense. Ramsey did well against Jones the last time the two squared off when Jones was still with the Falcons a couple of years ago.
The Rams are expecting to get cornerback Darious Williams back from the injured reserve. Williams is one of the best number two corners in the league, so his return is expected to be huge.
If Henry was in the lineup, we might give Tennessee the edge here since the Rams run defense has not been outstanding so far. Without him, we think the advantage goes over to the Rams. But there are so many unknowns and questionable in this game that it's hard to be too confident, especially if Ramsey ends up not playing (we don't think that will happen).
Rams Offense vs. Titans Defense: Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford missed a couple of days of practice with back stiffness this week, is expected to play. If he either doesn't or isn't himself, all predictions for this game go right out the window. We don't wish for that to occur, however.
The Rams Cooper Kupp is having a historic season and is arguably the best receiver in the NFL right now. You really should be hearing his name in the MVP conversation, although wide receivers don't often take those honors. Despite not being overly fast, Kupp always seems to get open and catches everything thrown in his direction. He also has incredible chemistry with Stafford.
Robert Woods and Van Jefferson are no slouch either. Woods has a knack for making the big catch, and Jefferson is emerging as a deep threat to the point that the Rams let burner DeSean Jackson go this week. There are questions about the Rams four and five receivers, with Jackson gone and Tutu Atwell—who had been something of a disappointment despite—out. College tight end Jacob Harris may be deployed as a wide receiver. He's big and fast—4.39 in the 40-yard dash—but he wasn't even seeing much time at tight end for the Rams, so playing at a new position and expecting him to excel may be asking a lot. The Rams also have rookie Ben Skowronek and J.J. Koski on the roster. But Skowronek is a former 7thh round draft choice who lacks speed, and Koski is a former undrafted free agent promoted from the practice squad. You never know, but on paper, those guys certainly don't scare anyone.
The Titans defense has an emerging star in the defensive end, Harold Landry, who has 8.5 sacks. The Rams offensive line has been stellar this season, allowing the fewest sacks in the NFL. Containing Landry and giving Stafford time to find his receivers downfield will be critical in this contest. Other Titans standouts include linebacker David Long and safeties Kevin Baird and Amani Hooker. Former Ram Janoris Jenkins is among the Titans corners. Although he probably is not the player he once was. Rookie Caleb Farley may be called up to shutdown Kupp, possibly with some help from Baird or Hooker.
The Titan's defense receives help from a ball-control offense that limits their time on the field. Their defense is ranked 23 overall and may not have the luxury of staying off the field for most of the game this week, as might be the case if Henry was playing. Landry could be a game wrecker if he goes on a tear, but overall, this matchup favors the Rams, at least on paper.
Special Teams: Neither of these teams has necessarily been excellent on special teams, but it's a more significant issue for Los Angeles. Punter Johnny Hekker has been solid, and kicker Matt Gay has been good outside of one game early in the season. But the coverage and return units are problem areas. We aren't fans of seeing Cooper Kupp returning punts.
First and foremost, we hate to risk him getting injured. Secondly, while he is sure-handed, he hasn't shown much juice as a returner. But former return men Atwell and Jackson aren't options at this point, so that Kupp may end up back there by default.
The Rams special teams were embarrassed by the Lions—yes, the Lions—a couple of weeks ago, seemingly falling asleep on a pair of fake punts and an onside kick. At this point, we can expect every Rams opponent to at least consider some razzle-dazzle on special teams.
The special team's play remains problematic for the Rams, their only team glaring weakness.
Coaching: Sean McVay vs. Mike Vrable, Vrable has coached his team to a 6-2 record, and his association with Bill Belichick may yet assert itself. But we're going to check this box for the Rams.
Final Prediction: If it weren't for the Henry injury, this game would be a marquee matchup, maybe even a Super Bowl preview. The Rams are favored; a touchdown favors the Rams.
You never know with the Rams, who have a disturbing tendency to play to the level of their opponent, as witnessed by the Lions game a couple of weeks ago, that ended up being far closer than it should have been. The Rams also are vulnerable on special teams and have enough injuries of their own to make this game a bit of a wild card.
But all we can do is look at the numbers and the matchups. And those point to a comfortable Rams win.
Rams 31 Titans 24
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