Three-hundred and seventy days have passed since the COVID-depleted Tennessee Titans hammered the Buffalo Bills on a Tuesday night at Nissan Stadium.
That night, the Titans defense held Bills quarterback Josh Allen to his fourth-worst QB rating and fourth-worst QBR of the season. It was also one of just two games Allen had that year with multiple interceptions.
Tennessee will need a similar defensive effort on Monday night when the Bills visit Nissan Stadium for Round 2 — this time with the No. 1-ranked defense and No. 8-ranked offense in the NFL.
“I think the players really just took advantage of the opportunities,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said of last year’s game. "We scored on a lot of short fields. When you are able to get three turnovers and not have any on offense, and then get another one on kickoff and the short field, ... that is the magnitude that turnovers can have on a game.”
The Bills present perhaps Tennessee’s toughest test to date, sporting an offense and defense both ranked in the top 10.
Shutting down — or at least slowing down — Allen and Buffalo’s passing game should consume most of the Titans’ focus. The 25-year-old QB has plenty of weapons at his disposal — Stefan Diggs, Emmanuel Sanders, Cole Beasley, Dawson Knox — as each has at least 18 receptions and 200 yards. Diggs himself ranks in the top 25 of the NFL in receiving yards (374).
The Titans secondary, which will be without top cornerback Kristian Fulton, will surely be tested early and often. Rookie Caleb Farley is expected to get his first start in Fulton’s place, while Breon Borders and Chris Jackson could also see some time behind Farley and Jackrabbit Jenkins.
The good news for the Titans, however, is that Julio Jones appears to be ready to return. Tennessee’s offense, which ranks 10th in the NFL in total yards per game (389.2) and ninth in scoring (26.4 points per game), has yet to truly click on all cylinders this year.
But if Jones is healthy, he adds an instant upgrade — and security blanket — for QB Ryan Tannehill, who has made the most out of throwing to the Chester Rogerses and Marcus Johnsons of the world.
“I think we are trending in the right direction," Tannehill said. "As an offense we are growing, but no doubt we have a lot of room to improve. Excited to keep the foot on the gas and try to clean things up.”
Here’s a further look at Monday’s matchup:
Why the Titans can win
This answer is, and will always be, Derrick Henry.
Riding four straight 100-yard games, including three games over 130 yards and two three-touchdown performances, Henry may alleviate some of the pressure on Tennessee’s passing game, which may not be quite full strength after star receiver A.J. Brown was officially listed as questionable on Sunday, leaving his availability up in the air.
“He’s fast and he pulls away from [defensive backs] when he has the ball in his hands,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said of Henry. “So yeah, [the plan will be] making sure we understand not only how he runs, but also how to get him down.”
Henry, who is the Titans’ second-leading receiver with 14 receptions, is off to the best five-game start of his career and is averaging 31.2 touches and 153 yards from scrimmage per game. He is averaging nearly 10 touches more than the next closest player (Alvin Kamara) and 37.2 more scrimmage yards than the next closest player (Davante Adams).
The 247-pound Henry leads the NFL in yards before contact (362) and ranks second behind Nick Chubb in yards after contact (278), according to Pro-Football-Reference.
“I’m not going to say it’s necessarily fun (to tackle Henry), but at the same time, it’s a mindset at the end of the day,” Bills safety Jordan Poyer added. “And I think our defense is ready for the task. We’re going to have to have 11 guys run to the football. And understanding he is a very good back, we’ve got to get population to the football.”
Why the Bills can win
Buffalo is built to beat teams both through the air and on the ground.
Ranked fourth among quarterbacks in rushing yards (188 yards, two touchdowns), Allen plus running backs Devin Singletary (284 yards, one touchdown) and Zach Moss (184 yards, three touchdowns) make up the NFL’s No. 4-ranked run offense, averaging 140.4 yards per game.
“They make you cover the entire field,” Vrabel said. “RPO game, lateral passing game, and then they will mix it up and run vertical stuff. Usually there is some concept on one side that the quarterback can pick and then something on the other side. It identifies the box and how many guys you have in there when they are in the spread.”
The Bills’ ability to draw teams close to the line of scrimmage often sets up the team’s passing attack. Buffalo is tied for the sixth-most passes of 20 yards or more (19) and the second-most passes of 40 yards or more (five).
The Titans have one of the worst deep-ball defenses in the league, allowing 20 passing plays of 20 yards or more and six of 40-plus yards — second-most in the NFL.
Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_