Titans vs. Vikings: A Preview of the AFC South Pressure Game of the Week

Nate Dunlevy@NateDunlevyGuest ColumnistOctober 5, 2012

This way to the playoffs, my friends!
This way to the playoffs, my friends!Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images

The Tennessee Titans can feel the season slipping away from them, but a win at the Minnesota Vikings in Week 5 can breathe new life into a 1-3 team.

Here's everything you need to know about the matchup.


What's at Stake

With Matt Hasselbeck under center, the Titans are looking to upend the Vikings, who suddenly have their own playoff aspirations.

It's a must-win for Tennessee, who knows that at 1-4, the season may be too far gone to recover in time to make the playoffs. 

Tennessee has four games left with the Jaguars and Colts. They have winnable games against the Jets, Bills and Dolphins too. That's seven potential victories still sitting on the table if they can execute.

A win over the Vikings means that even without any major upsets, the Titans can realistically win nine games on the year. A loss, and suddenly eight wins will be a struggle.

The Vikings have their own hopes and dreams to worry about. If they can beat the Titans at home, they'll be 4-1. The back-end of their schedule is savage, with not a single easy win to be had.

Any hope they have of a post-season bid has to include a win in Week 5.

Matchup To Watch

Kevin Williams, Erin Henderson and Chad Greenway versus Chris Johnson

The Vikings have been outstanding against the run early in 2012, in part because of the stellar play of Williams up front and the linebacking efforts of Henderson and Greenway.

Johnson's struggles have been well publicized, but he did have a breakout effort running between the tackles in Week 4.

The interior run defense of the Vikings can go a long way toward winning the game if they can limit Johnson to one of his patented 15-carry, 25-yard efforts.

Likewise, another 140-plus yard game from Johnson, and the Titans will likely be in the game all day.


Percy Harvin Versus Michael Griffin and Colin McCarthy

Regardless of who covers Harvin in the corner spot, the safety and linebacker help has got to be there. Harvin loves to operate in the zone over the middle of the field.

Tennessee has struggled with breakdowns in the passing game, and the absence of McCarthy and general confusion by the safeties has played a big part.

Tennessee can't allow Harvin to roam free across the middle. Short or deep, the corner is going to need help containing him.


Biggest Advantage for the Titans

Tennessee could have a big matchup advantage in the passing game with both Jared Cook and Kendall Wright.

The Vikings have struggled against tight ends and secondary receivers. Wright is off to a miserable start, but he could have a huge impact Sunday. Cook has been the most dependable player on the entire Titans' roster.

If Hasselbeck can get big passing plays from those two, Tennessee should hang tough.

Biggest Advantage for the Vikings

According to the Football Outsiders, the Vikings have the best first-down run defense in football, and the Titans have the worst.

In general, the Titans are 30th in rushing efficiency, and the Vikings are fourth against the run. Tennessee would do well to abandon the run on early downs and focus heavily on positive pass plays.


Best Clip only Tangentially Related to the Game

I will warn you in advance, the captions are NSFW.

Don't argue with the TechnoViking.


The Titans Will Win If...

If Matt Hasselbeck can play turnover-free football and the Titans' secondary avoids the confusion that has plagued them, Tennessee has the weapons to win this game and get the season pointed in the right direction.

The Vikings' offense is not explosive, so the Titans can outscore them. Minnesota has put up between 20 to 24 points in regulation of every game, regardless of the defense they faced. The Titans don't need a great defensive effort, merely a credible one.

If the Titans can hang three touchdowns and a field goal on the board, they have a strong likelihood of winning.

The Vikings Will Win if...

Minnesota wants to make the Titans completely one-dimensional and then tee-off on Hasselbeck. They are averaging three sacks a game and do most of their damage on 2nd-and-long.

They shut down the run game on first down and rush the passer on second down.

If the Titans allow the Vikings to get out to an early lead and execute their formula, Minnesota has proved to be the kind of team that will run and hide from the opposition.

With Adrian Peterson playing the closer, it's a tough formula to beat.



Before the season, I had this pegged as a win for the Titans, but Tennessee is worse than I expected and the Vikings are clearly a little bit better.

If Jake Locker was playing, Tennessee would stand a better chance, but this just seems like the kind of game they'll have trouble putting up points.

All the pressure is on the Titans, and it's difficult to believe they are up for it.

With the Vikings playing at home, they have to be favored in a tight game.


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