Tennessee Titans: Dissecting Most Crucial Matchups with San Francisco 49ers
Things have turned a bit sour for the Tennessee Titans after two-straight losses to very good opponents to put them at 3-3 on the season.
Another good defense sits on deck for the Titans, as the San Francisco 49ers come rolling into town in the midst of playing their best football of the season.
It will be a major test on both sides of the ball for the Titans to get above .500 heading into their bye week.
These two teams last met in 2009, and they both have gone through a lot of changes since then. You can't pull anything from that 34-27 Titans win and tie it to this game.
Here are some important matchups that will determine if the Titans can pull off the minor upset and go into the bye week on a positive note. After all, 4-3 looks so much better than 3-4.
1. Titans Defensive Line vs. Colin Kaepernick (SF)
The Titans didn't have much luck containing Russell Wilson in their 20-13 loss in Seattle last week. Wilson was able to scramble around and ended up with 61 yards rushing.
Colin Kaepernick will pose the same threat to extend plays and move the chains with his ability to run. The Titans have to keep him contained inside the pocket and force Kaepernick to beat the Titans' cornerbacks, who are playing exceptionally well to this point.
If guys like Jurrell Casey and Ropati Pitoitua can put consistent pressure in the face of Kaepernick, that should keep him from piling up the yards.
On an interesting side note, the Titans passed up on drafting Kaepernick back in 2011. Kaepernick hasn't forgotten the fact that the Titans passed on him, according to a piece from Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News.
Being the fiery competitor that Kaepernick is, don't be surprised if he lights up the scoreboard if the Titans defense come out flat.
2. Alterraun Verner (TEN) vs. Anquan Boldin (SF)
Verner is currently having a career-season with four interceptions, and he's doing a solid job matching up with No.1 targets of other teams. He'll probably have a stiff challenge this week against Anquan Boldin, who's a guy that's always capable of making catches in traffic to extend drives.
For the Titans to win this game, it can't turn into a shootout. The score has to stay well below 30 points for the Titans offense to have a shot at pulling this one out. That means Verner will have to continue his hot streak, and maybe even snatch his fifth interception of the year. He's already leading the league in pass breakups with 13, according to ESPN.com.
3. George Wilson (TEN) vs. Vernon Davis (SF)
Who will be the game MVP?
A number of different players could end up getting the tough assignment of covering Vernon Davis, but George Wilson makes the most sense. He's got all of the tools to keep Davis from catching another deep throw from Colin Kaepernick and changing the complexion of the game in a flash.
The secondary for the Titans is probably the biggest improvement on this team from last season. They're playing that style of defense that bends but doesn't break. If they keep it low scoring, then they'll give the offense a chance. That means shutting down Davis if you're Wilson, or any other Titans defender that may be lucky enough to defend him.
4. Ryan Fitzpatrick (TEN) vs. 49ers secondary
We've clearly seen why Ryan Fitzpatrick was let go by the Buffalo Bills and became the backup quarterback to Jake Locker in Tennessee. He shows quick flashes of having a strong arm, but his accuracy has been way off in two starts for the Titans.
It won't get any easier for Fitzpatrick against the 49ers secondary that is forcing plenty of turnovers right now. He has to manage this game better than he has over the last two games and use Delanie Walker against his former team.
Walker has shown that he can be a reliable receiving tight end in mid-range throws, and that's what Fitzpatrick needs to look towards to get his confidence up a little bit.
If the Titans running game could improve, then that would also do wonders for Fitzpatrick's chances of maybe putting together a decent performance.
5. Chris Johnson (TEN) vs. Patrick Willis (SF)
We're seeing a repeat of last season's problems with Chris Johnson and the Titans' running game. He has to be somewhat productive in this game to give the Titans a chance to score more than 10 points.
It isn't all Johnson's fault that the running game has been terrible. Rob Turner and Michael Roos haven't played particularly well, and they'll have their hands full dealing with Patrick Willis.
Willis is having somewhat of a homecoming in this game, as he is from Tennessee, although he wouldn't admit that he's treating this game any differently than he is any other game.
With that said, look for Willis to be putting all types of pressure on Johnson right at the line of scrimmage. It will be Johnson's tough assignment to make the first guy miss and try to find some open space, where he is so lethal.
If Johnson can find a way to claw to 50 to 60 yards, then it may give the Titans' passing attack a chance to string together some extended drives. That will be no easy task.
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