There was a time when a Titans-Browns matchup would have been a battle of NFL dregs. But times have changed, and now both are solidly in contention for playoffs berths.
The Browns are more likely to find themselves as a wild-card despite owning the same 8-3 record the as the AFC South-leading Titans. That’s because Cleveland is in the AFC North with the Steelers, who have jumped out to a 10-0 lead. Here are the keys for the Titans to topple the visitors from Cleveland Sunday.
Keep on trucking. For a few weeks, the Titans deliberately measured Derrick Henry’s carries in order to save him for the stretch run. Henry has been the bell cow back the past two weeks in wins against Baltimore and Indianapolis. The Titans will certainly want to keep Henry as the focal point of the offense this week against a Browns team that likes to run the ball itself with Nick Chubb.
Stop Chubb. Chubb nearly won the rushing title a season ago, only to have Henry snatch it away in the final week of the regular season. Quarterback Baker Mayfield gets much of the attention, but the Browns offense flows through the Browns running game. That means the Titans defense will have to play well to stop him.
Put the game in Mayfield’s hands. The Browns are finding less of Baker Mayfield can sometimes add up to more. With a strong run game, Mayfield doesn’t have to do everything by himself like he might have had to do as a rookie. That said, the Titans can’t let Mayfield get comfortable and get in a rhythm, because he has weapons like Jarvis Landry who can be effective in the passing game.
Win special teams. Brett Kern’s return was a big boost for the Titans, who had no issues against the Colts. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski seems to have straightened out some of his problems, but the Titans cannot afford any special teams flubs in a game that probably will be close at the end.