Come Sunday, there will be two teams facing each other, heading in the opposite direction.
The Tennessee Titans are looking to improve to 3-0 behind an offense that is surprisingly led by their quarterback, rather than former Heisman winner Derrick Henry. The Minnesota Vikings, on the other hand, are unexpectedly 0-2 in abysmal performances against the Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts.
The loss of key players in free agency and injuries has, so far, ravaged the Vikings. However, that does not excuse the poor performance of their starting quarterback Kirk Cousins. Last week, Cousins threw three interceptions and had a quarterback rating of 15.9. Pro Bowl running back Dalvin Cook has also been ineffective after recently signing a contract extension.
The Titans look poised to continue their success against a Vikings team that has disappointed and underwhelmed its fans.
Dalvin Cook vs. Titans Front-Seven
In both of Minnesota’s first two games, they have trailed early, resulting in a low dosage of Dalvin Cook. Yet, Cook is averaging almost 4.4 yards per carry. The Vikings defense has not been creating turnovers like they have done in the past, putting enormous pressure on the offense to play catch-up. This completely neutralizes Dalvin Cook, as it would any running back — which begs the question: why would any general manager spend big money on a position that is rendered ineffective even when that player is playing well? Nevertheless, the Titans gave up 165 rushing yards last week and there is an opportunity to exploit Tennessee’s rush defense. In order for this to happen, the Vikings must create takeaways against a potent attack.
Ryan Tannehill vs. Vikings Defense
It is hard to foresee the Vikings defense causing Ryan Tannehill and company any problems on Sunday. The Vikings have lost former Pro Vowlers Everson Griffen and Linval Joseph to free agency in the off-season. They are also without Anthony Barr, who joins Danielle Hunter on IR, after tearing his pectoral muscle against the Colts last week. Tannehill has been off to a blistering start, thanks in large part to offensive coordinator Arthur Smith. He has been able to utilize key playmakers in the offense not named A.J. Brown and Derrick Henry. Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith have the talent to be explosive weapons in the offense, and so far, they are thriving. Henry may be poised for a breakout day as well. The Vikings are allowing the fifth-most rushing yards per game in the NFL. Look for the Titans and Tannehill to continue their efficiency especially against a defense with a lack of pass rush, even after trading for Yannick Ngakoue.
Vikings Wide Receivers vs. Titans Secondary
Although Kirk Cousins has struggled in his first two games, the Vikings have a talented receiving core. After trading Stefon Diggs to the Bills this offseason, the Vikings drafted WR Justin Jefferson in the first round out of LSU. With Adoree’ Jackson still on IR, expect to see Kristian Fulton play in the slot against his former LSU teammate Jefferson. Adam Thielen will have an advantage against Malcolm Butler and Johnathan Joseph. Both veteran cornerbacks have looked poor to start the year. The Titans are allowing 265.5 passing yards per game, which ranks 10th-worst in the NFL. The defense is also second-worst in the NFL on third-down conversion percentage allowed. Opposing offenses are converting a third down 56% of the time against the Titans defense. The Titans pass rush needs to register sacks. Although Jadeveon Clowney has shown glimpses of what he can do, he has yet to record a sack. They rank 25th in the league in sacks. Vic Beasley looks like he will be making his season debut, and the Titans will need his presence to improve their pass rush.
The Titans have a balanced offensive attack that is no longer solely reliant on Derrick Henry. The Vikings defense is missing key defensive players to injury, and there is a lack of playmakers on that side of the ball, besides Harrison Smith. Look for the Titans to continue their impressive start offensively. As we have seen the past few weeks, the Titans defense makes crucial plays to win the game, even with the amount of yards they allow. Expect Tennessee to remain unbeaten.
Pick: Titans 27, Vikings 20
(Featured Image Credit: TennesseeTitans.com)