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    Tennessee Titans vs. Los Angeles Rams: Matchups, prediction for the NFL’s Week 9 Sunday Night Football game

    Ryan Tannehill and the first-place Tennessee Titans face Matt Stafford and the 7-1 Los Angeles Rams on national TV Sunday night.

    Even without all the drama after a remarkable week of NFL news, Titans-Rams would be a must-see matchup. The visiting Tennessee Titans are 6-2 and the No. 1 seed in the AFC. The Los Angeles Rams are one of three NFC clubs tied for the best record in all of football at 7-1. But then throw in the potentially season-ending injury to Derrick Henry and the Rams’ blockbuster trade for Von Miller, expect TV ratings to be great for NBC in this prime-time showdown. Let’s hope the game lives up to the hype.

    Tennessee Titans offense vs. Los Angeles Rams defense

    There’s absolutely no silver lining to the news that Derrick Henry is out indefinitely (perhaps for the season) after undergoing foot surgery. Along with leading the NFL in rushing by nearly 300 yards, Henry has accounted for 36.2% of Tennessee’s total yards and 10 of the team’s 24 offensive touchdowns. Yes, we hear that new Titan Adrian Peterson has plenty left in the tank, but this isn’t 2015. There will be a drop-off.

    And that drop-off could be severe this week, considering the Rams look like they’re figuring out their run defense. Los Angeles allowed just 3.1 yards per carry in a Week 8 win over the Houston Texans. Still, there’s plenty of work to be done on that side of the ball. The Rams are allowing 85.6 more yards, 2.5 more points per game, and nine-tenths of a yard more per play than they did in 2020. A big reason why? The Rams are 21st in third-down defense (42%).

    Ryan Tannehill vs. Rams defense

    We’re about to find out who the real Ryan Tannehill is. His career numbers with and without Henry are staggering.

    In six seasons with the Miami Dolphins, Tannehill completed 62.8% of his passes with a rating of 87.0, averaging 7.0 yards per attempt, a 4.2% touchdown rate, and a 2.6% interception rate.

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    In two and a half seasons with the Titans, Tannehill has completed 66.9% of his passes with a rating of 105.4, a 6.3% touchdown rate, and a 1.9% interception rate. Yes, coaching helps. But not as much as having the best running back of his generation in his backfield.

    Tannehill will be the best quarterback the Rams have seen in a month. They gave up a bunch of garbage-time yards to Texans QB Davis Mills late in Week 8, but prior to that, they’ve been on their game. Los Angeles ranks fifth in passer rating against (83.2), sixth in interception rate (3.4%), and 10th in yards allowed per pass (6.5).

    Advantage: Rams

    Titans weapons vs. Rams defensive backs

    The most plausible way for the Titans to make up for the loss of Henry’s production is for their Pro Bowl wide receivers to play like Pro Bowlers. There was a huge hype entering the season for the combo of A.J. Brown and Julio Jones. But injuries have been a major drag on Tennessee’s passing attack.

    Jones has been dealing with a hamstring issue most of the year and has had just one impact game: Week 2 (128 yards on 6 catches). Chemistry has been an issue, too. A pair of Tannehill’s 7 interceptions have come when targeting the former Falcons great. Brown, meanwhile, has been on an absolute tear, with 25 catches for 379 yards and 2 touchdowns the last three weeks.

    Three Rams DBs have 2 interceptions in the first half of the season: Jalen Ramsey, Taylor Rapp, and Nick Scott. Not surprisingly, the Rams rank sixth in interception rate (3.4%). Ramsey remains a force, allowing just 6.4 yards per target. Cornerback Darious Williams has been on injured reserve since October 12 with an ankle injury, but the Rams designated him for return this week. Williams started LA’s first five games alongside Ramsey.

    Advantage: Push

    Titans offensive line vs. Rams front seven

    Another Titans question that will soon get answered — how much of the group’s ridiculous rushing numbers have been due to Henry, and how much has been thanks to the offensive line?

    The Titans are fourth in rushing yards per game (147.6) and 11th in yards per carry (4.5), but Henry’s long runs have inflated both numbers. The advanced stats seem to agree. Football Outsiders rank Taylor Lewan, Rodger Saffold, and company 18th in terms of adjusted line yards. The Titans are particularly good at short-yardage runs, however. As for pass protection? Yeesh. Tennessee has the league’s fourth-worst sack rate (9.1%).

    We have no clue how much Von Miller will impact the game. Even if he plays (still up in the air as of later in the week), he probably won’t play a ton on a tender ankle. (Of course, now that we write that, he’ll probably log 60 snaps and have 6 quarterback hits Sunday.)

    But even if Miller doesn’t play a down, the Rams will have the advantage because they have Aaron Donald and Leonard Floyd, who have combined for 11.5 sacks, 21 QB hits, and 11 tackles for loss. The Rams can be run on, however. They’ve allowed 4.4 yards per carry this year.

    Advantage: Rams

    Los Angeles Rams offense vs. Tennessee Titans defense

    The Rams have absolutely had it going offensively during their four-game winning streak, averaging 32.5 points, 420.5 yards, and 23.5 first downs during that stretch. Is Sean McVay the best offensive mind in football? It’s hard to argue against the body of work of a guy who got to the Super Bowl with Jared Goff as his quarterback. Matthew Stafford is no Jared Goff. The Rams are the NFL’s most efficient offense at 6.5 yards per play.

    The Titans, meanwhile, are not the NFL’s most efficient defense. Far from. There are 21 other teams that have allowed fewer yards per play (5.7) and 19 who have allowed fewer points per game (24.4). The Titans have been winning most of their games in spite of their defense, not because of it. They’re the only team in the NFL that has won three or more games in which they’ve allowed 30+ points.

    Matthew Stafford vs. Titans defense

    If the NFL’s biggest individual award were named Most Outstanding Player, Stafford might already have it wrapped up. The advanced stats absolutely love him. He’s the league leader in QBR (77.6), EPA/play (0.41), and EPA+CPOE composite (0.203).

    The old-fashioned metrics love him, too. He’s second in touchdowns (22), passer rating (118.0), and yards per play (9.1). Stafford’s completion percentage (68.9%) is the best of his career, with a whopping 78.6% of his passes on target. He’s really, really, really good.

    But the Titans have 2021 experience with insanely talented quarterbacks. And that recent history hasn’t been as bad as you would think. Yes, Josh Allen toasted the Titans for 353 yards and 3 TDs in Week 6, but just six days later, the Titans held Patrick Mahomes to the worst statistical game of his career. Still, the Titans are 24th in passing defense (267.4) and 16th on third downs (40.6%) for a reason.

    Advantage: Stafford

    Rams weapons vs. Titans defensive backs

    Cooper Kupp is the best wide receiver in football right now. The league just named him the NFC Player of the Month for the second time this season. And he’s the first player in the Super Bowl era with 900 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns through his first eight games.

    But it’s no one-man show. Robert Woods has 38 catches for 458 yards and 4 touchdowns, plus the Rams think so highly of Van Jefferson (16.3 yards per catch) that they cut DeSean Jackson. Running backs Darrell Henderson (110-507-5) and Sony Michel (65-251-1) are an excellent 1-2 punch.

    Related | Week 9 NFL Power Rankings: Rams climb to top spot, Browns tumble, and the Saints win with Siemian

    But the Titans will counter with their own Player of the Year candidate: Kevin Byard. Byard won the AFC’s Defensive Player of the Month honors in October after picking off 3 passes, forcing a fumble (and returning another for a touchdown), and tallying 27 tackles during the Titans’ four-game winning streak.

    That’s the extent of the good news here, however. Starting corners Caleb Farley and Kristian Fulton are on injured reserve, and next men up Greg Mabin and Chris Jackson are banged up, too. Yikes.

    Advantage: Rams

    Rams offensive line vs. Titans defensive front

    Football Outsiders rank the Rams first overall in pass protection, and our eyes would tend to agree. Stafford has been sacked just 7 times in some 300 dropbacks, a big reason why he hasn’t appeared on the injury report all season. (No, we’re not trying to jinx you, Rams fans. If we were trying to jinx you, we’d also point out how just six players are currently on injured reserve.)

    What’s wild about the Rams’ offensive line? Not a single starter was taken in the first round, and their left tackle (Andrew Whitworth) turns 40 in a month.

    On paper, it should be an easy day at the office Sunday against a Titans defense that is 24th in yards per carry allowed (4.5) and sack rate (5.7%). Harold Landry has been marvelous this year (8.5 sacks, 9 tackles for loss, and 15 quarterback hits), and Denico Autry has been solid. But beyond that? Not good. Bud Dupree is earning $16.5 million a year, but his next tackle for loss will be his first of the season.

    Advantage: Rams

    Betting line and game prediction

    If anyone got the Rams at -4.5 in the advanced line — prior to the Henry injury news — you’re loving life. That spread had grown to LAR -7.5 by late in the week. And honestly, that still seems a bit generous to the Titans, who were 20th in DVOA even with Henry.

    Prediction: Rams 34, Titans 20

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