A pivotal Week 17 in the NFL commences with a Thursday Night Football matchup that has playoff implications for both teams. The Dallas Cowboys will travel to Tennessee to face the Titans. Dallas took care of business at home in Week 16 against the Philadelphia Eagles, defeating their division rivals by a final score of 40-34. The Titans fell at home last Saturday to the Houston Texans 19-14.
Let’s take a closer look at three themes that should factor into this game.
Attacking A Weakness
Even though Dak Prescott’s effectiveness seems to come into question every other week, he should have ample opportunity to slice and dice a Titans defense that has been extremely porous against the pass. Tennessee ranks second to last in the NFL in passing yards allowed and passing touchdowns allowed. The Titans are also the most penalized defense in the NFL, which is somewhat surprising considering that head coach Mike Vrabel is viewed as one of the better leaders in the league.
Whether Tennessee beats themselves or Dallas finds openings in their secondary, big plays down the field should be expected in this contest. Look for wide receiver CeeDee Lamb to continue his recent run of impressive games with that backdrop in mind.
One of the clearest definitions of greatness involves knowing what’s coming, and being unable to stop it anyway. That’s how NFL defenses feel when they routinely stack nine men in the box against the Titans hoping to corral running back Derrick Henry. Defensive coordinators spend many hours trying to figure out how to keep him contained, and those plans rarely are effective.
Especially with the changes under center in Tennessee this season, Henry’s stellar campaign becomes even more remarkable. Teams are not scared of any other weapons on the Titans offense, and are even more clued in on Henry in light of Malik Willis’ entry into the lineup. The physical back has recorded 100 or more rushing yards in three straight games, and he’ll need to be a major factor once again if the Titans hope to remain competitive in this contest.
As touched on above, the Titans would seem to be Malik Willis’ team for the remainder of the season, as Ryan Tannehill appears unlikely to return after suffering an ankle injury against the Los Angeles Chargers. Tennessee’s offensive coaching staff will have their work cut out for them as they try to coax as much production as they can out of the raw prospect, while trying to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Willis finished 14/23 for 99 yards and two interceptions in last week’s tilt against Houston. Those are concerning numbers for almost any quarterback, but it doesn’t seem realistic for him to make a considerable improvement against Dallas. As a result, the Titans will need to confuse the Cowboys by having their defenders guess whether it’ll be Willis or Henry sprinting towards the line of scrimmage. The team might also involve wide receiver Treylon Burks in space to loosen things up as well.