Tennessee Titans drum Matthew Stafford, Rams in battle of top teams

November 8, 2021
Tennessee Titans drum Matthew Stafford, Rams in battle of top teams
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INGLEWOOD, Calif. – The Los Angeles Rams and Tennessee Titans entered their meetings Sunday evening at SoFi Stadium after weeks that brought them dramatically different fortunes. 

The Titans – one of the top teams in the AFC – learned on Monday that leading rusher Derrick Henry had suffered a Jones fracture and would be out indefinitely. The Rams – one of the premier NFC squads – on Monday pulled off a blockbuster trade that gave them pass rusher Von Miller, who should improve their chances of contending for a Super Bowl bid.

But the events of the week factored little into Sunday’s contest between the two. An authoritative defensive performance from the Titans both eased pressure on their own offense and neutralized the potent attack of the Rams. Miller wound up not playing while nursing a sprained ankle. Even if he did, he wouldn’t have solved L.A.’s uncharacteristic problems in the area of pass protection.

The Titans prevailed 28-16 despite pedestrian offensive numbers (194 total yards and 16 first downs) and improved to 7-2 on the season. 

The Rams, whose 16 points represented a season low and whose five sacks allowed marked a season-high, fell to 7-2. Another unsightly number for L.A.: 12 penalties for 115 yards – another season high.

The Titans entered the game with questions about their ability to withstand the long-term loss of workhorse running back and NFL MVP candidate Henry, who through eight games led the league with 937 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.

Henry’s absence figured to translate into more pressure on quarterback Ryan Tannehill and a defense that has struggled to get off the field in a timely fashion.

Initially, the answer to the pressing question appeared to be inauspicious, as Tannehill threw an interception on Tennessee’s first possession and the Titans (owners of one of the most prolific offenses in the league) went scoreless in the first quarter.

But the members of a Tennessee defense that ranked 20th in the league in yards allowed and 21st in points surrendered did their part to compensate for the loss of Henry.

The unit harassed Stafford early and often to prevent the Rams from finding their rhythm. The pressure rattled Stafford, who for the first half of the season has also been billed as an MVP candidate. The quarterback made uncharacteristic mistakes, including throwing two second-quarter interceptions – the first from his own end zone while he tried to avoid a sack, and the second coming 10 seconds later by Tennessee safety Kevin Byard, who returned the pick 24 yards for a touchdown. 

By halftime, the Titans held a 21-3 lead. Both offenses had managed an identical 94 net yards through two quarters. But Tennessee’s five sacks Stafford made all of the difference.

What made the defensive display most impressive was the fact that it came against a Rams offense that entered the game surrendering a league-low eight sacks through eight games, and the fact that the Titans didn’t need exotic blitzes to generate pressure. They simply won individual matchups with defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons leading the way with three sacks of his own.

The Rams displayed only minimal improvements in the second half and didn’t score their lone touchdown until 24 seconds remained in the game.

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones.



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