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Lions-Titans Preview: 5 Questions with David Boclair of SI All Titans

David Boclair of SI All Titans answers five questions regarding the Lions' Week 15 contest with the Tennessee Titans

David Boclair of SI All Titans answers five questions regarding the Lions' Week 15 matchup with the Tennessee Titans. 

1.) Derrick Henry is just eight yards shy of matching his career-high for rushing yards. What makes him a special runner, and do you think he has a chance of joining the 2,000-yard club?

David Boclair: His size is the biggest issue. At 6-foot-3, 247 pounds, he is an outlier in this era of smaller, shiftier backs, and his impact on tired defenses is obvious. His best rushing numbers come late in the game and late in the schedule. 

The Titans do a good job taking advantage of that size, with a run game that is designed to make linebackers and defensive backs be the first ones to try to tackle him. Then, for good measure, when he does break a tackle or two, he has the speed to run away from the rest of the defense. 

Most teams talk about getting multiple tacklers to him before he gets to the second level. The majority have not been successful.

2.) Ryan Tannehill is having a career season, with 28 touchdowns and just five interceptions. What has contributed to his success in Tennessee's offensive scheme? 

Boclair: Henry has a lot to do with it, because the Titans do more with play-action passes than most teams. Only the L.A. Rams have attempted more play-action passes, and 42.5 percent of Tannehill’s passing yards this season have come on those calls. It is easy to see how an offense can take advantage of defenses that come into a game focused on stopping a running back. 

On top of that, he has been particularly good in the red zone, where offensive coordinator Arthur Smith often is at his most creative. More than half of Tannehill’s touchdown passes (16 of them) have come on throws from inside the 10-yard line.

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3.) The defense has not been as big of a strength as many would have expected this season. Tennessee is giving up an average of 113.8 yards rushing and 273.6 yards passing per game. What is your impression of the defense and its struggles?

Boclair: Free-agent failures have been the biggest issue. 

Franchise officials signed Jadeveon Clowney and Vic Beasley to beef up the pass rush, and neither registered a sack. Clowney played eight games before he went to injured reserve and opted for knee surgery. Beasley, meanwhile, played five games before he was released. 

Additionally, cornerback Logan Ryan was allowed to become a free agent, and Johnathan Joseph was signed to replace him. Joseph, too, has been released. 

The lack of a consistent pass-rush and instability in the secondary have made the Titans the NFL’s worst defense on third down most of the year, and that unit’s struggles to get off the field make pretty much every game an adventure.

4. What are the key matchups you are watching for this Sunday? 

Boclair: The big one is linebacker David Long against tight end T.J. Hockenson. 

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Long was a sixth-round pick in 2019, and has played well when he has gotten opportunities. He got a big one two weeks ago when Jayon Brown went on injured reserve.

Brown is Tennessee’s fastest linebacker, and he's adept enough at pass coverage that coaches don’t typically have to tweak their scheme much to deal with talented, athletic tight ends. 

If Long can’t keep Hockenson in check, coaches will have to get more creative. 

Also, interesting will be how the Lions deal with defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons, especially now that Frank Ragnow can’t go. 

Then, how is Detroit’s defense, which is 31st in the league in average yards allowed per pass play (7.67), going to deal with the wide receiver tandem of A.J. Brown and Corey Davis -- both of whom are on pace for 1,000-yard seasons.

5.) How do you see this game playing out, and who wins this Sunday?

Boclair: This is the Titans’ final home game, and they are as healthy as they have been in months. They are in position to win the AFC South for the first time since 2008, if they can keep winning. 

I think the defensive issues discussed earlier will make the score closer than the game actually will be, but I expect Tennessee’s offense to score as needed -- particularly as the game progresses. It will be a one-score difference at the half, but when all is said and done, I’ll say Tennessee wins, 38-24.

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