In shutting out the Giants, the Tennessee Titans kept their playoff hopes very much alive.
A playoff berth continues to come into focus for the Tennessee Titans.
Following three straight wins, two of them in dominating fashion, the Titans remain very much within the thick of a tight playoff race in the AFC.
The latest of the three came on Sunday against the hapless New York Giants, who the Titans bullied for four quarters en route to a decisive, 17-0 victory.
The Titans’ effort against the Giants can be best characterized as a bullying. It wasn’t pretty and, at times, was actually pretty ugly.
However, the Titans were clearly the better team throughout the entirety of the game and consistently imposed their will through physicality.
Three main factors led to the victory.
— TURRON DAVENPORT (@TDavenport_NFL) December 16, 2018
During the week leading up to the game, Giants running back Saquon Barkley was repeatedly brought up by Titans players and coaches as the focal point of their defensive gameplan. That plan certainly came to fruition.
Barkley finished the game with 31 rushing yards and no touchdowns, averaging just 2.21 yards per carry.
With receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. sidelined with an injury, the Giants knew, heading into the game, that they would have to channel their offense almost entirely through Barkley. The Titans knew that too, and their ability to hold the star running back in check played a big role in winning the game.
“He’s a really, really good player, and it takes everybody,” head coach Mike Vrabel said after the game. “There were times where one guy made the tackle, but I think the mentality coming in was that we needed more than one guy there.”
By rendering Barkley ineffective, the Titans put a lot of extra pressure on quarterback Eli Manning. Due to the wet conditions and a solid effort from the Titans secondary, it was a pressure that he could not handle.
Running in the Rain
Mike Vrabel on Derrick Henry’s progress: pic.twitter.com/x51Iog7Dhc
— Erik Bacharach (@ErikBacharach) December 16, 2018
On offense, the Titans put the game into the hands of their tailback, the incredibly hot Derrick Henry. Against a Giants defense that seemed outmatched for most of the game, Henry was stellar for the second week in a row.
He hit the 100-yard mark by the end of the first half and finished with 170 yards and two touchdowns on a whopping 33 carries.
Even Dion Lewis got in on the fun in the fourth quarter, helping the Titans run out the clock on their final meaningful drive of the fourth quarter. Lewis carried the ball 7 times for 35 yards, averaging an impressive 5 YPC.
“I think that’s what you’re going to have to do in December,” Vrabel said of the Titans’ success on the ground.
With the weather conditions being as bad as they were at MetLife Stadium, throwing the ball 40 times simply was not a logistical option for either team. The ball was too wet for any sort of downfield accuracy.
That being the case, it was especially crucial for Henry to have a successful encore to his record-setting performance against the Jaguars. He did just that, at times carrying the Titans offense.
Establishing an effective running game did more for the Titans than allowing them to move the ball, it also allowed them to control the ever-important time of possession. The Titans led that category by nearly 11 minutes.
— Jim Wyatt (@jwyattsports) December 16, 2018
Finally, the Titans win against the Giants had a lot to do with the fact that they were able to take advantage of the opportunities presented to them throughout the course of the game. Particularly, the Titans took advantage of turnovers.
The Titans defense’s first turnover of the game came when safety Kevin Byard intercepted Manning deep inside Titans territory. While the offense wasn’t able to score on the possession that followed, they were able to flip field position.
After the second turnover, an Eli Manning fumble recovered by defensive lineman Jurrell Casey, the offense got points. With a short field ahead, they repeatedly gave the ball to Henry, who eventually plowed into the end zone.
“We took advantage of our opportunities, which were the strip sack on Manning and the huge interception there by [Byard],” Vrabel said. “That was kind of what the recipe was.”
Teams that struggle to the degree that the Giants have this season will make mistakes and give their opponents opportunities during games. In order to defeat those types of teams, you have to actually do something positive in response to those opportunities.
On Sunday, the Titans did just that. They took any hope that the Giants had and crushed it, leading to the franchise’s first shutout in 18 years.
All that the Titans need at this point to earn that last wildcard spot in the AFC, in addition to winning out, is one loss from the Baltimore Ravens. Both of those things seem like legitimate possibilities at this point.
The Titans certainly took care of business on Sunday, but they’ll need to keep it up moving forward.
Cover image: USA Today/Robert Deutsch