For the fourth straight week, the Buccaneers (3-5, 3rd in NFC South) lost, this time with a crushing 39-37 defeat to the Texans. Once again, Tampa Bay will have a chance to snap their season-worst skid this week, as the Buccaneers will play the Tennesse Titans (3-5, 4th in AFC South) in a Week 10 matchup of struggling squads.
Buckle up for some potentially ugly football.
Ahead of their Week 1 game against New Orleans, head coach Mike Vrabel decided to name veteran Ryan Tannehill the Titans' QB1 over 2022 third-round pick Malik Willis and 2023 second-round pick Will Levis. As the starter, Tannehill completed 98-158 (62.0%) pass attempts for 1,128 passing yards, two touchdowns, six interceptions, and a 33.6 QBR, all worsts in five seasons as a Titan.
Tannehill suffered a high right ankle sprain in Tennessee's 24-16 loss to Baltimore in Week 6, a similar injury he had last season. Losing Tannehill set the stage for Levis to make his debut, and the Titans haven't looked back since. How could you when your quarterback makes his first career start by throwing four touchdown passes in a win while wearing the old Oilers throwbacks?
Levis completed 19-of-29 pass attempts for 238 passing yards, four touchdowns, zero interceptions, and a 130.4 passer rating to lead the Titans to a 28-23 comeback win over the Falcons, becoming the third player in NFL history to record four touchdown passes in his debut.
After guiding Tennessee to their first win since week four, Levis would get the start in the team's Week 9 Thursday Night Football matchup in Pittsburgh. While he completed just 22-of-39 pass attempts for 262 passing yards, zero touchdowns, and the game-losing interception in the Titans defeat, his play has seemingly ignited Tennessee's passing attack.
It wasn't long after his first two games that Levis was officially named the starter in Tennessee, dawning a new era for the Titans.
Titans offense will cause problems for the Buccaneers defense
Don't overlook the other major element of the Titans offense, though. The steady rushing attack of three-time Pro Bowler Derrick Henry has been a key factor in Tennessee's success thus far. For the season, Henry has recorded 137 carries for 601 rushing yards (5th in NFL), four rushing touchdowns, and 4.4 YPC while catching 18 of 21 targets for 165 receiving yards.
This season, Henry's physical and bruising running style has been complemented well by the elusive and versatile play of 2023 round-three pick RB Tyjae Spears. So far, Spears has notched 39 rushing attempts for 216 rushing yards, one rushing touchdown, and a sparkling 5.5 YPC, along with 124 receiving yards on 22 catches.
To no surprise, offseason acquisition DeAndre Hopkins has been Tennessee's stand-alone No. 1 receiving option. In all eight games, the veteran wide receiver has caught 35 of 64 targets for 564 receiving yards and three receiving touchdowns, highlighted by a four-catch, 128-yard and three-touchdown outing against Atlanta.
Outside of Hopkins, four-year wide receiver Nick Westbrook-Ikhine is the only other receiving option who has had a considerable impact this season. As the Titans' primary red-zone threat, Westbrook-Ikhine has caught 18 passes for 224 receiving yards, while tying Hopkins for a team-leading three touchdown catches.
Defensively, Tennessee has been average, allowing 337.8 YPG (20th in NFL), 223.0 PYPG (16th in NFL), 116.2 RYPG (20th in NFL), and 20.0 PPG (11th in NFL). Led by veteran DE Denico Autrey's 5.0 sacks and superstar DT Jeffery Simmons' 4.5, the Titans' front seven has done a solid job at pressuring the QB, forcing 21 sacks and 41 TFLs this season. In the middle of the field, MLB Azeez Al-Shaair and OLB Jack Gibbens have been reliable coverage linebackers, with the two combining for 143 total tackles and six TFLs.
Although the Titans have forced 24 PDs this season, they only have two interceptions to show for, serving as a major reason for the team's -3 turnover differential.
Regardless, rising star Kristan Fulton (38 TCKLs, 5 PD) and former Buccaneer Sean Murphey-Bunting (32 TCKLs, 4 PD, 1 Int) have been a solid CB duo, while 2019 fourth-round selection SS Amani Hooker (47 TCKLs, 4 PD, 1 Int) has filled in nicely after the departure of star FS Kevin Byard.