Young has edge in matchup of sophomore quarterbacks

Titans-Broncos is the matchup of two young first-round quarterbacks from the class of 2006. Vince Young has four come-from-behind wins in his short career and Jay Cutler has three. Cutler has a big strong arm and Young can beat you with his legs. The Titans like to remind Young not to forget his legs in critical situations and the Broncos like to remind Cutler to be smart about taking risks.

Both teams want to run the ball, but Tennessee is doing it more often than the Broncos. The Titans will call between 35 and 40 run plays in a game like this and keep the passing down around 20-25 plays. Denver used to be known as a great running team but injuries to Travis Henry and game circumstances have changed their run-pass ratio. Mike Shanahan will go to the pass 33-35 times and run it 24-26 times. What makes it tough for his team is the fact that the Titans are a top 10 team in every critical defensive category except sacks, so I expect more pass than run.

Both teams are on the negative side in turnovers (Tennessee is minus-1; Denver minus-5), which is typical with young quarterbacks. Neither team is in the top half of the NFL in red-zone efficiency, which is also understandable. The strength of the Broncos is supposed to be the corners, Champ Bailey and Dre Bly, but the receivers are not the strength of the Titans. They have relied upon a very physical defense, a power running game and a big play or two from Young to get to a 6-3 record. The Broncos are still searching for a defense and finally won their first game of the year last week without Jason Elam having to kick the winning field goal.

If you like the Titans, these points are for you

  1. Vince Young is 6-3 as a starter on the road in his career.
    1. Tennessee has won its last two Monday night road games.
    2. The Tennessee defense has only allowed one 100-yard rusher this season.
    3. Tennessee is the No. 2 defense in the NFL.
    4. Tennessee is the fourth-ranked rushing team and Denver is 31st against the run.
    5. Denver has already lost at home to San Diego, Jacksonville, Green Bay scoring a combined 30 points in those games.

If you like the Broncos, these points are for you

  1. Shanahan is 10-4 at home on Monday night.
    1. Denver is fifth in the NFL in third-down offense.
    2. Cutler is a top 5 QB in clutch pass situations (converting third downs into first downs or TDs).
    3. Young has only thrown 1 TD pass in his last five games.
    4. Selvin Young filled in well at RB last week with 109 yds on the ground.

Key matchups

1. Tennessee LT Michael Roos vs. Denver RE Elvis Dumervil: Roos is a big, powerful tackle who does well against power rushers. This week, however, he faces the 5-foot-11 Dumervil, who features excellent speed and quickness. Dumervil leads the team with 8 sacks and has an excellent "get-off." The noise level in Denver could slow Roos' get-off, which would help Dumervil. Look for the Titans to run the ball at the undersized speed rusher to wear him out.

2. Tennessee DE Kyle Vanden Bosch vs. Denver LT Matt Lepsis: Vanden Bosch is the heart and soul of the Titans front four. If Albert Haynesworth can play on his injured hamstring next to Vanden Bosch, than Lepsis is all alone on the DE. Vanden Bosch leads the NFL in knocking the QB down and makes the stunt calls for the defensive line. He can be very hard to block on the twist stunt and his motor runs hot for 60 minutes.

3. Titans LDEs Antwan Odom/Travis LaBoy vs. Denver RT Eric Pears: Pears needs help against this tandem of defensive ends. They have 9 sacks between them and play a very physical style of defense. Pears will hope for the bootleg pass to his side to slow the aggressiveness down, but it may not be enough.

4. Tennessee CB Cortland Finnegan vs. Denver WR Brandon Marshall: With the injuries to Javon Walker and Rod Smith, Marshall is the go-to guy for Cutler. Marshall will line up in a number of spots but the 6-foot-4 receiver has a height advantage against either corner. Finnegan is an underrated player and this is his opportunity to shine. He needs an effective pass rush up front to rattle Cutler or Marshall will add to his 51 receptions.

5. Tennessee RB LenDale White vs. Denver WLB Ian Gold: White returns home to Denver and wants to have a big game against one of the worst run defenses in the NFL. Last week the big back had his streak of 100-yard games broken at three. Gold is a very quick linebacker who will be free to get over the top and chase down White on all the strong-side running plays. Denver gives up 4.8 yards per rush and if Gold and the rest of the front seven don't slow down White, it will be a long night for Denver.

When Denver has the ball

Denver can be a Jekyll-and-Hyde offense. The Broncos scored 31 points against a fine Steelers defense the week after they generate 3 points at home against the Chargers. They have scored 21 or more three times but 14 or less five times. They need to get back to Broncos football and run for 150 yards. They average more than 4 yards on first down, among the top 10 in the league in that category, but they are not really a very good big-play team -- especially if Henry can't go. Where they can hurt you is on the strong arm of Cutler with the 20-yard out routes and curls. The guy might have the strongest arm in the league. He better know where Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck is at all times because he leads his team in interceptions and has a great feel for reading the QB and jumping routes.

The Titans defense needs Haynesworth as much as the Denver offense needs Henry. Haynesworth could be the best inside defender in the NFL right now. When you watch him on videotape he almost looks unblockable, and Cutler will struggle if he is on the field. The most impressive two things about the Tennessee defense are that they can get after the QB without blitzing and they are great after their offense turns the ball over. They will rarely get beat in a sudden change situation.

When Tennessee has the ball

Young had his best day throwing the ball as a pro last week with 257 yards, but scoring points off the passing game is another story. He only throws a touchdown pass once every 48 attempts. I don't think he's going to put it up 48 times against the Broncos corners so his efficiency is going to have to improve. There's no way the Titans can watch the Broncos defense and not be excited about pounding the run game right at them all night long. Teams play the Broncos and average 151 yards on the ground. White gets his 20 carries and a healthy Chris Brown gets his 15.

Head coach Jeff Fisher will be very happy to play the field position game all night long and take field goals if he has to. Tennessee leads the NFL in drives that end in field goals and if his punter can keep putting the Broncos on a long field, it will work as a winning formula.

Denver safety John Lynch returns to the lineup but it's hard to imagine him being able to spy on Young and when I went back and looked at Young on the road during his short career, it's clear he will take off and run when he has to. Young averages 5 yard a carry in his nine road games and his come-from-behind wins are usually with his feet. If the Broncos corners turn and run with the receivers in man coverage like they like to do, then it doesn't leave many great athletes to handle Young. I expect a classic big play late in the game from the Titans QB.

Conclusion

I talk with a number of Tennessee players who realize the Titans don't get to many shots on the national stage of a Monday night game. Bulluck will have the defense all fired up, White has his homecoming party and I will never forget Young in the national championship game in college. The Titans are in the playoffs if the season ended today and the Broncos are desperate to climb back into the race. I think the Titans squeeze out a low-scoring win by a field goal and send Denver's playoff dreams in the wrong direction.

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