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San Francisco 49ers at Tennessee Titans: Preview and Pick
San Francisco 49ers at Tennessee Titans: Preview and Pick
The San Francisco 49ers are back in the swing of things after starting off slow. Now they are on a winning streak and they look like the same team that went to the Super Bowl a season ago. They will have to remain focused this week as they head on the NFL highway to take on the underrated Tennessee Titans.
San Francisco 49ers at Tennessee Titans Odds
The NFL betting line for this game opened up with the 49ers being hefty road favorites. The 49ers opened up with the point spread set at (-5) in their favor. The public jumped on the 49ers during this impressive winning streak and over 80 percent of the early wagering is backing the road team in this game. Although they are getting more of the action the line is moving in the other direction and it can now be found as low as (-4) at several of the top rated online sportsbooks.
The 49ers are winning because the offense is back on track. Colin Kaepernick threw for 252 yards and Frank Gore rushed for 101 yards on 25 carries for his second 100-yard game of the season. If the Titans are going to win this week they have to play better against the run.
Marshawn Lynch had 21 rushes for 77 yards and four catches for 78 yards on Sunday, his first career game with at least 75 rushing and 75 receiving yards. Lynch joined Jamaal Charles (Week 3 vs Eagles) and Reggie Bush (Week 1 vs Vikings) as the only players to reach those marks this season. This could be one of the toughest challenges of the year for the Titans.
The latest NFL betting trends against the spread in this game reveal that it could be a letdown spot for the 49ers. San Francisco is 6-3 straight up in its last 9 games when playing Tennessee, but just 0-4-1 against the spread (ATS) in its last 5 games when playing Tennessee. The total has gone OVER in 4 of San Francisco's last 5 games on the road and the total has gone OVER in 10 of San Francisco's last 13 games. San Francisco is 9-4 straight up in its last 13 games on the road but the Titans are 6-0-1 ATS in its last 7 games when playing San Francisco overall. Finally the Titans have been cash cows for bettors of late as they are 5-1-1 ATS in its last 7 games overall.
San Francisco 49ers at Tennessee Titans Pick
With plenty of time to go before kickoff of this week, I will wait to announce my pick when we get closer to game day. Check back the day of the event for my pick on this great game.
The Titans got off to a rousing start this season and finished their first 4 games at 3-1. Far better than most would have imagined at the beginning of the year.
While fans expectations have risen during the first quarter of the season, the last two games have been a reality check as the team prepares to host last years Superbowl runner -ups, the San Francisco 49ers.
The 3 games lost were all games that the Titans could have won. The Titans were in the mix at the end of each of the games, and were a few key plays from being able to win. In each of their 3 losses, they even had the lead at some point in the second half.
I submit that the three games they won, they could have just as easily lost (except maybe the Jets game). The Chargers game was one that could have easily be looked at as "given away" by the other team, much like Titans' fans collectively feel their team gave away the Texans game, Chiefs game, and now the Seattle game as well.
This weekend, the Titans did play a top 5 team in the league away on the west coast and kept the game in question the entire time. There was a lot of luck involved as well with special team's gaffes by the opposition, resulting in 7 of the Titans' 13 points. Two of the Seahawks' punts were literally inches from being downed on the 1-inch line, and the Titans' lone touchdown could have been called either way.
Was it luck or fortitude that kept the Seahawks game in balance? While it's true that a couple plays here or there could have had the Titans winning the game, it's also true that another couple of plays could have led to a blow out.
The Titans have balanced out right now, and have done so without their young leader Jake Locker. The offense has stalled on all fronts while the defense has kept them in games as long as they could.
The disappointing thing at play here is the sudden reversal of momentum that coincided with the injury to Jake Locker. The franchise had hitched its wagon to the young player for better or worse coming into the season, and fans were beginning to see what the coaches have seen all along.
This is no reason to be down on the team at all, but rather to have hope. And lots of it.
Fans are upset because they began to see glimpses of the playoffs, and just as quickly began to see them slip away. It needs to be kept in perspective how well this team is playing as a whole, and not just their record, but how they achieved it.
Head coach Mike Munchak is correct when he said the team is average right now. Average is a big step up from last year, however.
The defense is playing at an unworldly level and regardless of how it's happened, the Titans have had a chance or the lead in each and every game they've played.
They'll be looking for a way to get the offense moving this week against the league's better defenses (again). Hopefully another week of practice will help Ryan Fitzpatrick's accuracy and the potential return of Shonn Greene will help the stalling run game
Chris Johnson negotiated a big contract by selling himself as a playmaker who transcends his position. Six games into the 2013 season, the Tennessee Titans running back is averaging 3.1 yards per carry.
Johnson isn’t finding space to run, isn’t making people miss and isn’t breaking off the sort of big plays the team needs from him.
The Titans aren’t even relying on the home run coming. They are just looking for a better batting average.
“We can’t bank on the big run coming, we haven’t had one yet in CJ terms, what that is,” coach Mike Munchak said. “We’re more concerned with the efficient runs.”
“Like I said after the Pittsburgh game or when we were 3-1 we were getting efficient runs on third-and-1, fourth-and-1, plays like that. So you could like with that we were getting 3 yards 4 yards, we didn’t mind that because we were being efficient. We were staying on the field, we were controlling the game, all those things were to our advantage.
"Now the last two weeks that hasn’t happened. We got stopped on third-and-1, we got stopped on fourth-and-1 at the goal line, that’s the part that’s hard to take. We’re not staying on the field, and in turn, we’re not getting to wear the defense down at all. So they’re fresh coming out every time.”
But facing a fresh defense isn’t the biggest problems for the Titans offense.
We keep hitting the same thing, but six games into a season featuring a revamped offensive line, the Titans are hardly winning up front as regularly and as big as they expected when they added free agent left guard Andy Levitre, drafted right guard Chance Warmack in the first round and saw Rob Turner win the starting center job in camp.
In their last three games, the Titans have run for 78, 105 and 66 yards. Take out the quarterback runs and Tennessee has averaged 2.7 yards a carry over those three games.
“We’re working, we’ll say that,” Johnson said when asked about running lanes. “We’re working.”
Even while not running effectively, defenses have not backed off of the Titans.
“They still respect the run game, you’d think they wouldn’t, you think they’d say, ‘Hey, let’s play two-high (safeties) and not have eight guys in the box,’” Munchak said. “But that’s not how it is. So if we put three receivers out there, they stay in their base defense because they figure that’s our lifeline. If we get the running game going, all sorts of doors open. I’d do the same thing personally.”
But if the run game can’t open the doors, the Titans need to be ready, willing and able to bust them down with passes, even if they include a large dose of screens, short stuff and check downs.
A short pass that gets the Titans to second-and-4 or second-and-2 amounts to a run, Munchak said. So how about turning to more of those?
With different guys taking turns missing the defender who winds up making the tackle, they need to at least create enough push where Johnson will have room to run away from that tackler.
Shonn Greene, out since the opener with a knee injury, is better suited for a lot of the interior runs Dowell Loggains has kept calling to no avail. Greene will step up football work Wednesday and has a chance to play. He may be able to help.
Whoever is or isn’t ready to carry the ball, don’t expect the Titans to stray from their commitment to run. It’s what they’re built for, and especially with backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick at the helm, they can’t simply turn into a pass-first team.
Even with Jake Locker in the lineup, Tennessee’s passing game is built around having a real run threat.
They have to fight to challenge defenses that way.
“You have to beat down some of these guys,” Munchak said. “You’re not just going to get a big run. You have to earn it. And we’re not earning it.”
The San Francisco 49ers are set to get some much-needed relief at receiver.
Mario Manningham is expected to start practicing this week. The team will have three weeks to activate Manningham. He has been out all season with a knee injury he suffered last December.
The 49ers badly need more production from their receivers. Their only true passing-game weapons this season have been Anquan Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis. The team also hopes to get standout Michael Crabtree back from a torn Achilles, perhaps as early as Mid-November.
Manningham will get the first chance to help the 49ers. The 2012 free-agent addition had 42 catches for 449 yards in 12 games last season. Especially with Crabtree still out, expect Manningham to be a top option for the 49ers when he returns.
ESPN’s Matt Williamson said he doesn’t think Manningham is a top option, but he will give some life to this receiving crew when he returns.
“He is certainly an upgrade over what the Niners have been using as a No. 3 option in the passing game,” Williamson said. “He has big-play ability and at least some sort of pedigree of NFL success. He sure can’t hurt.”
Titans coach Mike Munchak would like Colin Kaepernick to keep doing exactly what he’s not doing: running.
In five of the 49ers’ six games this season, Kaepernick has rushed for fewer than 23 yards. In his last four games, he’s averaged 15.8 yards, and he’s had 172 yards this season. That’s nine fewer than he had in last season’s division-playoff win against the Packers, which helped inspire an avalanche of how-will-defenses-stop-the-read-option stories in the offseason.
Munchak’s message in advance of the 49ers’ visit on Sunday: Keep it up, Colin.
“I hope he continues not to run against us,” he said on a conference call this morning with the Bay Area media.
That sounded like a one-liner, but Munchak went on to hail San Francisco’s approach with their franchise quarterback.
“I don’t think he should run,” he said. “You don’t want a quarterback running so much. You’re not going to hold up. I don’t care who you are. And so I think it’s smart. The less he runs probably the better … I think when you have Frank Gore you want him running the ball as much as possible”
In his 10 starts last year, Kaepernick averaged 50.2 yards on 6.7 carries and had five touchdowns. In six starts in 2013, he’s averaged 28.7 yards on 5.2 carries with no touchdowns. A key difference? The majority of Kaepernick’s runs this season have been scrambles inspired by pressure as the 49ers have largely shelved the read-option that worked so effectively last year.
Part of their motivation for doing so appears to keep Kaepernick intact. Before the season opener against the Packers, Jim Harbaugh lobbied against a rule that allows defenders to hit quarterbacks after they’ve handed off. Since the summer, Kaepernick has worn a black non-contact practice jersey in practice, despite the understanding that quarterbacks aren’t to be touched in practice.
With Colt McCoy – not Alex Smith — as their backup quarterback, the 49ers appear to have taken pains to make sure they don’t have to turn to their second-stringer.
Again, Munchak approves.
“I think what they do with Colin is exactly how it should be done,” he said.
Munchak knows Kaepernick better than most opposing coaches because the quarterback visited the Titans before the 2011 draft. Tennessee selected Jake Locker, who is not expected to play Sunday because of a hip injury, with the No. 8 overall pick. The 49ers took Kaepernick at No. 36.
Munchak, 53, a Hall-of-Fame guard with the Oilers, was wowed by Kaepernick’s football intellect when they watched film together, his love of the game and his stature.
“(I thought) ‘My gosh, this guy’s a man,’” Munchak said. “Just a good-looking kid that was smart. And like I said, had a passion for the game. That kind of always strikes me with players, the guys that really love what they do. And are excited about the challenge ahead. He was one of those guys. That’s why I wasn’t surprised when I saw him, all of a sudden, he was starting last year and he was making plays.”
While the San Francisco 49ers have played well on both sides of the ball during their most successful stretch of the season, the Tennessee Titans' offense must improve under backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick if they are to end their slide.
The visiting 49ers look for a fourth consecutive victory while trying to hand the Titans a third straight defeat Sunday.
San Francisco (4-2) was outscored 56-10 in consecutive losses to Seattle and Indianapolis last month, but has since held a 101-34 scoring advantage while beating St. Louis, Houston and Arizona. The 49ers have won three in a row during a regular season for the first time since taking the final three of 2011.
"There's good things, there's encouraging things and we'll keep striving to get better," coach Jim Harbaugh said.
San Francisco has averaged 181.7 rushing yards during the winning streak after gaining 215 in its two losses.
Frank Gore has run for 417 yards and averaged 5.7 per carry in the last four games. He had 101 on 25 rushes during a 32-20 win over Arizona on Sunday, the second time in three games he's topped the 100-yard mark.
"You want to open those holes for (Gore) because he runs so hard," guard Mike Iupati said.
Colin Kaepernick has thrown five touchdowns and one interception over the last three contests after throwing four picks and no TDs against the Seahawks and Colts.
Both touchdown passes last Sunday went to tight end Vernon Davis, who made eight catches while matching a career high with 180 yards. Four of Davis' six TDs have come during the winning streak.
"I'm going to give Vernon his chances when I can," said Kaepernick, who engineered an 18-play, 89-yard touchdown drive that covered 9:32 of the second half against the Cardinals. "He makes a lot of great plays."
The 49ers have forced four turnovers in each of the last two games, and have 10 takeaways that they've turned into 54 points over the past three. They forced three through the first three contests.
"They're definitely doing a great job," Harbaugh said. "You looked at (the Arizona) game, the game before, the game before that, really, really outstanding in a lot of areas."
That likely does not bode well for Tennessee (3-3), which did not turn the ball over during a 3-1 start but has committed five in losses to Kansas City and Seattle while Fitzpatrick has started in place of the injured Jake Locker.
"We are our own worst enemy," safety Bernard Pollard said. "We're beating ourselves. We've gone out there we've played really good football. The little things are beating us."
Though Locker appears ready to test the hip he injured during a 38-13 win over the New York Jets on Sept. 29, he likely won't return to game action until November. Locker threw six touchdowns and no picks in 3 1/2 games, but Fitzpatrick has been intercepted four times while throwing one TD in the last two weeks.
"We're putting more pressure on (Fitzpatrick's) shoulders than we need to as an offense," said Titans coach Mike Munchak, whose offense ranks 29th with 302.2 yards per game and has scored two touchdowns with Fitzpatrick as the starter.
Chris Johnson hasn't helped much by rushing 37 times for 71 yards in the last three games after he averaged 85.3 in the first three. Johnson and Fitzpatrick each ran for a team-leading 33 yards in a 20-13 loss at Seattle on Sunday.
Though the Titans have won the last two meetings between these teams - coming in 2009 and '05 - they've been outscored 156-47 during a four-game losing streak to NFC opponents.
San Francisco receiver Mario Manningham is back practicing for the first time since suffering a knee injury during a 42-13 loss at Seattle on Dec. 23. It's uncertain when a return to game action will come for Manningham, who had 42 receptions for 449 yards and one touchdown in 12 games last season.
Injured rookie defensive linemen Tank Carradine and Quinton Dial along with veteran defensive back Eric Wright also made their 2013 practice debuts this week. The timing of their returns is also uncertain.
The San Francisco 49ers will face one of their former offensive weapons Sunday in Tennessee.
All-purpose tight end Delanie Walker left the 49ers for the Tennessee Titans in the offseason as a free agency. He has given the Titans’ offense a similar spark as he did the 49ers. San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh has noticed is not excited about playing against him.
“I’m not happy to see him in a Titans 82 jersey,” Harbaugh said. “He’s really playing well. On a personal level, I miss Delanie. Wish him a long and successful career and have great memories of him when we were teammates. But, I know the competitor he is. I know the player he is. Our challenge, our task in defending him is high.”
In other 49ers’ notes:
• Titans coach Mike Munchak -- a Hall of Fame offensive lineman -- lauded the recent play of the 49ers’ offensive line. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick said his appreciation for his teammates goes beyond the line of scrimmage. “I think my appreciation for them isn’t just for what they do on game day,” Kaepernick said. “They come in every day. They work their butt off. They’re in there lifting early in the morning. Practice, they’re running around making sure they’re putting in work. So, the end result that comes out on game day is because of the hard work they put in.”
• Rookie pass-rusher Corey Lemonier has been playing extensively the past three games with Aldon Smith receiving treatment for substance abuse. Lemonier had his best game Sunday against Arizona when he had a sack for a safety and forced a fumble. He said he is not thinking as much as he was earlier in the season and it is helping his game.
One theme for the Tennessee Titans defensively in the offseason was to get bigger on the defensive line.
Enter end Ropati Pitoitua (6-foot-8, 298 pounds) and tackles Sammie Hill (6-4, 328) and Antonio Johnson (6-3, 328).
The 49ers have a big, strong offensive line where everyone is 300 pounds and the group totals 1,587.
“Most of the time people try to spread us out, make us go small,” Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray said. “San Francisco is going to say, 'We’re going to do what we do best, we’re going to run the football and it’s your job to stop us.' We got these guys in here, Mookie and Ropati and Sammie. It’s like, 'You know what? This is your type of game. Let’s see what we put the investment in.'"
I conveyed that to Hill, who smiled.
He says he’s only around 75 percent with the ankle injury that cost him three games recently, but is hopeful he will get increased snaps.
“We have to show them what they envisioned, give them what they’ve asked of us,” Hill said. “We’re all looking forward to going out against a big run game and trying to stop it and keep them under 100 yards.”
The 49ers left the status of wide receiver Jon Baldwin (illness), defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey (hamstring), defensive tackle Ray McDonald (biceps), cornerback Carlos Rogers (knee) and defensive tackle Justin Smith (shoulder) up in the air by listing them as questionable. Wide receiver Quinton Patton (foot) will miss another game.
The Titans are down a pair of linebackers – Moise Fokou (knee) and Zaviar Gooden (hamstring) — and they will make their decision about a quarterback this weekend after listing Jake Locker (hip, knee) as questionable. Running back Shonn Greene (knee) is also questionable after missing the last five games.