San Francisco 49ers (8-6, 7-7 ATS) at Tennessee Titans (9-5, 8-6), 8:20 p.m., TNF
Brolley’s 49ers Stats and Trends
San Francisco’s offense is firing on all cylinders over the last six games, averaging 29.2 points per game in that span, which has resulted in a 5-1 ATS run.
The 49ers are 4-1 toward unders in their last five games against teams with a winning record.
Jimmy Garoppolo has thrown for two TDs in five of his last seven games since George Kittle returned to the lineup, but it didn’t happen in Week 15. He completed 18/23 passes for 235 yards (10.2 YPA) and one TD in an 18-point victory over the Falcons. Jimmy G has attempted more than 30+ passes twice in nine games since San Francisco’s Week 6 bye. The Titans are giving up the sixth-most FPG (19.7) to QBs this season, but they’ve limited Ben Roethlisberger and Trevor Lawrence to a combined 17.0 FP in the last two weeks.
George Kittle has been a major reason for their offensive surge since he returned to the lineup in Week 9, averaging 6.3/89.0 receiving per game with six TDs to rank as the TE1 with 20.3 FPG. He’s topped 90+ receiving yards and 15+ FP in three straight games. The Titans haven’t given up double-digit FP to a TE since Tyler Higbee did it in Week 9.
HC Kyle Shanahan figured out how to get Deebo Samuel involved both as a runner and as receiver for the first time since Week 10. He finished with 4/60 receiving on five targets and 6/29/1 rushing, which snapped his three-game run with just one catch. He’s now scored rushing TDs in five straight games with six scores total in that span. The Titans are giving up the second-most FPG (42.9) to WRs this season.
Brandon Aiyuk flopped last week with Deebo once again getting involved as a receiver, managing just one 36-yard catch on two targets against the Falcons. His one-catch performance snapped a four-game run with 55+ receiving yards in Weeks 11-14. The Titans are giving up league-highs in catches (15.4) and receiving yards (197.6) per game to WRs this season.
Jeff Wilson is potentially looking at another start this week with Elijah Mitchell still dealing with his knee injury. GM John Lynch said Tuesday that Mitchell’s recovery has “taken a positive turn,” and he’ll be a game-time decision on Thursday night. He’s been the top back in San Francisco ever since Raheem Mostert went down for the year in Week 1. If he can’t play, Wilson is rounding into form as the starter the last two weeks after a slow start off of his knee surgery from the summer. He’s posted 34/166/1 rushing (4.9 YPC) and 2/9 receiving in Weeks 14-15, and he saw by far a season-high 88% snap share last week. The Titans suffocated Najee Harris (14/26 scrimmage) last week and they’re giving up the second-fewest rushing yards per game (68.9) and just 3.9 YPC.
Brolley’s Titans Stats and Trends
The Titans are 1-4 ATS in their last five games.
Tennessee is 4-2 toward unders since Derrick Henry left the lineup
The Titans have lost the turnover battle by four takeaways or more in three of their last five games. The Titans outgained the Steelers by 166 yards on the ground last week (201 to 35) and they ran 33 more plays (78 to 45), but they lost the turnover margin 4-to-0 in the loss.
D’Onta Foreman had his foot rolled up on Tennessee’s final drive in their loss to the Steelers in Week 15. Foreman returned to action after missing a few plays, but the Titans have a quick turnaround to play the 49ers on Thursday Night Football. Foreman has strung together three straight games with 11+ FP and 13+ carries after posting 22/108 rushing and 2/27 receiving on three targets on just 39% of the snaps last week. He saw an opportunity on a ridiculous 80.7% of his snaps (25 of 31) against the Steelers, and that kind of usage would make Derrick Henry blush. King Henry saw an opportunity on 58.2% of his snaps (239 of 411) through eight games, and this offense will continue to run through the backfield, no matter who is back there, with Tennessee’s receiving corps decimated by injuries. Dontrell Hilliard would be the next man up as the team’s top runner with Jeremy McNichols also mixing in primarily in passing situations. San Francisco just limited Cordarrelle Patterson and Mike Davis to 17/39 rushing last week, and they’re giving up 3.9 YPC to RBs this season.
A.J. Brown was designated to return from the injured reserve this week off of a chest injury he initially suffered back in Week 11. HC Mike Vrabel said Monday that no decision has been made about Brown’s availability for Tennessee’s Thursday night game, but Brown hinted during Tennessee’s Week 15 loss that he’s tired of watching from the sidelines. The Titans could certainly use him with Julio Jones unable to stay healthy after he aggravated his hamstring injury last week Brown did get an extra week of rest since Tennessee’s bye fell during his IR stint in Week 13, so there’s a chance he could return for this pivotal TNF contest. Brown failed to hit double-digit FP in his last three games in Weeks 9-11 after looking poised for a WR1 run with a combined 18/288/2 receiving in Weeks 7-8.
Nick Westbrook-Ikhine would be the default #1 WR if both Brown and Julio are unable to play. The Titans could also finally promote Golden Tate from their practice squad too as they’ve been ramping him up to game speed, but he hasn’t played since last season with the Giants. Westbrook-Ikhine hasn’t cracked 35+ receiving yards in eight of his last nine games in which he’s seen a target.
Ryan Tannehill’s play has disintegrated without Brown in the lineup. Tannehill is averaging 5.6 YPA and 190.0 passing yards per game with two TDs and six INTs in four games since Brown left early in Week 11. He needed 32 attempts to reach 153 yards (4.8 YPA) against the Steelers last week, and the only thing saving him at this point is his six rushing TDs in the last nine games. The 49ers had allowed two TD passes in three straight games before holding Matt Ryan to 236/1 passing last week.
Barfield’s Pace and Tendencies
Pace (seconds in between plays): 30.7 (29th)
Plays per game: 61.0 (23rd)
Pass: 52.3% (29th) | Run: 47.7% (4th)
Pace: 28.9 (21st)
Plays per game: 67.1 (4th)
Pass: 54.7% (27th) | Run: 45.3% (6th)
All pace / play data is from the last eight weeks.
Despite playing slow (29th in pace) and not generating a ton of volume (23rd in plays per game), the 49ers are absolutely rolling offensively. Over the last eight weeks, San Francisco has put up over 30 points in 5-of-8 games and generated over 330 yards of total offense in every outing. After a sluggish start, their offensive resurgence has paved the way to the playoffs. With another win, the 49ers are basically a lock to make the playoffs as a Wild Card.
On the flipside, the Titans are trending in the opposite direction. This offense is averaging a pitiful -0.13 EPA per play in their six games without Derrick Henry – which would be 31st over the full season ahead of only the Lions (-0.14). Of course, those splits without Henry also coincide with AJ Brown’s absence since Week 11 and it sure sounds like the Titans are going to get him back here. Brown’s return certainly helps Ryan Tannehill who has been operating with replacement-level weapons over the Titans 1-3 slide.
Still, this game is fairly light on scoring upside between these two slow-paced, run-first offenses. Despite losing Henry, the Titans have remained extremely run-heavy and are actually tied with the 49ers as the fifth-most run-heavy team in neutral situations (game within a score in the 1st-3rd quarter) over the last eight weeks.
Huber’s Key Matchup Notes
Some may not remember that D’Onta Foreman ran for 2,016 yards and scored 15 TDs for the Texas Longhorns in 2017. He eclipsed 100 rushing yards in all 11 games, posted over 150 in seven, 200-plus in three, and erupted for 340 yards against Texas Tech. Houston selected Foreman in the third round, viewing him as the long-term replacement for Lamar Miller. And Foreman did not disappoint. Quickly chipping away at Miller’s hold of the backfield, D’Onta ran for a 10/65/2 line against the Cardinals in Week 11 that season. But he ruptured his Achilles while collecting that second TD. Two years later, the Texans released him.
Prior to the recent run with the Titans that’s seen him average 103 total yards over the last three games, Foreman had signed a total of five contracts, reverted to a practice squad four times, and dealt with being waived on four occasions. After dealing with that adversity, even when Derrick Henry returns from IR, Foreman has earned a role in this offense. The bruising playstyle he displayed with the Longhorns has returned. His 3.07 yards after contact average is only slightly below King Henry’s elite mark (3.23). Only 2.6% of his carries have resulted in negative-or-zero yardage (second-lowest rate). And his 2.84 YPRR would also rank as the second-most among RBs, if qualified. Even after stuffing the Atlanta run game last week (62 yards), the 49ers have permitted the 11th-most FPG (23.1), second-most red zone touches/game (6.75), and the most goal-to-go carries (3.25) to RBs over the last four weeks.
Meanwhile, 49er WR Brandon Aiyuk will work across from Tennessee’s top cover corner, Kristian Fulton, on over half of his reps. Hard fade.
Dolan’s Vantage Points
As has been the case with many games the last few weeks, availability will be a huge factor for both teams in this one.
Let’s start with the 49ers.
With Jeff Wilson having his best game of the 2021 season last week against the Falcons, the 49ers did not need likely to rush Elijah Mitchell back into the fold. The Titans are a middle-of-the-pack run defense, though adding LB Zach Cunningham to the fold has given them an extra playmaker on the second level.
The 49ers have ruled out RB Elijah Mitchell for tomorrow’s game vs. Titans.— Cameron Wolfe (@CameronWolfe) December 22, 2021
Mitchell has made positive progress but not enough to turn around and play in short week.
Jeff Wilson and Deebo Samuel for 49ers backfield vs. Titans No.2 ranked run D
Beyond George Kittle being an obvious starter and Brandon Aiyuk being in the WR2 conversation, Deebo Samuel is a guy whose usage is so delicate but his production has made him impossible to sit. After three straight games with just 1 catch, Deebo got 5 targets and turned in 4/60 receiving along with 6/29/1 on the ground in the 49ers easy win over the Falcons last week. This marked Deebo’s fifth-straight game with 5 or more carries and he has 8, 6, and 8 carries in the three games that Mitchell has missed recently.
It goes without saying, but with Mitchell out again, Deebo should have a significant role in the backfield. Let’s just hope he continues to get targets.
Availability concerns abound in Tennessee, as well. The Titans could be getting WR AJ Brown (chest) back from IR, and not a moment too soon because Julio Jones’ (hamstring) body has betrayed him again.
Mike Vrabel says today this week for the guys who could be coming off IR, they may have to manufacture things in practice to test speed/etc. since practice time will be limited.#Titans.— Chris Harris (@ChrisHarrisWSMV) December 21, 2021
Adds that AJ Brown HS been working with strength staff etc. to do all he can. pic.twitter.com/wbHqCt53GA
If Brown can go, he’s an obvious WR3 start, though some might be looking at his inconsistency from early in the season as a warning sign. The 49ers have FootballOutsiders’ #20 pass defense by DVOA, and Ryan Tannehill desperately needs his #1 WR back. The fact that Julio is going to play this week after tweaking the injury on Sunday — a short week no less — seems insane to me, and I don’t trust him at all. But it does make Tannehill more appealing.
Quick Hits 💥 on the @Titans from Wednesday.— Jim Wyatt (@jwyattsports) December 22, 2021
Four #Titans ruled OUT vs @49ers, including @Rodger_Saffold and @TaylorLewan77.
But it looks like Julio is good to go...
READ https://t.co/E2zhLTi6t4 pic.twitter.com/mbe7TOpJp3
In the backfield, D’Onta Foreman has cleared 100 yards in two of his last three games, but he did pick up a foot injury late against Pittsburgh (he played through it). I’d be starting him as an RB2 if he goes — I expect him to — but Dontrell Hilliard is the handcuff if you need one. Just keep in mind the Titans are down LT Taylor Lewan and LG Rodger Saffold.
Meanwhile, it does appear Derrick Henry is trying to get back in time for the playoffs.
Vrabel says Derrick Henry is “still just rehabbing”.— Chris Harris (@ChrisHarrisWSMV) December 21, 2021
“Optimistic” about guys who are able to come off IR this week, i.e. AJ Brown