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By BLAKE BEDDINGFIELD, special correspondent

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A true evaluation of Ryan Tannehill as a franchise quarterback begins this week.

With an ailing Derrick Henry, the offense will run through the quarterback and the other offensive weapons. WRs A.J. Brown, Corey Davis and TE Jonnu Smith will need to have big games to keep up with the Saints' scoring.

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Tannehill has played well since taking over as the starter, but he has had the benefit of an outstanding run game and the play-action that is a result of the success of running the ball.

The Saints' defense has a playmaker at each level.

DE Cameron Jordan is a veteran pass rusher that has 13.5 sacks on the season.

LB Demario Davis is a true three-down linebacker who can play the run in the box and laterally to the sideline with speed and is very good in coverage.

CB Marshon Lattimore is a man-to-man cover corner that matches with speed and size. Lattimore can mirror routes and has the ball skills to make plays on the ball in the air.Winners300

The defense does have holes. CB Eli Apple is a physically talented corner but lacks instincts for the position. He is very handsy and is suspectable to penalties against physical wide receivers. The Saints interior defensive line lacks pass rush and is adequate versus the run.

This will be the first time since Tannehill took over the offense that Henry will be a second offensive option.

Without a healthy Henry, the Saints can relax their run defense and focus on rushing the passer and in coverage. Henry can still have an impact but doesn’t look physically capable of the long runs he had throughout this season.

The Saints offense may be without Pro-Bowl right guard Larry Warford. If Warford misses the game because of a knee injury he suffered last week against the Colts, that creates an opportunity for the Titans’ interior defensive line. [Update: Warford is OUT.] Left guard Andrus Peat was injured in week 10 with a broken forearm and hasn’t played since. But he did practice this week and is questionable.

Future Hall of Fame QB Drew Brees has a quick release and is extremely accurate. He lacks the size to look over big lines, but he is a master at creating passing lanes for himself. If he has one flaw it’s he takes deep drops at times and continues to float backward allowing his receivers extra time to open up downfield, this will allow deep outside rushers to get to him if there is also pressure in the middle of the defense.

Brees has the ability to spread the ball around but he wants to focus his throws to his playmakers. His favorite receiver is Michael Thomas, who is one of the best route-runners in the NFL. His physical talent is good but he wins with his routes, competitiveness and handBeddingfieldLabels. 

When Thomas came out of Ohio State he was known as the hardest-working player of the Urban Meyer era. He was a tireless worker on his craft, extremely confident in his abilities and has no fear when going for balls downfield or in the middle of the defense.

Former Titan Jared Cook has developed just like we thought he would when he was drafted in the third round in 2009 draft. Cook has outstanding size and length. He has the speed to stretch the field vertically but is at his best on crossing and corner routes.

RB Alvin Kamara is a dual running and receiving threat. He is at his best in the open field where he can use his speed and vision to make defenders miss in space and run through arm tackles.

Key Matchups

Cameron Jordan vs. Jack Conklin

Jordan has a variety of pass-rush moves, he is excellent with his hand use and has the size and power to turn a power rush into a speed. He will align on both sides of the formation and also inside at the DT position. Jordan is solid against the run but doesn’t give the same type of effort against the run as he does the pass.

Marshon Lattimore vs. A.J. Brown

Lattimore is a true man-to-man corner that can match and mirror speed receivers and also has the strength and size to press against more physical type route runners.CDavisTexans

Eli Apple vs. Corey Davis

Apple is physically talented but extremely inconsistent and a frustrating player. If the Titans can get Brown against Apple, this could be a win for Tennessee. Davis has the size and strength to give Apple trouble, but Davis is inconsistent with his route running and overall effectiveness.

Harold Landry vs. Terron Armstead

Armstead has size, length and athletic ability to handle speed rushers on the outside and power rush games on the inside. Armstead makes it look easy athletically but is capable of lazy pass sets at times and will give up a rush and pressure when he takes a play off. This is when Landry must win.

Michael Thomas vs. Titans’ corners

Thomas is a relentless route runner with a good combination of size, strength and solid speed for the position. If the Titans want to stop Thomas and take away the unquestioned No. 1 option for Brees, they will need to bracket or double him throughout the game and force Brees to find another playmaker.

Brees and Thomas have turned out to be a dynamic duo very similar to San Francisco 49ers Joe Montana/Jerry Rice, Dallas Cowboys Troy Aikman/Michael Irvin, Buffalo Bills Jim Kelly/Andre Reed.apple icon 144x144 precomposed

The Saints have four key players from The Ohio State University: Lattimore, Apple, Von Bell (who is out with a knee injury) and Thomas. Titans defensive back coach Kerry Combs, who came from Ohio State in 2018, should have a good feel for their strengths and weakness and how to attack each.

The Titans will need to force the issue on defense and not allow the Saints to dictate the tempo and focus on offense. This is a game that can get out of hand early. The Titans will need to match the scoring of the Saints and find other ways to score and steal offensive possessions.

I expect Mike Vrabel to unleash his favorite plays …the trick plays!

If you want to be considered a top team you have to beat top teams, especially at home.

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Blake Beddingfield was a Titans' scout for 19 years, through the 2017 draft. He was the team's director of college scouting for his final six years. Follow him on Twitter at @BlakeBeddingfi1. He’s brought to you by Winners Bar & Grill, a place where you should definitely have a beer, drink a Kickin'It Cooler and watch a game.

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