Two teams going in opposite directions collide Sunday when the Atlanta Falcons invade Nashville to take on the Tennessee Titans.
Desmond Ridder had three red zone fumbles in a thrilling 16-13 road win over Tampa Bay last Sunday, but Atlanta (4-3) has won two of its last three games and is sitting atop the NFC South.
Meanwhile, the Titans (2-4) are coming off a bye week after losses to the Indianapolis Colts and Baltimore Ravens, and they’ll be without No. 1 quarterback Ryan Tannehill (ankle).
Despite six turnovers in the past two weeks, Ridder’s performance as a passer has been steadily progressing. The last two games, the second-year quarterback has completed 47 of 72 passes (65.3 percent) for 557 yards and two touchdowns while adding 56 yards and a score on the ground.
He also proved his resilience last week shortly after Tampa Bay tied the game at 13-13 with 45 seconds left by orchestrating a five-play, 42-yard drive, which resulted in Younghoe Koo drilling the 51-yard, game-winning field goal as time expired.
Head coach Arthur Smith liked what he saw from Ridder in the pocket, but he continues to harp on getting rid of the mistakes.
“It’s stuff we have to clean up,” Smith said. “But I thought the decision-making in the pocket was pretty good.”
Rookie running back Bijan Robinson played sparingly a week ago (illness), but he is expected to be back in the lineup against the Titans. Tyler Allgeier and Cordarrelle Patterson picked up the slack and rushed a combined 31 times for 115 yards. Allgeier added three receptions for 53 yards.
Atlanta’s defense will likely need to come up big again, squaring off against a Tennessee rushing attack led by Derrick Henry. The Falcons rank eighth in the NFL in run defense (95.3 yards per game), third in total defense (285.4 yards per game) and ninth in scoring defense (19.0 points per game).
Tannehill (high ankle sprain) did not practice all week after injuring his ankle before the bye week during Tennessee’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens in London. Titans head coach Mike Vrabel said Malik Willis and rookie Will Levis will each see time behind center with Tannehill out.
“I’m just treating it like any other week,” Levis said. “Vrabel preaches that we prepare as starters every week, regardless of what position or opportunity we have. If my name gets called, I’ll be ready to go.”
Levis, a 2023 second-round draft pick, has yet to throw a regular-season pass as a pro, so it will be vital for Henry to get going in the running game. Henry has 98 carries for 425 yards (4.3 yards per carry) and three touchdowns through six games. He also has 11 receptions for 117 yards.
Rookie Tyjae Spears has been a nice change-of-pace back to complement Henry. He has 171 yards and a score on 31 carries and has snagged 15 passes for 111 yards.
Big offseason acquisition DeAndre Hopkins leads the Titans in receptions (27) and yards (376) but has yet to find the end zone.
The Titans also ruled cornerback Roger McCreary (hamstring) and tight end Josh Whyle (concussion) out. Defensive lineman Naquan Jones (illness) is questionable.
The Falcons ruled out linebacker Tae Davis (concussion). Linebacker Bud Dupree (groin) appeared on the injury report Friday as a limited participant and was deemed questionable for the game.