The San Francisco 49ers and Tennessee Titans will meet in an enthralling Thursday night contest. The surging 49ers are one of the hottest teams in all of football, having reigned victorious in five of their last six contests. Their late-season revival has Kyle Shanahan's men firmly entrenched in a wild-card spot in the ever-competitive NFC while still competing for the divisional crown alongside the Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams. The Titans, meanwhile, floundered an opportunity to move into the AFC's top seed due to their Week 15 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. Tennessee turned the ball over an astounding four times in that defeat and will look to take much better care of the football against a 49ers team that has recovered 11 fumbles in 2021.
Don't look now, but the Titans must fend off the surging Indianapolis Colts if they hope to claim their second consecutive AFC South title.
These two intriguing teams only meet once every four years. Both offenses operate in a similar manner from a scheme perspective and should provide entertainment in abundance. We've identified three player-versus-player matchups we’re particularly excited to monitor.
NICK BOSA VS. ANY ACTIVE TITANS LT AND DAVID QUESSENBERRY
One of the most feared pass rushers in the NFL, Nick Bosa enters the contest with an astonishing 14 sacks. Bosa trails just Myles Garrett and T.J. Watt for the league-lead in that category.
Up until a few weeks ago, Bosa had primarily lined up over the opposing left tackle, but first-year defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans has shown a willingness to move Bosa around in hopes of taking advantage of the weaker matchup in recent showings.
Ryans and Bosa will relish their chances to get after Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill on a relatively consistent basis. Tannehill has been sacked an astounding 41 times this season. Tennessee will be without the services of three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan, who is slated to miss this contest with a back injury. Veteran swing tackle Kendall Lamm was set to start in his place, but will miss this game due to COVID.
Starting right tackle David Quessenberry has also been poor in pass protection, earning a middling grade of 62.2 in pass pro while giving up a league-high 11 sacks, via Pro Football Focus.
Tennessee's offensive line as a whole has struggled to protect their quarterback. Starting left guard Rodger Saffold was placed on the team’s COVID-Reserve List and will be replaced by Aaron Brewer. This is very much a makeshift offensive line for Tennessee. Bosa will enjoy his chances to pin his ears back and impact the pocket on Thursday.
JOSH NORMAN VS. JULIO JONES AND A.J. BROWN
San Francisco's secondary is banged up. Emmanuel Moseley serves as their best outside cornerback but finds himself on injured reserve due to a high-ankle sprain. K'Waun Williams is currently their most talented cornerback that's healthy but is exclusively a slot corner that will look to eliminate slot receiver Chester Rogers from Tennessee's offensive game plan. That leaves veteran cornerback Josh Norman as San Francisco's No. 1 cornerback on the boundary.
The 34-year-old Norman will see a healthy dose of both Julio Jones and A.J. Brown on Thursday. Brown makes his triumphant return to the field after missing Tennessee's last three games with a chest injury. Tennessee hasn’t had much luck in the injury department this season, but getting Brown back represents a huge victory for a struggling offense. Brown’s route running ability and shiftiness in the open field makes for an incredibly difficult matchup for Norman, who will likely struggle to keep up his quick transitions and overall physicality in the open field and as a route runner.
Norman will also see a healthy dose of Jones, who returned to the field a weekend ago after a lengthy spell on the sidelines due to a recurring hamstring injury. Jones actually exited the loss against Pittsburgh but practiced in full on Wednesday, and will surprisingly suit up on Thursday barring an unexpected setback. Offensive coordinator Todd Downing previously eased Jones back into the lineup in a straightforward victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Jones secured just four of six targets for 33 receiving yards.
Norman and Jones were once upon a time considered the best players in the league at their respective positions. Watching these two square off in the twilight years of their careers should be a ton of fun.
HAROLD LANDRY AND BUD DUPREE VS. TOM COMPTON AND TRENT WILLIAMS
Bonus! We couldn't decide between these two intriguing matchups and ultimately decided to showcase both of them.
San Francisco's right tackle Tom Compton has done an admirable job replacing Mike McGlinchey, who was unfortunately lost for the season due to a torn quadriceps injury. Compton is a plus athlete as a run blocker, but has struggled as a pass protector and will have his hands full in that department against a fierce Titans defensive line. Tennessee's premier edge rusher, Harold Landry, almost exclusively rushes over the opposing right tackle. Landry is enjoying a breakout campaign, having already recorded a career-high 11 sacks. His consistent form should land him a massive payday this coming offseason. The advantage goes to Landry here.
Landry's running mate, Bud Dupree, returned to the field a week ago from an abdomen injury and recurring knee pain. Dupree played an impressive game against his former team the Pittsburgh Steelers, having recorded a sack on an impressive first-down rush. Dupree will now look to carry that momentum over with him to a tough matchup against San Francisco's left tackle Trent Williams.
An eight-time Pro Bowler, Williams is one of the best blindside protectors in the league. Dupree versus Williams is a must-watch, heavyweight showdown.