One matchup shouldn't solely determine the outcome of a game but there's one that concerns me a little this week. I'm a little concerned about the Ratbirds' behemoth nose tackle, Haloti Ngata, vs either Kevin Mawae or Leroy Harris. If Mawae plays, he may be limited and/or hindered by his elbow. I'm sure he's not going to sit out just because it's painful; he's too tough a guy to let a little pain keep him out. If he misses the game, it will be either because o-line coach Mike Munchak feels the elbow will limit his effectiveness, or Doc Elrod will keep him out if he's concerned Mawae might do more damage to the elbow. From what I've heard, the former seems to be the more likely scenario.
But we'll get either Mawae at less than 100% or we'll get the inexperienced Harris against the huge man that lets Ray-Ray and Bart Scott run clean to make tackles. One thing I do like about Harris is that he's stronger and more physical than Mawae, which will help against the 350+ pound Ngata. I also liked the way he played against Casey Hampton, when Mawae was injured in the Squealers game. After Jamal Williams and Kris Jenkins, I consider Hampton and Ngata to be the best 3-4 nose tackles in the league. But then after doing a good job blocking Hampton, he didn't do anything against the Colts.
Of course Ngata will do a lot more than just lining up over the center's nose. With all of the different looks the Ratbirds give you out of their 3-4, he'll also be across from Eugene Amano and Jake Scott at times, as well as in the gaps. I'm more worried here about Amano than Scott.
Ray-Ray has always flourished when he's had the big guys up in front of him who have allowed him to make plays. Ray-Ray isn't nearly as good when he has to take on a blocker and try to shed him. The Ratbirds have gone back and forth between a 4-3 defense and 3-4 over the last six or eight years, but one constant has been the big space-eaters up in front. Whether it was Siragusa and Adams back in the day or Gregg or Ngata since then, Ray-Ray has always had a big guy protecting him. I'd kind of enjoy seeing the Dinger and Munch target him on a few plays, just to let David Stewart get a couple of shots to pancake him.
Looking at a few other matchups, it will be good to get Albert and KVB back. It's also an encouraging sign that when the two of them went down in the first Ratbird game this year, we had reserves Jason Jones, Dave Ball and Jacob Ford step in and do a good job.
It's also encouraging that the Titans must feel pretty confident in Big Al's health, since they released Amon Gordon to reinstate Kevin Vickerson. If there had been more concern about Albert, they could have kept Gordon as an insurance policy and released one of their non-contributing receivers instead.