The Broncos schedule will ensure that this young team is battle tested in 2020, starting out the gate. Last season the defense shut out the Titans in week 6 and helped push Marcus Mariota to the bench for Ryan Tannehill. It took him a week of practice to get ready and right, but he helped lead the Titans to the AFC Championship game.
To get some inside intel on the Titans before Monday night I reached out to TreJean Watkins, who covers the Tennessee for Black Sports Online and Titans Brawl.
1st and 10
The Titans surprised people by making a run to the doorstep of the Super Bowl last year. What have they done since then to make that next step this year?
Watkins: The thing is, there hasn’t been much change surrounding the Tennessee Titans this off-season. Jon Robinson tried his absolute best to keep the main core together from last season, and he succeeded for the most part. But if there was one big change that I’d be having my eye on for the entire season, it’s the unknown regarding the defensive play calling situation. Dean Pees retired this off-season, and Mike Vrabel hasn’t really given a concrete answer as to who will be the defensive play caller this season.
Now if I had to take a guess, I’d probably say Mike Vrabel will be the one leading the defense this season. It’s his system, he now has a couple of guys on the roster who have played in it before, it just makes a lot of sense. Even if Vrabel decides to balk at the idea of calling plays, he has OLB’s coach Shane Bowen and ILB’s coach Jim Haslett available at his disposal. Bowen has been with the team for 3 years now, and has really left a mark among his coaching peers and his players as well. He’s been presumably called Vrabel’s right hand man, and probably has a better chance to be involved with the play calling in some shape or form. Haslett is the more experienced of the two, and has some previous defensive coordinator experience to his name.
Either way, I think Vrabel is in good hands with whatever decision he makes or has made already, and it should be interesting to see how this defense responds.
One of the most underrated losses the Titans suffered this offseason is the retirement of Dean Pees. That's going to hurt.— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) May 15, 2020
2nd and 3
Looking at the Titans’ depth chart and Kristian Fulton and Johnathan Joseph are backup corners. What do you expect Vrabel to do for his nickel spot?
Watkins: I think the sense around the entire ordeal is that Fulton will get the start there. He’s missed some practice time recently, but I don’t think that’ll bump him from that starting role. Fulton played nickel quite a bit during his early days at LSU, and should be just fine there. He has some nice size and really quick feet, so he shouldn’t run into too much trouble against some of the speedy slot wide receivers the Titans will face off against this year.
Joseph will play, but not as a starting nickel in my opinion. He’s a little too slow to keep up with the speed the NFL possesses these days, so it’s best to keep him in his new CB4 role.
3rd and 7
With Jack Conklin now a member of the Cleveland Browns, who do you expect to play at right tackle? How do you feel they’ll do against Von Miller?
Watkins: Isaiah Wilson and Dennis Kelly were expected to go through a “competition” to determine the starter at right tackle, but there wasn’t really a competition to begin with. Wilson is powerful and has some good feet, but he’s way too inconsistent in pass protection, and his technique needs some polishing as well. That leaves Dennis Kelly as the starter, who’s played his best football at right tackle, when he’s been asked to step in as a starter.
When Conklin was still recovering from a serious knee injury at the start of the 2018 season, Kelly was inserted in at right tackle and played pretty well. Before the unfortunate news about Von Miller, it was looking like he would have a juicy matchup against Kelly. Kelly has some issues when it comes to neutralizing speed rushers due to some inconsistencies with his footwork, which would’ve meant we would’ve seen a lot of extra help getting over to Kelly’s side.
Whether it would’ve been in the form of an extra tight end staying in to block, or an abnormal amount of chipping action, the Titans would’ve done everything they could’ve to avoid a healthy amount of Kelly/Miller 1v1’s.
However, with Miller unfortunately now out, Kelly and the Titans offense as a whole can breathe a bit easier. It kind of sucks to say that, since I’m a really big fan of watching Von Miller.
His game is mesmerizing, and you can never get tired of watching his old reps. Not only that, he’s just a really fun person to watch on the field. Injuries happen, but they always sting a little more when they happen to the great stars of this beautiful game.
4th and 2
Where do you like the Titans’ matchups most going into the opener? Where are you most concerned?
Watkins: There’s 2 matchups I think the Titans can exploit, and they’re both on the defensive side of the ball.
For starters, if the Titans want to get off to a good start with their pass rush, then the 2 projected starting Broncos tackles should be good testing subjects. Garrett Bolles and Eliah Wilkinson aren’t the best of options to handle two good pass rushers in Harold Landry and Jadeveon Clowney, especially when the Titans’s inside pass rush has the potential to make some noise as well. It won’t just be Landry and Clowney either, Vic Beasley should also provide some production off the edge, though that’s if he can get on the field come week 1. To put in shorter terms, I’d be shocked if the Titans can’t get a consistent amount of pressure on Drew Lock.
The 2nd and final matchup I’d feel good about if I were the Titans, is the secondary against that talented group of young Broncos wide receivers. Malcom Butler is back with a clean bill of health, and he should be lined up against Courtland Sutton if he plays. Adoree Jackson is projected to be lined against Jerry Jeudy, which will be a fun matchup between 2 guys who can abuse the afterburners if you’re not careful. Even the all rookie battle between Kristian Fulton’s and KJ Hamler should be entertaining battle to watch.
I can’t forget about Kevin Byard, and what he brings to the table. I’d expect him to match up against Noah Fant for most of the game, since the Titans have manned Byard up against opposing team’s tight ends for the past couple of seasons, as opposed to having him strictly reside to centerfield and some box safety duties.
What I’m most concerned about though, is the Titans’s right side of their offensive line. Nate Davis started at right guard as a rookie for the majority of 2019, but he ran into some speed bumps along the way, particularly when it came to consistency in pass protection. He’ll have a big test week one, when he’ll be tasked with keeping former Titan Jurrell Casey in check. Along with Davis, Dennis Kelly’s performance will be something to watch as well. I mentioned the flaws Kelly has, and the consequences that come from them. Von Miller will have a favorable matchup all night long, which should spark some concern within that Titans squad.
With the addition of Jadeveon Clowney, the #Titans shouldn’t be mentioned among other fringe AFC playoff teams.— TreJean Watkins (@TreWatkins099) September 6, 2020
They should be mentioned as one of the top contenders in the AFC.
READ HERE: https://t.co/lqXYBKsUsj pic.twitter.com/0oqULp2ReL
What’s your prediction for the game?
The hype has been building for the Titans, especially since they landed Jadeveon Clowney. But this game won’t be an easy one, and it won’t be just because of the rapidly improving team they’ll be facing off against. The Broncos have a staggering record of 49-6 at home during the first 2 weeks of the season since 1975. That’s absolutely insane, and it should show you how difficult it is to play in that Mile High air early on in the season.
Despite those numbers, I’ll roll with the Titans. If they want to be seen as a top AFC contender, winning games like these early on in the year will help their case.
Who you got Monday night?
This poll is closed
Broncos by a lot.
Titans by a lot.
Broncos by a little.
Titans by a little.