NASHVILLE -- The Titans face the Browns on Sunday in the season opener at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Here’s a look at six things to watch:
The Titans quarterback has beefed up, adding 10-12 pounds to his 6-foot-4 frame. And the Titans have beefed up things around him, adding a pair of receivers – Adam Humphries and A.J. Brown – while also rebuilding the team's offensive line. Now, the expectation is Mariota will take his game to another level. A year ago, Mariota’s season started in nightmarish fashion in Miami, where he suffered a nerve injury that lingered all season. In the 2019 season opener, the Titans hope Mariota can change the conversation while working for the first time under new offensive coordinator Arthur Smith, who probably deserves his own category in here instead of just this mention. But there's so much to watch on Sunday, so let's keep this rolling.
Henry is tired of talking about his well-documented ending to the 2018 season – he stiff-armed reporters who took the subject there this week. Well, the page officially turns to 2019 on Sunday in Cleveland, where Henry will at least look to pick up where he left off last season. Henry struggled at the start of the 2018 season, and it took him a while to build momentum during what turned out to be a 1,059-yard, 12-touchdown season that ended with a December to remember. The Titans need Henry to be good from the get-go against a Cleveland defense that will surely focus on slowing him down.
Offensive Line vs Cleveland's Front Four
Left tackle Taylor Lewan’s suspension caused the Titans to reshuffle their entire offensive line, and they’ll be put to the test right out of the gate against Cleveland’s formidable front four, led by defensive ends Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon. Inside, the Browns are beefy, with defensive tackles Larry Ogunjobi and Sheldon Richardson. Dennis Kelly is on the spot at left tackle, but across the board the Titans are going to need to hold up here, from the interior all the way to right tackle, where Jack Conklin will aim to prove he’s back at the top of his game. How the Titans fare here will go a long way in determining how this one goes.
The week got off on the wrong foot when the Titans placed kicker Ryan Succop on Injured Reserve, and now Brazilian-born kicker Cairo Santos steps into the spotlight for the Titans. Santos has proven to be accurate in his NFL career (83.2 % on field goals, including 87.2 % on kicks inside 50 yards), so the moment shouldn’t be too big for the 5-foot-8, 160 pounder. What’s maybe even more worth watching is how Cleveland’s young specialists handle the pressure on Sunday – kicker Austin Seibert and punter Jamie Gillan, a pair of rookies, will be making their NFL debuts with a lot of eyes on them.
Titans Defense vs the Household Names
By Thursday, I got the sense members of the Titans secondary were already getting tired of answering questions about Browns receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. Defenders also played along with the questions about Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, and the bounce in his step. But on Sunday, it’s a defensive unit that will be faced with slowing down an offense with a lot of high-profile weapons, and a team that ended last season with a lot of momentum. Safety Kevin Byard returns to the scene of his three-interception game in 2017, but it will take a total defensive effort in this one. And one of the biggest keys really might be stopping Browns running back Nick Chubb.
The Hype -- and the Dawg Pound
CBS’ top crew – Jim Nantz, Tony Romo and Tracy Wolfson – will be on the call for this Week One matchup, and let’s face it: they’re in Cleveland because of all the hype surrounding the Browns, not the Titans. Heading into the 2019 season, arguably no team has generated as much buzz as the Browns. Titans coach Mike Vrabel said he expects a raucous atmosphere at FirstEnergy Stadium, where fans will likely be well hydrated and boisterous at kickoff. The Titans sound like they’re eager to embrace the challenge, and the environment they’ll be faced with on Sunday. How well the Titans – and Browns – handle the noise and the pressure will go a long way in determining the Week One winner.
The Tennessee Titans travel to Cleveland to take on the Browns in Sunday's season opener at First Energy Stadium. (Photos: Donald Page)
TitansOnline.com looks back at the all-time series against the Cleveland Browns. (Photos, Donn Jones, AP)