NASHVILLE -- The Titans face the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night at Nissan Stadium.
Here’s a look at six things to watch (plus a bonus item):
The headline coming out of last year’s third preseason game read like this: ‘Titans, QB Marcus Mariota fail to get in sync vs. Steelers.’ The Titans – and Mariota – don’t want history to repeat itself on Sunday night. The first-team offense ended last week with some momentum, as Mariota guided a 10-play, 87-yard drive that produced a score vs. the Patriots. In what’s likely their last work of the preseason, Mariota and the offense would like to head into the regular season with momentum. That wasn’t the case a year ago, when four drives produced zero points, and too many mistakes. Look for the first-team offense to play roughly 4-5 series, or at least into the second quarter.
A.J. Brown, Adam Humphries
A.J. Brown, the team’s second-round pick, got his feet wet last week in his NFL debut, although he didn’t have a catch while playing 15 snaps. Brown saw his workload increase in practices this week, and he looked good after missing so much time earlier in camp. Brown should get more opportunities against the Steelers, and he'll aim to make his first NFL catch. Also, veteran receiver Adam Humphries will have a chance to build further chemistry with Mariota after sitting out last week.
The Running Backs
Derrick Henry returned to practice this week, but will he play against the Steelers? Consider me skeptical, as I’m thinking the team won’t risk rushing him back. If Henry is in fact a no-go, then backs like Jeremy McNichols, Alex Barnes and Akeem Hunt will get even more chances to make a good impression. McNichols has been surging, and I like what I've seen from Hunt, too.
The Titans defense came out with a swagger last weekend against the Patriots, sacking quarterbacks and intercepting passes. Tom Brady didn’t play, of course, so the success came with an asterisk. Well, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is expected to play in the preseason for the first time in 2019 on Sunday night for the Steelers, so he’ll provide a bigger test while throwing to receivers like JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington.
O-line in Place?
Titans coach Mike Vrabel said he planned to make a decision on the starting offensive line after Pittsburgh week, so I’m thinking the starting five against the Steelers will likely be the starting five in the regular season opener at Cleveland. Against the Patriots, the first five looked like this: LT Dennis, Kelly, LG Rodger Saffold, C Ben Jones, RG Kevin Pamphile and RT Jack Conklin. If that’s the group the Titans roll out there on Sunday, they’ll be tested against a physical Pittsburgh defensive front.
I’m not going to run down a list of all the players on the roster bubble as we approach August 31, the day NFL teams cut from 90 players to 53. The Titans have a number of players fighting for a spot on the 53-man roster, and others who have a chance to develop on the practice squad. The reality is preseason game No.4 in Chicago will provide the biggest opportunity to make something happen, because most starters won’t play in that one. It will be a night for the back-ups. Still, anyone who’s not guaranteed a spot on the 53 needs to make something positive happen on Sunday night when presented with an opportunity.
Plus, a special bonus item ...
A Big First Play?
Matthew Drumright, a Special Olympics athlete, will call the first play against the Steelers. Drumright and several athletes from Special Olympics visited practice this week, and spent time with the coaching staff and players. Vrabel said Drumright, who is from Brentwood, has a chance to get the team off to a good start with a good play call. I'm betting he'll aim to make an early statement with an aggressive play.
Titans Online looks back at the all-time series between the Tennessee Titans and Pittsburgh Steelers. (AP Photos)