If all goes according to plan, this will be a weekly installment. I’ll do my best to be succinct and not waste anyone’s time with too many words. (I tend to ramble a bit…) Every week, I want to focus on three areas (keys) that I believe are the most important for success for that particular game. No more preamble. Let’s get to the keys to the game for week one.
Protect the Offensive Line
I realize that sounds ridiculous. Isn’t the Offensive Line supposed to be in the business of protecting? Yes. And I hope they prove me wrong, but me fear is this O-line is very much a work-in-progress. They are without their best players – Taylor Lewan due to his suspension. They have new guards who have not played any meaningful football together. Their right tackle – Jack Conklin – is in a “prove it” year as much as anyone on the team not named Marcus Mariota. I am not expecting to be blown away by this group early this season. I hope I am wrong.
So, if I am correct about all of the above, the coaches need to protect this line. They can do that by implementing a quick passing game – which actually plays to Mariota’s strengths. That should mean a high volume of passes to Adam Humprhies and Delanie Walker – both great options in the short passing game. It could also see Dion Lewis with plenty of pass-catching opportunities out of the backfield.
They also need to use their Tight Ends wisely. We all know Walker can block. I have no idea what Jonnu Smith gives them at this point in his recovery from a knee injury. We know Anthony Firkser is a liability as a blocker. That leaves MyCole Pruitt and maybe David Fluellen to help out with chipping and pass protection. The team doesn’t need to pack it in and abandon any semblance of a wide-open passing attack, but they need to be smart. New Offensive Coordinator, Arthur Smith, needs to be creative with how he uses his protections and helps.
If the O-line is a big liability in this game, there is little chance the team can win in Cleveland. It’s that simple.
No-Scheme Pass Rush
What does that mean? Last year, the Titans finished with 39 sacks, tied for 16th in the NFL. I don’t have any actual figures on this, but my guess is a high percentage of those were generated by Dean Pees and his scheme. If this defense wants to go from “good to great” they need to be able to get pressure on QB’s without the scheme.
And that means Harold Landry, Sharif Finch, and Cameron Wake need to be in the backfield and in Baker Mayfield’s face all game long. It also means Jurrell Casey and the rest of the D-Line needs to collapse the pocket from the middle which will create plenty of opportunities for the Edge Rushers.
If the Titans generate a consistent pass rush on Sunday, their chances for victory improve dramatically.
Win the Turnover Battle
The Titans were -1 in the turnover differential last season. The offense turned the ball over 18 times while the defense forces 17 turnovers. Both of those numbers need to change in 2019.
I wrote this a number of years ago when I was “working” for Titansized:
The Titans went from middle of the pack with a break-even turnover differential to second in the league with a +18. That sort of transition needs to start this Sunday. The offense needs to protect the ball, and the defense needs to take it away. If they are going to go from good to great, as has been the mantra all offseason, then this will be one of the key factors.
The season is here. Football is back! Let’s hope the Tennessee Titans give their fans something worth celebrating this season.