The Tennessee Titans are set to face the Cleveland Browns on Sunday afternoon in what will be both teams’ season opener.
Just two years removed from a winless season, the Browns have a lot of people excited heading into 2019. QB Baker Mayfield set an NFL record for touchdown passes for a rookie last season, and All-Pro WR Odell Beckham, Jr. figures to make a big impact in his first year with the Browns.
The Titans, however, have plenty of their own ammunition. They added several key pieces to their offense during the offseason, most notably WR Adam Humphries and guard Rodger Saffold.
Their defense will hope to keep up its form from 2018 when the unit was among the NFL’s best in terms of keeping opponents from scoring points.
A New Kicker in Tennessee
Ryan Succop has confidence in his replacement, Cairo Santos. pic.twitter.com/6MBse61Aql
— Luke Worsham (@luke_worsham) September 4, 2019
On Wednesday, the Titans were forced to place Ryan Succop on injured reserve after the veteran kicker realized that he didn’t have the “pop” in his knee necessary to kick at a consistently high level.
His replacement, Cairo Santos, will look to keep things steady in the kicking game during Succop’s absence.
“I’m only here to make every single kick and worry about one game at a time to help the team win,” Santos said. “If it’s for eight games until [Succop] comes back or for the whole season, I’ll just worry about one game at a time.”
Succop missed all of Training Camp with the knee injury that got him to IR. He hopes to return when he is first eligible after eight weeks.
Taywan Taylor Not a Titan
For the first time ever, the Titans will see WR Taywan Taylor on the opposite sideline when they face the Browns on Sunday. As the team made final roster cuts, Tennessee traded Taylor to Cleveland in exchange for a seventh-round draft choice next year.
“It was kind of crazy,” Taylor said. “I was actually on my way to practice. My GM [Jon Robinson] had come down, I had gone up there, he kind of spoke the news to me and that is when I was like, ‘Woah’, and then when he told me Cleveland, I automatically thought about the receivers.”
“I tell you what, he can run, can’t he?,” said Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens. “Taywan, he’s come in and kind of immersed himself into the offense and trying to learn. We’re still in the early stages, but we’ll see what he knows by the time we get to Sunday.”
Taylor was a third-round pick of the Titans in 2017, but never really panned out for the team.
Debut of Arthur Smith
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) September 5, 2019
New Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith will call plays in a regular-season game for the first time on Sunday.
“Very confident,” head coach Mike Vrabel said when asked for his feelings on Smith’s preparedness to run a clean operation this week. “We’ve been doing that, and I think it’s going to be important for us to do that, to mix personnel to get different personnel groups in the huddle and get them out on the road. So yeah, very confident.”
Smith has elected to call plays from the sideline and not the booth, a change from what the Titans had last year with Matt LaFleur.
“It’s all based on your personality,” Smith said of his decision. “You ask 32 different guys, and you’ve got 32 different opinions. For me, I went down there, I like the communication we have with the staff. It’s just feel, being able to talk to the players and coaches.”
Odell Beckham, Jr. vs. Titans Secondary
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) September 4, 2019
Since joining the NFL in 2014, Beckham has been one of the league’s most productive receivers. He has recorded fewer than 1,000 receiving yards in a season only once in his career, and that was a season in which he played just four games due to injury.
“I think [Beckham]’s just a great talent altogether,” Titans safety Kevin Byard said. “With a guy like that, if you give him too much space, he hits a home run. We’re definitely going to have to contain him. I know they’re going to manufacture a lot of different targets for him. It’s going to be a great challenge trying to contain him.”
The Titans’ talented secondary will have a big challenge on their hands right out of the gate to start the 2019 season. It will take a collective effort from both the team’s safeties and corners in order to slow Beckham down.
“He’s one of the best receivers in the league,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said, “no matter who would’ve added him to any offense. He’s a guy that can go deep, he can catch and run with it, circle the defense, take the top off the defense as far as speed, and his catch radius is ridiculous.”
The Browns listed Beckham on their Thursday injury report with a hip injury, but he has yet to miss any practice.
Corey Davis vs. Denzel Ward
Corey Davis knows that going against Denzel Ward this week will be a tough challenge. pic.twitter.com/bRYW66ebw9
— Luke Worsham (@luke_worsham) September 4, 2019
The Titans are expecting big things from receiver Corey Davis in 2019, which will be his third year in the NFL.
In this week’s game, he is likely to see a lot of Pro Bowl cornerback Denzel Ward, who was also voted to the PFWA’s All-Rookie team last season.
“It’s a good challenge,” Davis said. “He’s a great corner. They’ve got a good secondary, so it will be a good challenge for us…He goes out there and goes and gets it. That’s one thing I respect about him. As I said, it’s going to be a good matchup.”
This is a good place to start for Davis if he wants to emerge into a true #1 receiver for the Titans offense.
364 days since Delanie Walker last played
Tight end Delanie Walker suffered a gruesome ankle injury in the Titans’ 2018 opener that ended his season right then and there. When Walker takes the field on Sunday, it will have been 364 days—one day off from an entire calendar year—since he last played.
“It really means the world to us to have [Walker’s] veteran presence,” QB Marcus Mariota said during Training Camp. “A lot of the young guys have the opportunity to talk to someone who’s done it before. Very few people have a chance to play as long as he has, and he’s got good advice for all of us.”
Walker also figures to be a big help for the Titans on the field. Outside of last year, Walker has never totaled less than 60 receptions in a season since joining the Titans.
At age 35, Walker has his share of doubters. But, he is healthy and ready to contribute for the Titans offense.
Which version of Derrick Henry will be on the field to start the season for the Titans?
Last year, Titans running back Derrick Henry was a dominant force during the month of December. Before that, though, his production was rather pedestrian. In order for the Titans to succeed this season, they will need Henry’s December 2018 form to carry over into 2019.
“When you turn around and you got big 22,” Mariota said, “it makes anybody feel good. I’m excited to see him run. I think he’s going to be another weapon for us and he’s going to do a lot of good things.”
The Titans were 6-3 in 2018 whenever Henry averaged at least 4 yards per carry, and they won both of the games in which he eclipsed the 100-yard mark on the ground.
Henry missed the entirety of Training Camp with a calf injury but has now practiced in full for multiple weeks. Vrabel said he has looked good since returning.
Titans vs. Browns will be CBS’s #1 game for their group of early afternoon games. As a result, their top crew will be calling the game.
Jim Nantz will have the play-by-play, former Cowboys QB Tony Romo will serve as the analyst and Tracy Wolfson will report from the sideline.
Kickoff is set for 12:00 Central time.
Cover image: Kevin Jairaj & Christopher Hanewinchel/USA Today