The Titans look to start off their season against a team that shut them out in 2019, and proved to be pivotal point for the franchise. Former starting quarterback Marcus Mariota got benched after his second interception – midway through the 3rd quarter – which ushered in Ryan Tannehill and a new era for the Titans. That would be the last game that Mariota started for Tennessee, as he was benched throughout the rest of the season. The former second overall pick’s tenure had come to an end. With Tannehill at helm, the Titans finished the last 10 games of the season with a 7-3 record, which qualified them for a Wild Card spot.
Last year in Mile High Stadium, the Broncos stifled the Titans’ rushing attack holding Derrick Henry to a meager 28 yards on 15 attempts. This allowed the Broncos to do what they usually do at home, which is to unleash their pass rush spearheaded by Von Miller and create havoc against opposing quarterbacks. The Denver defense finished the game with 7 sacks and was constantly in the backfield. Although Miller will miss the game due to a season-ending ankle injury suffered in practice, the Broncos welcome back Bradley Chubb, as he has returned from his ACL injury. Chubb’s Broncos career got off to to a blistering start, recording 12 sacks in his rookie year. Even without Miller and the Mile High atmosphere, the Titans cannot underestimate the Broncos front seven.
There will be two major keys to the game and match-ups that the Titans have to win. The Titans pass rush can cause significant problems to Denver’s shaky starting tackles, and their offense has to be more diverse to present multiple threats against an impressive secondary.
Titans Pass Rush
New signing Vic Beasley will miss the game on Monday night, as he is dealing with a hamstring injury. That leaves Jadeveon Clowney (who just signed last week) and Harold Landry with the task of providing pressure. They will line up against the Broncos starting tackles Garrett Bowles and Elijah Wilkinson, who are underwhelming to say the least. The pass rush is where the Titans can dominate, and will have to, in order to win Monday night. With their number one corner Adoree’ Jackson set to miss the game due to injury, head coach Mike Vrabel will look to create favorable match-ups for his defensive line. Bolles committed 10 penalties last year and struggles with speed rushers. Clowney’s highest sack total came under Vrabel in Houston, when the former defensive coordinator would line Clowney up inside the tackle to match-up with slower guards. Clowney’s impressive hands and quickness will cause trouble for Bolles and inside guard Dalton Risner.
Adoree’ Jackson missing will cause a big hole in the Titans secondary. Expect rookie Kristian Fulton to start alongside Malcom Butler and play nickel in passing situations. If Courtland Sutton, listed as questionable, does indeed play, he and Jerry Jeudy can cause problems for the Titans cornerbacks. Butler has been inconsistent so far during his short Titans career, which leaves a big task for highly touted first year man Fulton. Jonathan Joseph will most likely play on the boundary in passing situations as he is not quick enough during this stage of his career to cover slot receivers.
Opening up the Playbook
Derrick Henry has to get off to a better start than he did last year in Denver. However, offensive coordinator Arthur Smith has to allow the offense to be more flexible, and expand the playbook. I would expect A.J. Brown’s route tree to develop more and create match-ups that the Titans can exploit. After the departure of Chris Harris, Jr., the Broncos will most likely match up AJ Bouye with Brown. The Broncos have an impressive secondary and Bouye is a strong addition, as the Broncos allowed the third fewest fantasy points to receivers last year. Jonnu Smith may be an x-factor in the game if he sees more volume and targets, as Denver allowed the sixth most receptions to tight ends last year and fourth most yards. Smith is an athletic and elusive tight end who was 9th among tight ends last year in yards after the catch, and according to Pro Football Focus, he was 3rd among tight ends in avoiding tackles behind only Greg Kittle and Travis Kelce. It would be foolish not to target Smith often, especially with Bouye matched up with A.J. Brown
Monday night’s game should be close one, with both teams missing starters due to injuries. I expect Derrick Henry to start off faster than he did last year which should allow the offense to become more than one dimensional. Perhaps more importantly, the Titans pass rush poses a significant challenge to Denver. Look for Clowney and Landry to win their matchups against the Broncos starting tackles and create problems for second-year signal caller Drew Lock.
Pick: Titans 20, Broncos 13