The Tennessee Titans enter a stretch where they host three home games over the next eleven days. Two of those three games are within the division and the third one is against the lowly Cleveland Browns, Sunday’s opponent. The theme around Saint Thomas Sports Park (the Titans training and practice facility) this week was simple and consistent: “Win ‘This’ Game”, guarding against laziness, lackadaisical preparation and preventing a poor performance against Cleveland.
“Message to the team is win this game,” Titans Head Coach Mike Mularkey said. “No talk of home struggles, finally getting consecutive wins or any of that. Win this game.”
With that in mind, let’s dive into this week’s Four Keys for the Titans.
First, quarterback Marcus Mariota must get out on the perimeter and create havoc for the Cleveland defense. Last week, he accounted for four total touchdowns—three through the air and one on the ground against the Miami Dolphins. Last season, he did so Sept. 13 at Tampa Bay (four passing), Nov. 8 at New Orleans (four passing) and Dec. 6 against Jacksonville (three passing, one rushing). Those three teams were not prepared for him to take off and run. When he sits in the pocket he’s not as effective. I would like to see him set the edge on designed rollouts, bootlegs and really affect the depth the Browns’ linebackers get on their coverage.
Secondly, running back DeMarco Murray and tight end Delanie Walker should have huge games Sunday. They will be Mariota’s security blankets when plays break down. Last week, Murray rushed for 121 yards last week at Miami in addition to 5 catches for 17 yards. In the past three games, DeMarco has rushed for 330 yards (110 per game) and 3 TDs. Only player in NFL with 2+ rush TDs (3) & 2+ rec. TDs (2) in that span. Meanwhile, Walker caught five passes for 66 yards and a touchdown. If the Titans can get Delanie and DeMarco involved early, they should easily break the will of the Browns.
Next, the emergence of “Exotic Smashmouth Football” has to continue to come to the forefront. Last week against the Dolphins, Tennessee ran the ball 41 times for 235 yards (5.7 yards per carry). They were 3-for-3 in the Red Zone and dominated time of possession by a 36:44 to 23:16 margin. The Titans have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL and they must push Cleveland around and dominate them at the point of attack.
Lastly, the Titans defense must continue to step up. Dick LeBeau’s defense held the Dolphins to eight first downs, only converted 4-out-of-11 third downs, 200 yards of offense (51 yards rushing) and picked off Miami QB Ryan Tannehill twice. This defense has carried the water through five weeks and I would love to see this trend continuing against Cody Kessler. Kessler was named the starter this week by Browns head coach Hue Jackson.
The Tennessee Titans host the Cleveland Browns at Nissan Stadium in Nashville. Kickoff is scheduled for 12:00PM (1:00PM EDT). The game will be aired regionally on CBS with Tom McCarthy and Adam Archuleta providing the play-by-play and commentary. Carl Cheffers will be the game’s referee.