With a new season comes new challenges. The Titans first game of the season against the Chiefs will feature some key match-ups to watch. he victor of these pairings will likely play a huge factor in who walks out of Arrowhead with a win this Sunday.
Kendall Wright (WR) vs Sean Smith (CB)
While Justin Hunter was busy soaking up the hype during the offseason, defensive coordinators were already game-planning for Kendall Wright. The Titans shifty pass-catcher is a nightmare for opposing corners, and is reliable weapon that I expect to be used early and often in the season opener.
He will line up against former Dolphin corner Sean Smith, who was reinstated into the first team after spending OTA's the second unit. Smith has good size, and is a solid veteran at this point who has proven he can run down the field. Wright will be a handful for him, as he has struggled with more agile receivers in the past, and that is Wright's primary MO.
If Smith can play a respectable game and contain Wright, the Titans offense would be neutered. If he can't put a lid on the former Baylor standout, then Tennessee's offense should be able to move the chains consistently. That will play a big role in who walks out of the season opener with a "W".
Justin Houston (OLB) vs Michael Oher (RT)
This match-up duly concerns me. Houston is a budding star as a pass rushing outside linebacker, and he'll be matched up with free-agent acquisition Michael Oher, who was little more than average in Baltimore, certainly performing below expectations. The Titans added Oher to replace declining veteran David Stewart, but also drafted Taylor Lewan in the first round to back him up.
Justin Houston will use his speed and power to attack the edge, and Oher will need to at least slow him down to allow Jake Locker to operate the offense effectively. I imagine the Titans running backs will get plenty of work in the pass blocking department, and it wouldn't surprise me to see them slide protection to Houston's side every now and again. One way or the other, Michael Oher will get a tough debut match-up to begin his Titans career, and it could be one that holds the result of the game in the balance.
Jurrell Casey (DT) vs Mike Mcglynn (LG)
In the same way that Justin Houston concerns Titans fans, Jurrell Casey should be a big worry against an inferior offensive line. Outside of center Rodney Hudson (whom the Chiefs have already expressed concerns about) the remaining four Chiefs starters on the offensive line graded out collectively at a -50.4 per PFF for 2013. That is a staggeringly poor number.
Casey is a top tier defender at this juncture, and his ability to disrupt the backfield from the interior was on display last season, when he racked up 55 tackles and 10.5 sacks. Now being placed in more one-on-one matchups courtesy of Ray Horton's defensive designs, Casey should be poised for another big year. There's a reason he just became the second highest paid 3-4 "Defensive End" in Football.
The efforts of Redskins castoff Mike McGlynn, who has been pressed into the line for the Chiefs, will be towards slowing Casey down and keeping him out of the backfield. That's a tall order for him to accomplish, but it could end up dictating if the Chiefs can get in rhythm, and push the ball down the field.
Jake Locker (QB) vs Eric Berry (SS)
The last of our critical match-ups is as much a mental as a physical one. Jake Locker has looked sharp in the pre-season, ranking in the top 4 of AFC Passers, with no turnovers to his name and a high completion percentage. Important to note is that on top of this, he fared well when faced with pressure, and had a healthy yards-per completion. He will be expected to orchestrate the Titans new offense into the regular season.
Eric Berry is without a doubt a top Strong Safety in the NFL (a fact almost all Tennessee natives will be happy to admit), and his work both against the run and pass are the linchpins of the Kansas City secondary. Locker will need to remain aware of where Berry is on the field to avoid turning the ball over, something he was excellent at avoiding especially early last season. There will be mental chess match going on in Arrowhead Sunday; the winner takes home an early season victory.