Preface: Before we jump in, I highly recommend that everyone turns on "Payback" by James Brown before reading this post. After last season's game against the Browns, the Titans should have this on loop throughout the facility all week.
While last Sunday went just about as well as one could have hoped, it is time to turn the page and move onto the Titans' next opponent, the Cleveland Browns. The two teams faced off last season, and the Titans gave up the biggest home lead in league history, in an epic collapse. The Titans will be looking for some revenge, but the matchups that we will look at will decide who wins the game.
Reasons For Confidence: Browns' Edge Rushers, Secondary struggles, Offensive Line struggles
Rough Around The Edges: The Browns are very thin at outside linebacker, at the moment. Former Titan Scott Solomon went down with an injury, leaving the team with Paul Kruger and Barkevious Mingo as its starters. While Kruger is an effective pass rusher, his run defense is a weakness. Taylor Lewan should be able to overpower him, especially in the run game. On the other side, Barkevious Mingo has not lived up to his draft status at all. He is often injured, and also a very poor run defender. His speed may test Jeremiah Poutasi, but as a whole, the Titans have very good matchups when it comes to the Browns' edge rushers. They struggled to generate much of a pass rush last week, and while Marcus Mariota gets the ball out of his hand jet-quick, he could be absolutely lethal if he has all day in the pocket.
Secondary Struggles: On paper, a secondary that features Joe Haden and Tashaun Gipson does not seem like something that should be marked as a "reason for confidence." However, they struggled against the New York Jets last Sunday. It could be related to the previously mentioned lack of a pass rush, but regardless, it looks to be a possible weakness. Joe Haden has been known to struggle at the beginning of the season, and Sunday was no different. Brandon Marshall had six catches and a touchdown on him. While Kendall Wright is not a big, physical receiver like Marshall, he had success against Cleveland last year, scoring two touchdowns. Wright looks better than ever, and could be lined up for another big day on Sunday.
Offensive Line Struggles: In a situation similar to the secondary, it is tough to be confident about facing a unit that features two very talented players--Joe Thomas and Joel Bitonio. However, they also struggled on Sunday. While it may be due to the fact that the Jets have a very strong defensive line, it is definitely something to keep an eye on. Alex Mack had a very rough outing on Sunday. While Thomas and Bitonio are top notch offensive linemen in the league, they will mainly be seeing the Titans' two best players along the front seven in Jurrell Casey and Brian Orakpo, which ensures that there will not be much of a glaring mismatch. Putting pressure on Johnny Manziel and forcing him to make quick decisions could lead to another turnover-filled afternoon.
Reasons For Concern: Pettine's Defense, Manziel, Run Defense
Mike Pettine's Shceme: Marcus Mariota will be facing a tougher defense from a schematic standpoint than last week. While he was already familiar with cover 2 concepts going into the Buccaneers' game, there will be more complex looks and multiplicity on the Browns' side. We will also get a better idea of how the offensive line can handle the blitz. While this is an obvious one, don't expect Mariota to do everything with as much ease as he did on Sunday.
Johnny Manziel: No, seriously. Manziel looked much improved against the Jets on Sunday. While he is only tentatively scheduled to be the starter on Sunday--Josh McCown needs to clear the concussion protocol--we are operating under the assumption that he will indeed start. Manziel completed a deep ball for a touchdown, and made some plays with his legs, including a long run that was called back on Sunday. He is certainly not there yet, but he looks improved, and his unpredictability alone is reason for concern.
Run Defense: While Sunday seemed like just about a perfect game, it did leave some questions open about the run defense. Doug Martin was very effective against the Titans, but the Buccaneers faced such a big deficit so quickly that they could not establish a steady run game. If the game is closer on Sunday, the Titans run defense will need to step up. While the Browns struggled mightily running the ball on Sunday, and Isiah Crowell is not a very creative runner, the Titans absolutely must emphasize stopping the run this week. Even last season when the Titans had a huge lead on Cleveland early, the Browns continued to run the ball effectively and establish a run game, which was one of the biggest factors in the comeback. Until the Titans stop it consistently, expect the Browns to be run-heavy on Sunday.
Cleveland's biggest problems on Sunday were turnovers and penalties--two things that are very tough to predict week-by-week. From a standpoint of the teams' actual personnel, they may be more talented all around than Tampa Bay was last week. They should not be underestimated, and will be ready to play in their home opener on Sunday. The Titans must win these matchups in order to be successful.