It's officially a real, live game week. Finally, we get to discuss real football! This will be the first of a weekly series that will highlight the key matchup from each Titans' game this season. Sometimes it will be a positional group versus a positional group, other times it will be a player against a player. This week I'll be focusing on a matchup on the front lines.
The Key Match-Up: Buc's OTs against Titans' Edge Rushers
What if I told you last season that the Titans would have a clear, undeniable advantage rushing the passer in week one of 2015? You would have probably laughed and written me off as a crazy man. However, that's the exact case that we have this week. Ruston Webster made one of the bolder moves of the offseason, signing the often injured Brian Orakpo to a fairly large contract. Now with Orakpo and Derrick Morgan together, the pass rush appears to be coming together.
The Buccaneers on the other hand have big issues up front. They spent the 34th overall selection on Penn State's Donovan Smith, an offensive tackle who most draft guys had pegged as a third round selection. Smith is set to take over left tackle duties in Tampa Bay, but he's been dealing with an ankle injury through camp. Smith has been held out of practice all week.
The Buccaneers were already taking a leap of faith starting Smith from day one, but now it looks like they may have to rely on the services of second year pro Kevin Pamphile. This, in theory, should allow Brian Orakpo to be a dominant force on Sunday.
Orakpo has shown explosiveness in his return to the football field this preseason. His athletic ability has jumped off the tape. He has his quick first step back and has shown off an ability to convert speed to power. Orakpo should cause a number of issues for Pamphile or Smith, regardless of who gets the start.
On the other side, Derrick Morgan will get a favorable matchup against right tackle Goster Cherilus. Cherilus is currently on his third team since being drafted back in 2008, most recently with the Indianapolis Colts. He signed with the Bucs just three weeks ago and will fill in at right tackle for the immediate future.
This is an encounter that should prove to be favorable for Morgan. He's proven that he can get pressure on the passer, although he may not finish as much as we want him to. With more talent up front this season, maybe Morgan can finish more of those pressures. This week should be a nice start.
One other factor that I haven't mentioned yet is Jameis Winston. The 2015 number one pick will be making his first career start and is set to face a Dick LeBeau scheme that is notorious for complex zone blitz looks. Winston struggled mightily with zone looks during his time at Florida State. If the Titans can take advantage of the Buc's weakness at tackle, Winston should have plenty of issues on his hands.
Throw in the potential that Mike Evans could miss the game Sunday and you probably have a recipe for a Titans' win. Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan must come up big on the edges Sunday, especially with Jason McCourty out. Tennessee will need to find ways to help the secondary -- a group that hasn't looked great throughout preseason play. It all starts up front, however. I'm confident that Orakpo, Morgan and Casey can get to Winston enough to put the Titans in place to get the first win of the season.