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Titans vs. Browns: NFL Week 2 Preview and Prediction

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday, the Cleveland Browns (0-1) take on the Tennessee Titans (1-0) in Week 2 of the NFL regular season. Our position-by-position evaluation and game prediction are below.


Position-by-Position Evaluation

Pos Advantage Reason
QB Johnny Manziel gets the start on Sunday with the benefit of having taken first-team reps all week while Josh McCown was in the concussion protocol. Austin Davis will be the No. 2 quarterback in the event that Manziel goes down. I'd like to have blind faith in Manziel, and I've definitely been encouraged by some of the progress he's made since last season's debacle. However, the turnovers were still too plentiful last week, and the Browns are going to have to find some negating factor to the all-out blitzes that teams will throw at him.

It is unfair to give Marcus Mariota the edge after making just one career start? No, because he earned that with a solid 4-touchdown performance against the Buccaneers. We do need to account for the fact that it came against the Buccaneers, arguably the worst team in football, but it's still a credit to Mariota for him to execute from Day 1, just like the positive reviews he's received in camp.
RB - Both teams' running back situations are in disarray right now. Think of it this way: the Titans are close to giving Terrance West starter reps after just acquiring him prior to Week 1, while the Browns traded that same running back to their Week 2 opponent for his attitude issues. West will likely have some form of motivation to beat his former team, but if the locker room was truly fed up with him, hopefully they are the ones with more ammunition to play with a chip on their shoulder.

The Titans' lead back should still be Bishop Sankey for the moment. He's from Wadsworth, OH, so this is a bit of a homecoming for him. Last week, he had the best performance of his young career, running 12 times for 74 yards and 1 touchdown, and catching 2 passes for 12 yards and 1 touchdown. The Browns are still trying to find traction with Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson, but their success ultimately depends on improved run blocking.
WR
TE
I was a fan of Kendall Wright's when he came out of the draft in 2012 and he shot off to a great start to 2015 with a 4-catch, 101-yard, 1-touchdown effort in Week 1. Last year, he got to the Browns for a combined 90 yards and 2 touchdowns. They signed veteran receiver Harry Douglas this offseason and also drafted Dorial Green-Beckham in the second round.

Based on the team's receiver rotation in Week 1, expect to see an even mix of Wright, Douglas, Kendall Hunter, with Green-Beckham only playing sparingly. Tight end Delanie Walker is their most dangerous receiver. He is dealing with sprained ligaments in his wrist and hand but should be able to play on Sunday.

I believe the Browns when they've insinuated that Dwayne Bowe was inactive in Week 1 because of a setback with his hamstring injury. When he's ready to contribute, I think he'll be utilized in the role I projected: about 30% of the snaps, with some work in the red zone too for his size. Bowe says that he thinks he can go on Sunday but is still listed as questionable. Travis Benjamin had two touchdowns against the Titans last week and looks faster than ever -- could he be in for another big day?

OL Pass protection was not the issue last week for the Browns' offensive line. When Johnny Manziel decides to run around or the opposition starts bringing the house every snap, though, you can only expect so much. The run blocking is what was awful, and it makes you question whether it is the scheme, the personnel, or a combination of both. If it's the personnel, that's concerning because of how much has been invested in this group.

The Titans' offensive line features LT Taylor Lewan, LG Byron Bell, C Brian Schwenke, RG Chance Warmack, and RT Jeremiah Poutasi. Bell used to be an offensive tackle for other teams and he was rated pretty much the worst in the league by PFF. He had a "solid" game in Week 1, but it was against the Buccaneers so maybe Cleveland can still find a weakness with him at his new position. Schwenke is no Nick Mangold, so Danny Shelton might be able to stand out more this week along with the team's other pass rushers. Poutasi is a third-round pick from this year's draft.
DL - With nose tackle Sammie Hill still nursing an injury, the Titans' defensive line rotation last week looked like this: Jurrell Casey (50%), DaQuan Jones (49%), Karl Klug (47%), Angelo Blackson (30%), Mike Martin (27%), and Al Woods (23%). The most intimidating presence is Casey, who excels as a pass rusher. The rest of the unit is full of mostly depth players, although Jones does seem to have some good upside. Last year, the unit, including Casey, was vulnerable against the run.

We'll get a good taste this week of Cleveland's defensive line and whether their struggles last week were more of a credit to the Jets or a sign of things to come. Nose tackle Danny Shelton played 66% of the snaps this week, and I think they'd like that number to come down a tad. This unit could really use a guy like Xavier Cooper for an interior pass rush in spots, so I don't understand why he was inactive last week. Hopefully the Browns try to get some one-on-one matchups for Desmond Bryant against LG Byron Bell with a guy like Nate Orchard occupying LT Taylor Lewan.
LB - The Browns lost OLB Scott Solomon to an ankle injury last week. It hurts because he was prepped for the role in camp, but it's not as though he had a firm grip on the starting role. Rookie 2nd round pick Nate Orchard will make his debut this week as he returns from a back injury. We'll see if he gets the start or if Armonty Bryant still sees the bulk of playing time there. Paul Kruger can't afford another disappearing act. Karlos Dansby is dealing with a foot injury but is expected to play.

The Titans feature Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo as their outside linebackers, and Zach Brown and Avery Williamson as their inside linebackers. Morgan is the team's best edge rusher while Orakpo is trying to re-invent his career as a member of the Titans. Williamson, a 5th round pick in 2014, stepped in last year due to injury and performed well, and now he's a starter alongside Brown.

DB Can we do the "Men In Black" thing when it comes to the Browns' secondary last week? We know the talent is there, so why did Joe Haden have one of the least productive games in his career? Several members of the secondary did miss significant camp time to injury, and free safety Tashaun Gipson was playing his first regular season game since mid-way through 2014, so maybe they will be more in tune with things this week after being hit with a reality check.

The Titans are still without top cornerback Jason McCourty due to injury, so they will send Perrish Cox and Coty Sensabaugh on the field as their starting corners for the second week in a row. Blidi Wreh-Wilson will also play the majority of the game at nickelback. Da'Norris Searcy mans the strong safety position with Michael Griffin at free safety. Opposing quarterbacks had a 110.8 passer rating when throwing at Wreh-Wilson last year, per RotoWorld, and PFF had him as one of the worst cornerbacks in the NFL.
ST - Will this be a bit of a revenge game for Travis Coons, who the Titans cut last year in favor of Ryan Succop? Succop was perfect on extra points last week (6-of-6) while Coons had the longest extra point in NFL history. We'll call it a push for the kicker position.

Andy Lee is going to give the Browns the special teams edge more weeks than not. He, combined with gunners like Marlon Moore and Johnson Bademosi, proved to be a weapon last week. The Titans' punter is Brett Kern, who averaged 46.8 yards per punt in 2014, tying him for fourth best in the league.

Succop gives returners an opportunity to return kickoffs, so I hope Cleveland considers using someone other than Shaun Draughn for kickoffs. Travis Benjamin looked confident on the punt he fielded last week -- the tentativeness of catching the ball in 2014 didn't seem to be present. The Titans' returners are Bishop Sankey on kickoffs and Dexter McCluster on punts.


Prediction

Truth: The Buccaneers practically delivered an all-time bad performance in Week 1, so the Titans had their way but it doesn't mean it's a sign of things to come.

Truth: The Browns struggled last year against teams that were tough in the trenches, and that was the case in Week 2. Things get much easier against the Titans.

That looks fine-and-dandy for the Browns to get back on track this week, but the factor we cannot predict is Johnny Manziel. Although I think Kyle Shanahan threw the team under the bus last year during Manziel's starts with awful playcalling, the team in general laid an egg. Everyone acknowledges that Manziel's attitude and approach to the game is vastly improved, but why was the team so uninspired last week to start the season? Was it because of Manziel? Will it carry over to this week?

Even if the offense struggles, I think the defense will get back on track and give some fits to Marcus Mariota and company on the road, frustrating him and then using field position to chip away with a couple of field goals and then putting it away with a late touchdown.

Cleveland Browns 23, Tennessee Titans 14

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