This week, the Cleveland Browns take on the Tennessee Titans in Week 1 of the NFL regular season. Our position-by-position evaluation and game prediction are below.
- Missing only one game last year, QB Marcus Mariota completed 69% of his passes, but Tennessee was much more of a run-oriented offense, as he threw 11 touchdowns to 8 interceptions. He can bite you with his mobility; he had 357 yards rushing for 2 touchdowns a year ago. Despite a change in offensive coordinators, the Titans are expected to have the same type of offensive system in 2019.
- Baker Mayfield was exceptional for a rookie quarterback in 2018, throwing for 3,725 yards, 27 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions in the 14 games that he played. Mayfield had limited preseason work with mixed results — a stellar opening drive in the first preseason game, followed by a lackluster performance in his third preseason game. None of that in-game action was with the likes of Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, but they’ve had enough camp work to see just how well of a start Mayfield’s sophomore season will get off to.
- The Titans feature two running backs on a regular basis: Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis. For the first 12 games of the season, Henry averaged 3.7 yards per carry and 5 touchdowns. He had only run for 474 yards, so cracking 1,000 yards for the season was unlikely. But then, he exploded for those final 4 games, rushing for 585 yards on 6.7 yards per carry and 7 touchdowns.
- Lewis wasn’t just utilized as a receiving back; he rushed for 517 yards on the season.He was also second on the team, having a ridiculous catch rate of securing 65 of the 67 passes he was targeted on for 400 yards. Lewis might get one catch per game.
- The Browns will likely use Nick Chubb at their workhorse back. As a rookie, he carried the ball 192 times for 996 yards and 8 touchdowns, while also displaying some sound receiving skills. Time will tell who the Browns’ backup running back will be between Dontrell Hilliard and D’Ernest Johnson. I think Hilliard will get some third down receiving work, taking over the role formerly held by Duke Johnson.
Wide Receiver / Tight End
- The Titans’ top receiver is Corey Davis, who in his second season last year caught 65 passes for 891 yards and 4 touchdowns. Former Tampa Bay receiver Adam Humphries signed a 4-year, $36 million deal with the Titans this offseason to be their new No. 2 receiver. Last year, he caught 76 passes for 816 yards and 5 touchdowns. The Titans drafted A.J. Brown in the second round, but how much playing time he gets remains to be seen; he had an early camp injury and missed a couple of preseason games.
- The one guy Tennessee will really love having back is tight end Delaine Walker. A dislocated ankle in Week 1 last year ended his season, but usually he is a 70-catch, 800-yard type of receiver with a combination of good hands and speed. My gut keeps telling me to watch out for David Njoku racking up the touchdowns this year. If you remember of training camp observations, one of the drills I remember the team constantly working on was throwing the ball high to their tight ends in the end zone. In his second season last year, Njoku caught 56 passes for 639 yards and 4 touchdowns, and would like to take another leap forward in year three.
- With Njoku being an every-down player, the Browns aren’t going to need very many instances where they have four wide receivers on the field at the same time. That makes the trio of Odell Beckham Jr, Jarvis Landry, and Rashard Higgins fit in perfectly. Beckham is one of the league’s best and established receivers, so there isn’t too much concern about he and Mayfield needing to get on the same page. Landry drew the most attention last year, so the trickle down effect that Beckham will have on his teammates will help him get more separation against players who aren’t the team’s No. 1 cornerbacks. Higgins is one of Mayfield’s favorite targets and has gotten so good at getting open. Cleveland is clear and away the winner in this area.
- The Titans’ starting offensive line includes LT Dennis Kelly, LG Rodger Saffold, C Ben Jones, RG Kevin Pamphile, and RT Jack Conklin. The big storyline there is the fact that Taylor Lewan, one of the league’s better left tackles, is serving a four-game suspension to begin the year. Our Titans affiliate is high on Kelly at a solid fill-in offensive tackle, including when he did it at right tackle during Derrick Henry’s rushing explosion to end last season. However, they know that his pass protection against the Browns’ defensive ends poses a concern.
- Late in the week, another concern has now come up for Tennessee: their starting right guard, Pamphile, is listed as questionable with a knee injury that forced him to miss practice on Thursday and Friday. Based on the roster move the team made on Saturday, they could be without a second starter come game time:
Titans promote OG Aaron Stinnie and waived WR Kalif Raymond. Kevin Pamphile was projected to be the starting RG vs. Cleveland. Pamphile was a DNP (knee) on Thur and Fri and is listed as Questionable for the season opener. Reserve OL Jamil Douglas could... https://t.co/Ik3xI95TAo— TURRON DAVENPORT (@TDavenport_NFL) September 7, 2019
- The Browns’ starting offensive line this year features LT Greg Robinson, LG Joel Bitonio C JC Tretter, RG Eric Kush, and RT Chris Hubbard. I don’t want to undersell the loss of former starting right guard Kevin Zeitler. Zeitler was great, and Cleveland hasn’t been able to find a replacement they are confident in. However, when I hear about concerns with the tackle situation, remember that the ability of Mayfield covered up those issues last year, and Robinson performed much better than anticipated. The offensive line will be something to watch early on for weaknesses, but the hope is that the weapons on offense cover that up.
- The Titans run a 3-4 defense. Their starting defensive line includes DE Brent Urban, NT DaQuan Jones, and DT Jurrell Casey. Urban started for the Ravens last year and will try to use his 6’7” frame to disrupt passing lanes for Mayfield. Casey remains one of the league’s best defensive linemen, having made the Pro Bowl for four consecutive years. Casey was ranked as the 10th-best interior defensive lineman last season, and they also noted how strong he comes on later in games:
- The Browns’ receiving corp garnered all of the media attention this offseason, but their front four could end up being the group that steals the spotlight. Myles Garrett has an extra element of quickness to his game entering season three, and he’s paired with the best other pass rusher in his career in Olivier Vernon. The addition of Sheldon Richardson on the interior, paired with Larry Ogunjobi, is intriguing because of the motors both of those guys will have. And then, with how effective Devaroe Lawrence was in the preseason, how can he not get some significant gameday reps?
- The Titans’ starting linebackers include OLB Cameron Wake, ILB Rashaan Evans, ILB Jayon Brown, and OLB Harold Landry, but Wesley Woodyard will also see plenty of action on the inside. Our Titans affiliate was really high on Brown’s coverage and pursuit. Wake is getting up there at 37 years of age, but after spending 10 years with the Dolphins, he is giving-it-a-go with the Titans. Wake tries to replace the void left by both Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo, both of whom retired this past offseason.
- Cleveland expects to operate a 4-2-5 defense most of the time, with those two linebackers usually being Christian Kirksey and Joe Schobert. This position is one of the biggest wildcards on the team, meaning I don’t know what to expect from them and what the rotation/rep utilization will be. The team has to love the pass coverage ability that rookie Mack Wilson has shown, and fellow rookie Sione Takitaki is aggressive in sticking his nose into running lanes. Where does veteran Adarius Taylor fit in?
- The Titans’ two starting cornerbacks are CB Adoree Jackson and CB Malcolm Butler, with CB Logan Ryan covering the slot. Ryan has been a very reliable slot cornerback for the Titans. Jackson graded out well on PFF for 2018, but did allow 66 receptions, second most in the NFL. Butler struggled mightily the first half of last season, but rebounded with a stellar second half. PFF graded Butler high on his ability to crack down in coverage in the red zone — which as a counter-note is a strength of Mayfield.
- Tennessee’s starting safeties are Kenny Vaccaro and Kevin Byard. Vacarro has never lived up to his draft status, and is below average in coverage and servicable against the run. Byard is the player who exploded onto the scene in 2017, when he had 8 interceptions on the season. You may remember that three of those interceptions came against Cleveland, so I’m still a bit haunted by that. PFF has him graded as the 4th best safety in the NFL:
All combining for what was a career year for Byard, he earned an 89.0 run-defense grade, an 82.5 coverage grade and allowed a lowly 55.8 passer rating in coverage in 2018, logging four picks and two passes defensed in the process. Slotted as one of the better single-high safety prospects in the 2016 class, Byard has truly thrived at the position with Tennessee.
- Cleveland’s secondary will feature five defensive backs in its base defense. CB Denzel Ward is coming off a Pro Bowl year a rookie, and will be joined by CB Terrance Mitchell as the other starting cornerback. Defensive coordinator Steve Wilks said that CB T.J. Carrie will man the slot, and that he typically doesn’t rotate cornerbacks — which means rookie CB Greedy Williams doesn’t figure to see the field very much. At free safety, Damarious Randall is looking for a contract extension and has some of the most swagger on defense. The thing I can’t wrap my mind around much is the fact that Morgan Burnett is the starting strong safety. I know he is in that position, but I just feel like I haven’t seen him once all of camp or the preseason.
- Cairo Santos is the Titans’ kicker, just added this week due to an injury to Ryan Succop. Santos has decent career numbers at 83.2%, but isn’t known for his long-range kicks. Cleveland is rolling with rookie Austin Seibert, who got better as camp went along. Santos has the experience edge, but there is no clear advantage for either team here.
- Brett Kern is the Titans’ punter. He was in the Top 10 in average and net average a year ago, and was also second in the NFL in number of punts downed inside the 20. Jamie Gillan, also known as The Scottish Hammer, will handle punting duties for the Browns. It’s not his punting that I’m concerned with; it is whether he will consistently have adequate placeholding ability for Seibert’s kicks.
- It looks like RB Dontrell Hilliard will handle kickoffs and punt returns to begin the season for Cleveland. The Titans will have WR Darius Jennings on kickoffs and WR Adam Humphries on punt returns. Jennings was very good on kickoff returns last year, averaging 31.7 yards per return.
Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.
Chris Pokorny: “Some have wondered if the Browns are buying too much into their hype for a team that hasn’t actually won anything yet, but I don’t see that as being the case. Even though this team is talking the talk, their body language, talent, and chemistry gives off the vibe that they are hungry to not just win, but prove a point on each and every snap. I don’t think it’s a given that the Browns’ offense will get off to an electric start, but I see the defensive front taking advantage of the Titans’ offensive line, much like we saw Pittsburgh do in the preseason. The Browns will chip away at the Titans quarter by quarter, finishing with a decisive, albeit somewhat lower-key victory.” Browns 28, Titans 13.
Matt Wood: “Browns are good. Defensive line controls the game early on as they give the offense short fields and turnovers. Browns score twice in the first quarter to get out to a 10-0 lead. They cruise from there.” Browns 31, Titans 13.
Mike Hoag: “I refuse to even acknowledge it’s possible that these Browns lose an opener like all of the awful teams that came before them. Turn the page.” Odell’s Hip 27, Titans 13.
Tom Moore: “The Titans and the rest of the NFL has no idea what is in store for them this season. The Browns are here - better get used to it.” Browns 24, Titans 10.
Jon Stinchcomb: “The Browns are stacked. Baker Mayfield is the truth. All that there is left to do now is execute.” Browns 23, Titans 10.
Ezweav: “We are doomed. Every media outlet and representative of the national punditocracy have declared us to be the NFL darlings, so there’s no way this ends well. Yes, Baker Mayfield is an absolute stud and the roster composition and coaching staff look to be more formidable than anything we’ve seen since prior to the move, but Shirley it’s all a mirage. The Titans OL has one and maybe two major holes directly opposite a gargantuan team strength of ours, so naturally we won’t touch Mariota. Henry will be punching and stiff-arming people en route to a 90 yard TD that takes 3 minutes to play out. Seibert will miss five FGs, Gillan will get injured trying to hit-stick a Titans’ returner, and we’ll whiff on about 45 tackles as a team. Charley Hughlett will be the lone bright spot” Titans 19, Browns 18.
rufio: “Baker, Odell, and Jarvis come out a little too fired up to start the year. Baker throws an early pick as he tries to throw a ball literally through a member of the Titan’s defense, and a few drives stall early as the Browns take deep shots but can’t quite connect.
Thankfully on D, no one can even imagine blocking Myles. He’s blowing up everything in the backfield due to Lewan’s absence, and our young DBs come away with a turnover. But Browns fans everywhere sweat as the offense fails to take advantage.
The offense eventually settles in, feeding off the cool calm presence of Nick Chubb, who breaks at least 25 tackles in the game. Eventually Baker connects with everyone and the Browns pull away.” Browns 31, Titans 13.
Dan Lalich: “It’s early in the season, so the defenses will be ahead of the offenses. We’ll catch some glimpses of what this team can do when it’s firing on all cylinders, but drives will stall, we’ll probably miss a field goal, and things will just be a little stop and go as Mayfield and Co. try to gel. The defense will be predictably awesome, to the point that Mariota might be removed from the game for safety reasons.” Browns 11, Titans 5.
BigTownBrown: “The Browns Defense will be able to keep the Titans at bay most of game. But there will be a late scoring TD drive by them yielding their only touchdown of the game. Baker Mayfield will be able to connect early and often with his WR’s and will toss 3 touchdowns and run for one more.
Defensive CAPTAIN Kirksey will have a monster game with 1 int and 2 tackles for loss. Spoiler: we will miss 2 extra point kicks (wide left on both). Browns win in an easy opener.” Browns 29, Titans 16.
Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below.