Browns v. Tennessee Titans
Sunday, 1 p.m., in FirstEnergy Stadium
Last game: Defeated Chicago Bears, 19-15, Aug. 29 in Chicago, to finish 2-2 in preseason.
Coach: Mike Vrabel, 9-7, second season.
Series record: Browns lead, 35-31 (counting post-season).
Last meeting: Titans won, 12-9, Oct. 22, 2017, in Cleveland.
League rankings: In 2018, offense was 25th overall (seventh rushing, 29th passing), defense was eighth overall (18th rushing, sixth passing) and turnover differential was minus-1.
Things I think
- This is a make-or-break season for quarterback Marcus Mariota, whose 28-29 career record and one playoff win in four years has not matched expectations from being drafted second overall in 2015. That’s one reason why the Titans have not made a move on a new contract. Mariota is playing under the fifth-year option for $20.9 million this year. He can be a free agent in 2020. Mariota hasn’t been awful; he just hasn’t been consistently good. Part of his problem has been staying healthy and playing under five offensive play-callers in five years. The newest is Arthur Smith – Arthur Smith? -- who has held six different coaching positions in nine years with the Titans.
- Mariota suffered an elbow injury on a sack in Game 1 last year and was never right the whole season. This year he debuts without his left tackle, Taylor Lewan, who begins serving a four-game performance enhancing drugs suspension. Lewan’s replacement is Dennis Kelly, a career reserve who has never started a regular-season game at left tackle. The Titans’ offensive line also features new starters in left guard Roger Saffold and right guard Kevin Pamphile.
- Though his protection is suspect, Mariota might have the best skill players in his five seasons. The team hopes 2017 No. 1 pick Corey Davis finally fills the bill as a No. 1 receiver (65 catches, 891 yards, four TDs last year). Adam Humphries of Tampa Bay was signed in free agency as slot receiver and A.J. Brown of Mississippi was drafted in the second round to fill the No. 2 receiver role. With tight end Delanie Walker and big back Derrick Henry, the Titans feel Mariota is well-supported. Henry missed a lot of camp and all the preseason games with a calf injury. He will start, but stamina could be an issue.
- The Titans were 16th last year with 39 sacks. They added Cameron Wake to be the pass rush hope in Dean Pees’ 3-4 base defense. Wake is 37 years old. The strength of the Tennessee defense is the secondary, led by Kevin Byard, who broke the bank as the NFL’s highest-paid safety prior to this season. The secondary includes two ex-Patriots acquired by GM Jon Robinson, a former New England personnel executive, cornerbacks Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler.
Did you know … ?
- This is a boring team but it feels it can compete for a playoff berth in the AFC South after the Colts lost quarterback Andrew Luck to retirement and the Texans lost running back Lamar Miller to an ACL injury. The Jaguars will have something to say about that, of course.
- The Titans have been rumored to be for sale since the death of long-time owner Bud Adams in 2013, but the truth is they are in their strongest ownership position under heir Amy Adams Strunk than in the last decade. Remember that wild rumor of Tennessee-native Jimmy Haslam “trading” the Browns for his home-state Titans? A figment of someone’s imagination.
- When Jon Robinson left the Bill Belichick nest to take over as GM in 2016, he seemingly had the perfect set-up to make inroads as an AFC power. Mariota was coming off a decent rookie season and Robinson traded the No. 1 overall pick to the Rams for a net of three high pick. Robinson also traded with the Browns to move up seven spots to No. 8. But after a productive 2016 draft (offensive tackle Jack Conklin, running back Derrick Henry and safety Kevin Byard), Robinson has not had many bulls-eyes in the draft.
Small world: Head coach Mike Vrabel is a native of Akron, attended Walsh Jesuit High School and played defensive end for Ohio State in 1993-96 … Running back Dion Lewis played for the Browns in 2013 … Receiver Darius Jennings played for the Browns in 2015 … Offensive line coach Mike Sullivan was an assistant line coach with the Browns in 2007-08 and 2013 … Guard Roger Saffold is a native of Bedford … Offensive assistant Luke Steckel was Browns assistant to the head coach in 2009-12.