By Ron Wynn
No one’s particularly worried over the outcome of preseason games, so the Titans losing 27-24 in their final contest before the regular season begins isn’t a concern. While losing a fourth quarter
The biggest question remaining personnel wise was who would be the number two QB behind Ryan Tannehill, who not only didn’t play a snap in the preseason but was one of seven players on COVID-19 reserve. Matt Barkley began the game, but Logan Woodside eventually fared much better, despite having one of his passes intercepted and returned for a touchdown. Woodside was hit on the play so that interception wasn’t blamed on an errant throw.
Despite that Woodside completed 12 of 17 passes for 100 yards and a touchdown. Barkley was only seven of 15 and had a damaging interception that WAS clearly a case of making a bad decision. The Titans played some of their defensive starters for a couple of series, but once more the game was primarily a match-up of both teams’ second and third-team players.
So now the Titans look ahead to the Sept. 12 opener with Arizona. Because none of the team’s principal offensive stars played in the preseason, it won’t be until the games count that the Titans discover whether the addition of Julio Jones will bring the extra dimenstion to the passing game they anticipate. If Jones is healthy, teaming with A.J. Brown gives the Titans two exceptional receivers, and should make it even tougher for teams to stack the line against Derrick Henry, bidding to become the NFL’s first running back to post consecutive 2,000-yard seasons.
But assuming there’s no dip in Tannehill’s consistency, the real issues for the Titans are defensive ones. Last year’s defense was awful, with the 52 percent successful third down conversion rate for opposing teams being one of the worse in modern NFL history. They looked good through three preseason games, but the questions remain entering the season. Will the defensive line get more steady pressure on quarterbacks and prevent long, time-sapping scoring drives? Also, can the reconfigured secondary which will probably have three new starters provide better coverage?
Aside from inserting Jones into the offense, the Titans also look for the return of Taylor Lewan into the offensive line to bring some stability, while they ease a new starter in at right tackle. How teams play them will be interesting to watch early, because the formula last year saw teams in the second half increasingly doubling Brown. It’s hard to believe any team will be able to handle both Brown and Jones if both are 100 percent, and the Titans also hope to find a third receiver to further bolster the offense.
Whatever the case, the Titans will find out quickly whether what they saw defensively in the preseason proves sustainable. The Arizona Cardinals have their own title aspirations, and in Kyler Murray another of the new wave of multiple threat QBs. They also have on defense someone who’s been a Titan killer in the past, defensive lineman J.J. Watt.
The Cardinals are one of three tough teams the Titans face in the opening month, followed by the Seahawks on the road and the Colts back home at Nissan Stadium.