By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – September 8, 2019)
No one had more hype entering the 2019 NFL season than the Cleveland Browns, mainly because they couldn’t stop talking about themselves and the media ate up every word they spoke as if it were the fountain of youth. With so many unknowns and unprovens and possible chemistry concerns, I was very much a “pump the brakes” guy as it related to them going undefeated, or even finishing above .500 for the first time in 11 seasons.
While they talked, the Tennessee Titans took a trip into their stadium, kept their composure, made a couple of big plays, benefited from one major return to the offense, and flat out boatraced the Browns down the stretch. Here are my Big 6 Takeaways from the Titans thunderous 43-13 performance in Cleveland, which was much needed and cathartic for the entire state after Saturday’s college results.
ARTHUR SMITH UNDERSTANDS HIS PERSONNEL
It was easy to see throughout this game that Smith had a level of comfort with his offense and the players he coached. There was a smoothness to it, and although Marcus Mariota wasn’t stellar, he did enough, the defense kept the Browns under wraps, and as the offense settled in, Smith dialed up some key play action gems late in the third quarter and early in the fourth.
All you wanted to see in Week 1 from Smith was logic, and sure you can find spots where you wanted to see the quarterback heave it downfield or when the blocking couldn’t contain the Browns rush, but what the new OC did was give his offense a chance to succeed by not overthinking it. What we saw from the Titans offense made SENSE, which is a gigantic compliment to give. It was one of the more obnoxious issues last season with LaFleur. There were times where the new Green Bay Packers head coach would call some gorgeous stuff, but far too often we were left scratching our heads.
This game wasn’t particularly flashy, and it didn’t have to be. You’ve got talent. Use it. Put it in the best position to score points, gain yards, and keep the Browns defense on the field. However, because of the Browns futility, it was short fields, so it was largely short drives that ended in a growing lead.
INT, THY NAME IS MAYFIELD
Freddie Kitchens may end up being a fantastic head coach. He might also end up being atrocious. The personalities on Cleveland’s team have been worrisome since day one, and when it begins to go bad for this team, expect it to be a downpour, not a sprinkle. Mayfield in the second half? Woof.
He had a stretch in the fourth quarter where he was picked off by Kevin Byard, picked off by Logan Ryan, turned it over on downs, and was then picked off by Malcolm Butler, who took it to the house for a pick six. There aren’t enough pages in a GQ cover story to explain away what was a pretty rough day for Baker.
But, unlike the national media, who no doubt will talk about the Browns and neglect the Titans, in similar fashion to what happened after Derrick Henry criminally mauled the Jaguars on Thursday Night Football last season…this was also about the Titans secondary. The Browns are loaded with weapons and possess an accurate starting QB, but the Titans DBs were having none of it.
Beckham and Landry did catch a few, Njoku did as well, but never did Cleveland’s offense feel in sync or “rolling.” The Browns looked to be in preseason form, still trying to figure each other out like an exchange student that just stepped off an airplane in a foreign country. He just met the family he’ll be living with for the summer, but there’s a language barrier and they aren’t even sure what to eat for dinner.
And that discombobulation and confusion on Mayfield’s face? That credit goes to Dean Pees and the back end of that defense… and also the hosses getting after Baker in the backfield.
Plus, seriously there could be a seventh takeaway. TWO AND A HALF SACKS FOR CAM WAKE in his debut. That was monstrous for Tennessee and nightmarish for Cleveland. He’s 37. I mean are you kidding me?
MARIOTA HAS TO STOP TAKING BAD SACKS
Will Marcus ever learn it’s okay to toss the pigskin into the tenth row? He takes so many unnecessary hits and makes far too many throws that never should have existed. These are the kinds of things that will add up to injuries, to turnovers, to losses for the Tennessee Titans. This isn’t new either. 8 has been notoriously devoted to caring for the football all the way to the grass, rather than getting rid of it and living to play another down.
He wasn’t bad today, but it was more the weapons looking a lot like deadly weapons, particularly in the second half, that helped him. No interceptions, although a few could have been picked, but the completion percentage wasn’t impressive and the three sacks… at least two he didn’t have to take. He also slid late in the fourth quarter and looked to almost slam the back of his head into the ground.
We notice when it’s Mariota because we always expect he’s not going to get up healthy every time he gets hit or every time he falls. It has to cease. Throw the darn ball away Marcus. This is a Tin Cup situation. “Tell that guy he doesn’t have to hit it from there!”
AY JAY BROWN… WEE SEA U BRUH!
The Browns the media will discuss tomorrow are in Cleveland, but the Brown we’ll be talking about in the Music City this week is the rookie A.J., who went for 100 yards in his first game, looked outstanding after the catch, and showed all of the measurables and effort that made us all applaud the pick this past April.
Three grabs for the newbie in his debut, but what was most exciting without question was what he did AFTER he caught the football. He caught it, bringing in three of his four targets, and then he made moves, displayed athleticism and elusiveness this squad has begged for out of a WR with a little bit of size. The 51 yarder was an absolute thing of beauty.
Brown couldn’t have had a much better start to his tenure in the National Football League as he did here. If you can get Corey Davis going, add in the walking chain movers that are Delanie Walker and Adam Humphries and manage to convince Marcus to get rid of the football a little faster, this is a dangerous offense.
Especially when you add in this guy I’m about to write about…
DERRICK HENRY PICKS UP RIGHT WHERE HE LEFT OFF
75 yards for the touchdown in the third quarter was that moment where we remembered the beast we saw during the 2018 stretch run. He didn’t have a stellar line performance in front of him, which isn’t altogether unexpected against a quick, laterally agile Browns defense, but he still managed to finish up the day with 84 on the ground and the touchdown catch.
Henry totaled 159 yards and a touchdown, averaged over four per carry, and continued to look like the guy I took in the first round of my fantasy draft this year. Yes, it was an auto draft and I forgot to pre-rank, but I’m still pretty pleased with the selection my robot overlords made for me.
I’d love to see him end up around 25 carries a game, but very few RBs hit the 20 mark, with many teams employing platoons or multiple back sets, or simply managing the workload. If he’s going to be effective at 19 totes, stay healthy, and the defense is going to help blow the game wide open, I’m not going to complain, and neither are any Titans fans. Henry was very good when he had any room whatsoever to operate, which happened ENOUGH to put up solid digits for his afternoon.
AFC SOUTH MAY HAVE GOTTEN EVEN MORE WIDE OPEN
The AFC South has been bonkers over the past month in the lead-up to week one, with Andrew Luck’s retirement, Lamar Miller’s torn ACL, Clowney out and Tunsil in, and then on Sunday as the Titans won by 30 on the road against 2019’s “it” team in the NFL, the Jacksonville Jaguars lost their brand new starting quarterback to a broken clavicle against the Chiefs.
The pressure is absolutely on the Titans, who should win this division if Mariota can stay healthy and limit his mistakes. Every team in the division is flawed, which also means anybody could come out on top, but the Titans looked good on Sunday in Cleveland, and did so in a way that didn’t feel like it couldn’t be duplicated. This is a mediocre division that is riddled with storylines that have depleted the various rosters.
It’s a long season and anything can happen, including more injuries (hopefully not, for anybody in the NFL) or all sorts of bad bounces or absurd turns of events. But 1-0 after winning a game against a team you COULD have to deal with in terms of tiebreakers towards a Wildcard berth is a big big deal. This wasn’t a must win, but it was one you wanted. You had CBS’ A crew with Jim Nantz and Tony Romo, the country is paying attention to the Browns, and you went out and beat the brakes off ’em.
Good on you, Titans. Last season, we saw Tennessee beat New England and Philadelphia at home, the two representatives of the 2018 Super Bowl, but we also saw the Titans blow it against Buffalo, cost themselves a chance against Los Angeles in London, and lose games they shouldn’t. The hallmark of a team on the rise and one that’s classified as “good” is beating the teams you should beat.
This was a team you COULD beat. Tennessee did it. They have to win the ones they’re supposed to, but a win like this gives you a little larger margin for error. That said, the step this team must take in 2019 is not squandering opportunities. 12-6 at the half was a little scary after that safety. It could have been disastrous.
But the Titans answered the bell. They’re 1-0. Up next? Jacoby Brissett’s Indianapolis Colts.