Tennessee @ Cleveland (-3.0)
Power rankings: Cleveland 8, Tennessee 26
Keys to the game - When the Titans have the ball:
The Titans have a lackluster offense, featuring a past-his-prime Ryan Tannehill, DeAndre Hopkins, Derrick Henry, and little else. The Titans attempts to get non-Hopkins receivers going have failed - Their efforts to ignite receivers beyond Hopkins have fallen short; for instance, Treylon Burks, the 18th overall pick from last year's draft, has secured only 5 catches and holds a 56.6 PFF grade. Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, the second most targeted player on the team, is a UDFA from 2020. Derrick Henry also popped up on the injury report Wednesday with a toe injury - the source of which remains a mystery - but I'd assume at this juncture he'll play. The toughest part for the Titans is dealing with their offensive line, which is struggling at all 5 positions. The team had high hopes for Peter Skoronski, the 11th overall selection in this year's draft, to transition from his college position as a tackle to guard and make a substantial impact. Unfortunately, Skoronski missed week 2 due to an abdominal injury and was unable to practice on Wednesday, further exacerbating the offensive line's challenges. The trenches then become a nightmare scenario against a Browns defensive line. Myles Garrett is a perennial defensive player of the year threat while Za'Darius Smith and Dalvin Tomlinson have proved to be key additions to the line. In week 1, Joe Burrow was under pressure on 36.4% of dropbacks against the Browns. In week 2, Kenny Pickett dealt with pressure on 43.8% of dropbacks. The Browns' robust secondary further bolsters their defensive prowess, making it a stern challenge for the Titans' offense to find success. CBs Denzel Ward and Greg Newsome are a solid 1-2 punch at corner, while Juan Thornhill and Grant Delpit is a strong safety tandem. Delpit is one to watch as a potential third year breakout candidate, the 2020 2nd rounder out of LSU has been dominant in each of his first two games.
When the Browns have the ball:
Cleveland's offensive issues are quite simple: their quarterback is a mess. Watson has now played 8 games in Cleveland between this year and last, and we've yet to see play anywhere near the 2020 version of Watson that took his game to MVP levels. Whether he'll magically find his "old" self (Watson is only 28) remains a mystery, but I'm not going to hold my breathe. The rest of the offense is more than capable - the offensive line standing out as a particular stronghold, even without RT Jack Conklin, who tore his ACL and MCL week 1. Conklin's replacement is Dawand Jones - a colossal rookie 4th rounder towering at an imposing 6'8" and 375 pounds, has admirably stepped into the breach. Jones is effective in pass protection, but grapples with run blocking due to his formidable size, a common challenge faced by larger tackles. Amari Cooper re-aggravated his groin last Saturday, which made his appearance in Monday's game unlikely, but then he went ahead and ran a route on 45 of 53 dropbacks and caught 7 balls for 90 yards. Donovan Peoples-Jones, slot man Elijah Moore, and TE David Njoku round things out. The Browns will be without Nick Chubb, their star running back, after suffering a gruesome knee injury on Monday. Jerome Ford steps into the spotlight, with the recently acquired Kareem Hunt set to complement him. Ford, in his second season, has garnered the trust of the Browns coaching staff, substantiated by an impressive performance post-Chubb's injury, amassing 106 yards on 16 attempts at a stellar 6.6 yards per carry. The Browns line will nevertheless be tested - the strength of the Titans defense is without question their line. Between edge rushers Arden Key, Denico Autry, and Harold Landry, as well as Jeffery Simmons, who is one of the best pass rushing tackles in football. Landry did miss all of 2022 with a torn ACL and has struggled to start the season, but even if Landry can't bounce back, it's still an effective front. The Titans also have a strong safety tandem (Kevin Byard and Amani Hooker), but their cornerback room is a problem. Roger McCreary, the 35th overall selection from 2022, has had a strong start to the season after struggling his rookie year, but he's still unproven. The Browns skill position players should have an edge.