The Tennessee Titans and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are both looking to turn the page on disastrous 2014 seasons, and both should feel like they have the perfect opponent to start 2015 on a good note.
These five matchups will go a long way in determining Sunday’s winner.
1. Jameis Winston vs Dick LeBeau
On paper, you would certainly have to give Tennessee the advantage in this matchup. A rookie qb versus a Hall of Fame defensive coordinator. One thing that Winston struggled with last year at Florida State, was turning the ball over when facing pressure. LeBeau, meanwhile, is the “godfather” of pressure. Stopping the run will be paramount for the Titans. If Winston is forced into second and long…third and long situations…then LeBeau can control the tempo of the game. But if Winston is able to throw when he wants, then the unknown factor tips in his favor.
2. Marcus Mariota vs Lovie Smith
Winston won’t be the only rookie qb facing a brilliant defensive mind. Buccaneers’ head coach Lovie Smith is certainly no slouch on that side of the ball either. He will also have some special things brewing for Mr. Mariota should the Titans find themselves behind the chains a lot…so running the ball is equally important for Tennessee. Ohio St was extremely physical with Mariota and his Oregon Ducks in last year’s Championship game. Expect Tampa Bay to remind Mariota that it only gets tougher in the pros. Advantage Bucs.
3. Titans Tight ends vs Bucs Linebackers
This is a classic case of strength vs strength. Tennessee’s base offense features a two tight end set, and they have two good ones in Delanie Walker and Anthony Fasano. Both have great hands, and are willing blockers. They’ll need to be, as Tampa Bay’s strength on defense is their linebackers…led by All Pro Lavonte David. Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt will look for ways to isolate his tight ends on early downs, and the Bucs have the horses for that challenge. No advantage either way.
4. Titans secondary vs Bucs Receivers
Tampa Bay must be licking their chops at this matchup. The Bucs had two 1,000 yard receivers last year in Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson. Both are big, strong, and athletic. Oh, and they now have a gun-slinging rookie qb that can and will wing it all over the field. Meanwhile, Tennessee’s first string secondary was torched every time they faced an A-List receiver this preseason. Jason McCourty is out, and Blidi Wreh-Wilson hasn’t played much recently. Advantage Bucs.
5. Titans Defensive line vs Bucs Offensive line
If the Titans are to win this game, then they must win this matchup. All of the above mentioned matchups are an offspring. Tampa Bay’s offensive line is struggling, Winston has been getting hit a lot this preseason. The Titans’ defensive front cannot allow the Bucs’ offense to run the ball. Tennessee is deeper and more talented on the d’line than the Bucs are up front on offense. And while the Titans’ o’line has struggled, they have the added allure of Mariota running the ball as an early crutch. Advantage Titans.