Tennessee Titans: Important Player Matchups to Watch in Week 1

NASHVILLE, TN - AUGUST 09: Taylor Lewan
NASHVILLE, TN - AUGUST 09: Taylor Lewan /

Key matchups against the Raiders in Week 1 for the Tennessee Titans.

At its core, football is a game of matchups. Whichever team is able to find the most favorable matchups throughout the course of the game, and exploit these matchups, is likely to win. However, some matchups are more important than others and some games can hinge on these few matchups.

Today, we will examine three of the key matchups that will determine the course of the Tennessee Titans’ first game against the Oakland Raiders. This game sees two young, exciting AFC teams that many experts are pegging as potential playoff contenders for several years to come. Both teams have a quarterback coming off of a broken leg, and both teams enter the season with high expectations on offense and an unproven defense.

This game would be a statement win for both teams and it is imperative that the Titans open the season with a win and start off on the right foot. The following three matchups, and who wins them, will likely determine the outcome of this game between two very similar teams.

Matchup 1: OT Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin vs. DE/OLB Khalil Mack

Even though the Tennessee Titans possess one of the league’s best young tackle duos in Conklin and Lewan, they will surely be tested by reigning Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack. Since being drafted fifth overall in 2014, Mack has been a monster off the edge with 26 sacks in the last two seasons and 150 tackles in the same span. If the Titans allow him to get the edge and sack Mariota or even just disrupt the running game with tackles for loss, the offensive efficiency of the team as a whole will go down substantially.

The weakness of the Raiders last season and heading into this season has been giving up a ton of passing yards to opponents. If Mack is allowed to get going and power the Oakland pass rush, this will disguise the inadequacy of their pass defense and eliminate the Titans’ ability on offense.

Matchup 2: DB Gareon Conley and Sean Smith vs. WR Corey Davis

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The Titans’ top pick, Corey Davis has been severely limited throughout training camp and the preseason due to injury, but he has been cleared to play in Week 1. Titans fans have nothing to go on for Davis except for his stellar performance in college that landed him with the team. Davis dominated in the MAC due to his size, length, speed, and route-running ability.

With established starter Rishard Matthews likely drawing the attention of Raiders CB David Amerson while other offensive stars Demarco Murray and Delanie Walker pull even more attention from the Raiders defense, Davis will likely be in a lot of isolated coverage against Smith and Conley with an opportunity to display whether or not his college dominance will translate seamlessly to the pros.

Smith was a big-ticket free agent who failed to fix the Raiders’ pass defense in 2016 and Conley is a very talented first-round cornerback out of Ohio State that is still unproven. If Davis is able to win matchups against the backup cornerbacks consistently, the Titans will have too many options for the Raiders to cover effectively on any given play, which should spell doom for a suspect Oakland defense.

Matchup 3: MLB Marquel Lee vs. RB DeMarco Murray

The Tennessee Titans’ greatest strength in 2016 was certainly their running game. They finished second in the league in rushing yards thanks to a two-headed rushing attack of Derrick Henry and DeMarco Murray and a strong offensive line. The MLB position for Oakland had been up in the air before they finally settled on Marquel Lee, the fifth-round rookie out of Wake Forest. His learning curve must be short, as the Raiders will rely on him to fill gaps and make tackles against the Titans’ premier back: DeMarco Murray, who finished third in the NFL in rushing yards last season.

If Lee can not anchor the middle of the defense and slow the Titans’ rushing attack, Tennessee will be able to run out the clock and keep the talented Oakland offense off of the field. Lee is a young player facing a big test in his first career start. How he fares will go great lengths in determining the outcome of this game.

Next: Injury Report for Week 1 Game