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VOL. 45 | NO. 37 | Friday, September 10, 2021

Four Downs: Titans vs. Cardinals

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The Titans open the 2021 season at home Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals (noon, CBS). Here’s what to watch:

First down

Containing Kyler Murray. The Titans’ pass rush, which they hope has improved with the additions of Bud Dupree, Denico Autry and Rashad Weaver, doesn’t need to get Murray on the ground so much as they need to simply make him uncomfortable and keep him from breaking free for runs or off-schedule passes.

The good news is the defense got a little bit at that in the preseason finale facing Chicago’s Justin Fields. But Murray is no rookie, and he is expected to be a breakout star this year, especially with the weapons now around him. The Titans need to keep the smaller QB in the pocket.

Second down

Test drive the car. Ryan Tannehill hasn’t had much time with A.J. Brown and Julio Jones in practice because the two wideouts missed a great deal of time with nagging injuries. About the time they returned, Tannehill went on the COVID reserve list. This week’s practices will be important to get ready and get the timing down.

The Titans, of course, do have Derrick Henry in the backfield, but expect them to try and get Brown and Jones involved quickly.

Third down

The Titans were miserable on third down last year, allowing nearly 52% of them to be converted. That looked much better in preseason, but preseason isn’t the regular season.

The real test comes Sunday to see if the Titans defense can win on third down. Of course, winning on first and second downs can help make third downs easier. Sunday will be a big test for the Tennessee defense.

Fourth down

Is the kicking reliable? Sam Ficken is the kicker du jour after winning the job in training camp. Ficken was solid in preseason after coming over on waivers from the Jets. He now has to earn his keep by being reliable on field goals, extra points and kickoffs. You can bet that Ficken will be on a short leash, so getting off to a good start is a necessity for the journeyman kicker.

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