Five Keys to Sunday's Regular Season Opener


NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Titans face the Buccaneers on Sunday in the regular season opener.

A look at five keys to the game:


Mariota's poise**

Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota has shown no signs of cracking in his first 4 ½ months on the job. He's been unflappable in practices, and in preseason games. Things are different now. He'll see different looks in the regular season, even from a Tampa Bay defense that's known for being pretty consistent in its approach. How well Mariota handles things will be influenced by the pressure he's under, of course. A new Titans front five will need to protect him better than the rotating five-some did a year ago.

Run the football

The Titans racked up 162 yards in the ground in the season opener at Kansas City a year ago, and as a result were in control of the game throughout. Unfortunately, the Titans never rushed for that many yards in a game again the rest of the season. To take pressure off Mariota, the Titans need to establish the run. Running back Bishop Sankey and others will face a Tampa Bay defense that's sturdy in the middle with defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Clinton McDonald.


Fluster Winston**

Like Mariota, Winston will be making his NFL debut on Sunday. Unlike Mariota, Winston was under attack throughout the preseason while lining up behind an offensive line that features two rookie starters – left tackle Donovan Smith and right guard Ali Marpet. Winston was sacked seven times in the preseason. The Titans – and defensive wizard Dick LeBeau -- will aim to keep Winston guessing in the pocket. They'll bring extra rushers on some plays, and drop defenders in coverage on others. The Titans need to keep Winston on his toes – and put him on his back.

Stop the run

A year after finishing 31st in the NFL in run defense, the Titans made stopping the run a top priority this offseason. LeBeau said he liked what he saw during the preseason, but that's out the window now. The Titans need to be disciplined, and they need to tackle well. During the preseason the Buccaneers were led in rushing by Doug Martin, who averaged 5.9 yards per carry. The Buccaneers had a tough time running the football in 2014 – Martin led the way with just 494 rushing yards. So this is an area the Bucs are looking to repair as well.


Big receivers**

Winston has some big targets on the outside in receivers Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson, both 6-5. Evans was limited in practices during the week because of a hamstring injury, but Jackson is dangerous on his own – he has 1,000-yard seasons in six of the past seven seasons, and he's given the Titans trouble in the past. With cornerback Jason McCourty doubtful with a groin injury, other members of the Titans secondary will need to get physical, and make plays.


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