NASHVILLE – The Titans face the New York Giants in the regular season opener on Sunday at Nissan Stadium.
Here's a look at six things to watch in the contest:
Derrick Henry says he's hungry. The Titans, once again, will be ready to feed him. Everyone remembers what happened last season – Henry was rolling before then being sidelined midseason with a broken foot. He busted his butt to get back for the playoffs, only to see it all end after one forgettable game. Since then, some folks have jumped off the Henry bandwagon in favor of Colts running back Jonathan Taylor, who has been a popular pick to win the NFL's rushing title this year. Henry, who won back-to-back rushing titles in 2019 and 2020, has made it clear he isn't worried about individual goals. Since January he simply kept working, and now he's ready to unleash his fury against a Giants defense that will be geared up to stop him. One game won't make a season, of course, but for Henry and the Titans, it could provide a sign of things to come.
It's probably safe to say no player is more eager to start a new season – and turn the page – than Ryan Tannehill. The Titans quarterback has been beaten up by some fans – and himself – in the wake of last year's playoff loss. Finally, a new season is upon us, and Tannehill can start to change the subject. Heading into 2022, Tannehill finds himself surrounded by a bunch of new faces – at receiver, at tight end, and on the offensive line. On Sunday, as he looks to build chemistry with his new teammates, he'll face a Giants defense run by blitz-happy DC Wink Martindale that will aim to force him into mistakes. Can Tannehill start the season off on a positive note?
So, about those new faces. Veteran receiver Robert Woods and veteran tight end Austin Hooper were signed earlier this offseason to help bolster an offense that included A.J. Brown when they first hopped on board. Well, we all know Brown is no longer around, and after he was shipped to Philadelphia the Titans drafted a pair of rookie receivers in Treylon Burks and Kyle Philips who will be partly responsible for picking up the slack. There's no time for these guys to get settled in – the Titans need them now. The Titans also need a pair of new starters on the offensive line – left guard Aaron Brewer and right tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere – to do their jobs well. Yes, that's a lot of new guys the Titans are counting on, and the Titans need them to be good from the get-go.
Defense, Defense, Defense
Sure, I could write a few graphs on the threat of Giants running back Saquon Barkley, and how the Titans need to contain him. The same goes for keeping Giants quarterback Daniel Jones in check, because he's had his moments as a runner and a passer. But the biggest thing to watch when the Titans defense is on the field is whether this unit can pick up where it left off last season, when it made life miserable for Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow by sacking him nine times. Chances are, the Titans aren't going to get those kinds of numbers on Sunday, because those days are rare, and one of the key guys harassing Burrow that day – Harold Landry – won't be a part of the attack against the Giants, or all season. But these Titans have plenty of talent on the defensive side of the football, and now this group's mission is to prove it can be the strength of this year's team. Sunday offers the first chance to start proving it.
Titans kicker Randy Bullock returns in 2022, and he's coming off a solid offseason. But the Titans have seen a lot of changes here, so this unit will be worth watching on Sunday. Gone is long-time punter Brett Kern, who has been replaced by strong-legged punter Ryan Stonehouse, who's ready to make his NFL debut. Philips, the rookie from UCLA, also finds himself in an important spot at punt returner in his first game. Titans special teams coach Craig Aukerman this week said the team is still undecided on who will handle the duties at kick returner, where Dontrell Hilliard, Trenton Cannon and Philips are all possibilities. Needless to say, the Titans have a lot of moving parts here, including a bunch of guys who will be covering kicks together for the first time.
First Game Unpredictability
Week One in the NFL. Players, coaches and fans never know for sure what they're going to get. A year ago, the Titans were embarrassed right out of the gate in a home loss to the Cardinals, but ended up winning an AFC-best 12 games by season's end. Way back in 2014, the Titans look like world beaters in Week 1 in a blowout win over the Chiefs, but that team ended up winning just one more game that season. The Titans aren't completely sure what to expect from the Giants, a team with a new head coach (Brian Daboll) and plenty of new faces themselves. On the flip side, the Giants should expect to see some things they haven't prepared for against the Titans. Whichever team handles the first game circumstances and executes the best will walk out of Nissan Stadium feeling a lot better about themselves at the start of a new season.