NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The NFL regular season is finally upon us. After going 2-2 in the preseason, the Titans take their Week 1 show on the road to Arrowhead Stadium Sunday for a battle with the Kansas City Chiefs.
These two teams met in Week 5 last season with the Chiefs prevailing 26-17 at LP Field. The win gave Kansas City a 29-20 edge in the all-time series between the two teams. However, trying to find meaning from that contest going into Sunday's matchup is like comparing apples and oranges. Ryan Fitzpatrick started that game for the Titans and threw two interceptions, while then Chiefs kicker Ryan Succop nailed four field goals.
Now Succop resides on the Titans sideline and Jake Locker will be under center for Tennessee. It's the first chance for Titans fans to see head coach Ken Whisenhunt's new offense that has been discussed frequently over the course of the offseason. The Titans kept their playbook pretty close to the chest during the exhibition slate which makes it hard to predict what things will look like on Sunday.
Two offensive starters will be missing from the Chiefs lineup Sunday. Top receiver Dwayne Bowe (one game) and starting right tackle Donald Stephenson (four games) have both been suspended for violating the league's drug policy.
The biggest preseason storylines for the Chiefs were the emergence of rookie running back/return man De'Anthony Thomas and second-year tight end Travis Kelce.
The Chiefs used a fourth-round pick this year on Thomas, who will fill the void left by the departure of Dexter McCluster. The Chiefs will use him all over the field, but will be most dangerous in the return game, showcased in the preseason by his 80-yard punt return touchdown. Thomas had five total return touchdowns during his days as an Oregon Duck.
The good news for the Titans is that Thomas is nursing a hamstring injury and is listed as doubtful for the game.
Kelce was taken in the third round of the 2013 draft by the Chiefs and finished fifth in receiving yards during the preseason, catching 11 passes for 193 yards and two touchdowns. At 6-feet 5-inches and 255-pounds, the Chiefs love his combination of size and athleticism. He figures to be the team's breakout offensive player in 2014.
Sunday's game will be the first for the Chiefs since a gutting defeat in the wild card round of the 2013 playoffs. Kansas City blew a 38-10 second half lead in an eventual loss to the Indianapolis Colts. The Chiefs stood as the marquee turnaround team in 2013, going from a 2-14 record the year before to an 11-5 playoff team in Andy Reid's first season as head coach.
Chiefs safety Eric Berry said earlier this week that the team is hungrier than ever going into the 2014 season. Let's get into our five things to watch for week one.
5 Things to Watch
- Containing Jamaal Charles**
Charles was an absolute monster in 2013. If it weren't for a guy named Peyton Manning, Charles would have likely been the league's offensive MVP. The Chiefs offensive star posted a ridiculous 1,287 rushing yards, 693 receiving yards, and 19 total touchdowns.
With Bowe missing in action, the full focus of Tennessee's defense will be on containing Charles. The Titans didn't let Charles beat them last season, "holding" him to 108 rushing yards, 37 receiving yards, and one touchdown, but defensive coordinator Ray Horton still hopes for better results this time around.
Horton said on Thursday that his goal was to keep Charles under 100 yards rushing. He's an elite talent that will keep the Titans' new 3-4 defense busy all game long.
2. Titans O-Line vs. Chiefs Front Seven
This is a matchup of strength vs. strength. Last season the Chiefs finished tied for sixth in sacks throughout the league with 47. KC's front seven is led by four reigning Pro Bowlers in linebackers Tamba Hali, Justin Houston, and Derrick Johnson as well as monster nose tackle Dontari Poe.
Just how monstrous is Poe? The 11th overall pick from the 2012 draft measures in at 6-feet 3-inches and a whopping 346 pounds. The four combined for 32 sacks in 2013 with Hali and Houston pacing the group with 11 each.
Tennessee's offensive line should have its hands full, but brings plenty of talent to the table as well. Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt praised tackles Michael Roos and Michael Oher for their standout training camps. Second year linemen Chance Warmack and Brian Schwenke have also continued to progress.
Keeping Jake Locker upright and creating holes for their host of running backs will be a test come Sunday.
3. Timeshare at Running Back
Speaking of that host of running backs, Shonn Greene will start for the Titans but Bishop Sankey is bound to get his first NFL carry as well. There have been no clues as to how the suggested running back by committee will play out.
Dexter McCluster should also figure to play a big role in the committee but may also line up on the outside as a receiver in some packages.
4. McCluster and Succop Return to KC
Players might not admit it, but there's always a bit more motivation when you're going against your former team. For Ryan Succop and Dexter McCluster, the return to Arrowhead just happens to be their first game since leaving Kansas City.
As mentioned above, Succop connected on all four of his field goal attempts (29, 24, 33, and 38) against the Titans last season, accounting for 14 of the Chiefs 26 points (extra points included).
McCluster didn't catch a pass, but he did return five punts for 39 yards with a long of 20 to help ice the game for Kansas City.
Now in two-tone blue, the pair of former Chiefs would like nothing more than to start the season with a win as the visitors at Arrowhead. That being said, A DMC punt return touchdown and/or a Succop game-winning field goal would be icing on the cake.
5. Starting Fast
The noise at Arrowhead stadium has been widely discussed during the week. The Titans are 6-8 all-time at the home of the Chiefs, which isn't terrible considering Kansas City's 187-143-1 all-time record at Arrowhead.
A team's home opener always brings added excitement for fans, meaning there will be an extra buzz as soon as gates open. It will be crucial for the Titans to take the crowd out of the game as soon as possible. That means a long, sustained scoring drive from Jake Locker and the offense and a stop by the defense will go a long way in setting the tone for the rest of the game.
And don't forget, the Titans opened their season at Pittsburgh last season, winning against a team that hadn't lost a home opener in more than 10 years.
Where to Watch
This week's game will be televised regionally on CBS, including Nashville affiliate WTVF News- Channel 5. Kevin Harlanwill handle play-by-play duties, and Rich Gannonwill serve as analyst.
The Titans Radio Network, including Nashville flagship 104.5 The Zone, will broadcast the game across the Mid-South with the "Voice of the Titans" Mike Keith,analyst Frank Wycheck,gameday host Rhett Bryanand sideline reporter Jonathan Hutton.