Titans Open Season at Denver on Monday Night Football

2020-09-14-titans-at-broncos-game-matchup

NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Titans (0-0) travel to Denver this week to open their season against the Broncos (0-0) on Monday Night Football. The game marks the Titans' first Monday night season opener in franchise history. Kickoff at Empower Field at Mile High is scheduled for 8:20 p.m. MDT/9:20 p.m. CDT on Sept. 14.

It will be the third season opener in franchise history against the Broncos and the first in 48 years. The last time was a 30-17 Oilers loss at Denver in 1972, preceded by an Oilers home win in 1966.

The Titans, who are opening on the road for the third consecutive year, are 31-29 all-time on Kickoff Weekend, including an 11-10 mark in the Titans era, which began in 1999. In 2019, they ended a three-game losing skid in Week 1 contests with a victory at Cleveland.

Another Titans franchise first will occur in Denver: No fans will be present at the game. The Broncos, in collaboration with the state of Colorado, made the decision to not have fans present at home games for the start of their season due to the coronavirus outbreak. The Titans and the city of Nashville announced a similar decision for the Titans' home opener next week against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

THE BROADCAST

ESPN will broadcast the game to a national audience, while the telecast also can be seen locally in Nashville on WZTV FOX 17. The broadcast team includes play-by-play announcer Steve Levy, analysts Brian Griese and Louis Riddick, reporter Lisa Salters, and officiating analyst John Parry.

Fans can livestream the game on their mobile devices from the Titans Mobile App (iOS and Android) and on TennesseeTitans.com mobile web. Restrictions apply. For more information visit TennesseeTitans.com or NFL.com/ways-to-watch.

The Titans Radio Network, including Nashville flagship 104.5 The Zone, will carry the game across the Mid-South with the "Voice of the Titans" Mike Keith, analyst Dave McGinnis, sideline reporter Amie Wells, and gameday hosts Rhett Bryan and Jonathan Hutton.

Additionally, Westwood One Sports will broadcast the game to a national radio audience. Play-by-play announcer Kevin Harlan and analyst Kurt Warner will have the call.

TAKING THE NEXT STEP

Following a virtual offseason program and a training camp with no preseason games as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Titans are set to face an opponent for the first time since walking off the field in last season's AFC Championship Game at Kansas City, where a memorable run was cut short one victory shy of the Super Bowl. Head coach Mike Vrabel's team earned a wild card berth and then went on the road to knock off the New England Patriots and the top-seeded Baltimore Ravens in the first two playoff rounds, respectively, before being ousted by the eventual Super Bowl champion Chiefs.

Tennessee achieved its fourth consecutive winning record and its second playoff berth in four seasons since controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk hired Jon Robinson as general manager. With 9-7 finishes every year since 2016, the Titans enter 2020 with the NFL's fourth-longest active streak of winning records. Only the New England Patriots (19), the Seattle Seahawks (eight) and the Chiefs (seven) have longer such streaks.

Early in the 2020 offseason, the Titans signed several free agents to address depth and provide veteran competition at key spots. Included in the signings were former Atlanta Falcons outside linebacker Vic Beasley Jr., former Falcons defensive lineman Jack Crawford and former Houston Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph.

Two significant free agent acquisitions—outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowneyand kickerStephen Gostkowski—joined the Titans much later in the year. Clowney agreed to terms with the Titans on Sept. 6, only eight days before the season opener. A three-time Pro Bowl selection (2016-18), Clowney spent his first five seasons with the Texans before being traded to the Seattle Seahawks in 2019. With 32 career sacks, he also is one of only three NFL players with at least 60 tackles for loss, eight forced fumbles and 150 quarterback pressures since 2016, along with Aaron Donald and Chandler Jones.

The addition of Gostkowski was announced on Sept. 3. The veteran of 14 previous seasons with the New England Patriots earned four Pro Bowl selections and three Super Bowl rings during his time in New England. His 87.4 percentage on field goals (374 of 428) ranks fifth in NFL history.

The 2020 NFL Draft provided the Titans six total additions, beginning with Georgia offensive tackle Isaiah Wilson with the 29th overall pick in the first round. The draft class also includes second-round cornerback Kristian Fulton (Louisiana State) and third-round running back Darrynton Evans (Appalachian State).

BUILDING BLOCKS

Perhaps Robinson's two most critical moves since the AFC Championship were locking up a pair of the team's own free agents with new, multi-year contracts—quarterback Ryan Tannehill and running back Derrick Henry.

Tannehill, acquired in a trade with the Miami Dolphins, was a catalyst for the team's resurgence in 2019, taking control as the starter in Week 7 and finishing the campaign with a league-best 117.5 passer rating. He was named to his first Pro Bowl and voted the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year.

Henry won the NFL's rushing title with 1,540 yards on 303 attempts (4.8 avg.). His 16 rushing touchdowns put him in a tie with Green Bay's Aaron Jones atop the league leaderboard and placed second in franchise annals. Over his final nine games—six games in the regular season plus three playoff appearances—Henry totaled seven 100-yard performances. In addition to being selected to his first Pro Bowl, he garnished second-team Associated Press All-Pro recognition and the FedEx Ground Player of the Year award.

The Titans' leading receiver in 2019 was rookie A.J. Brown, a second-round pick. Brown finished first among all NFL rookies in receiving yards (1,051), and he tied for the rookie lead in touchdown receptions (eight). Among all players, his 20.2-yard receiving average ranked second (20.4 by Mike Williams). At the conclusion of the season, Brown finished third in AP Offensive Rookie of the Year voting.

In total, the Titans return 10 of their 11 regular offensive starters from last season. The lone exception is at right tackle, where veteran Dennis Kelly is first on the depth chart to begin the season.

The offensive coaching staff remains intact, as Arthur Smith enters his second year as offensive coordinator after an impressive debut. The 2019 Titans ranked third in the NFL in rushing (138.9 yards per game), first in red zone efficiency (75.6 touchdown percent), fourth in yards per play (6.12) and tied for third in total touchdowns (54). Over their final 10 games (Week 7-17), they ranked third in both scoring (30.4 points per game) and total offense (406.2 yards per game).

The vast majority of key contributors on defense return as well. The unit's major statistical leaders in 2019 were safety Kevin Byard (five interceptions), outside linebacker Harold Landry III (nine sacks) and inside linebacker Rashaan Evans (139 tackles), and all three are back in their same roles.

Despite little turnover in defensive personnel, the defense does face significant changes to its leadership structure. After running the defense for two seasons, during which time the Titans finished second in the NFL in points allowed per game (19.3), former defensive coordinator Dean Pees announced his retirement on Jan. 20. Vrabel, who served as the defensive coordinator for the Houston Texans prior to his arrival in Tennessee, did not name a new defensive coordinator upon Pees' departure.

Additionally, the Titans have hired a new secondary coach and a new inside linebackers coach. Veteran coaches Anthony Midget and Jim Haslett were picked by Vrabel for those respective positions.

VRABEL IN YEAR 3

In his first two seasons with the Titans, Vrabel led the team to 20 total wins—18 in the regular season and two in the playoffs. It amounted to the second-highest win total in franchise history in a head coach's first two years (Jack Pardee, 21 wins), and Vrabel became the organization's first head coach to win multiple playoff games within the first two years.

Since the NFL's current 12-team playoff format began in 1990, the Titans became only the third team to advance to a conference championship game after beginning the season with a record of 2-4 or worse (2002 Titans and 1996 Jacksonville Jaguars). The 2019 Titans also were the sixth No. 6 playoff seed to advance to a conference championship game and the first since 2010 (Green Bay Packers and New York Jets).

The 2020 campaign begins for Vrabel and his team with unprecedented challenges, as the NFL continues to protect against the spread of COVID-19 and its ramifications. A new reserve list category was created for players who either test positive for COVID-19 or who have been quarantined after having been in close contact with an infected person or persons. Players on reserve lists such as reserve/COVID-19 or reserve/injured do not count toward the NFL's roster limits.

The Titans face a formidable slate of opponents on the field. Among their 16 games during the regular season, the Titans play a total of six contests against five playoff clubs from 2019. Half of their road games are against playoff teams: the Minnesota Vikings (Sept. 27), the Baltimore Ravens (Nov. 22), the Green Bay Packers (Dec. 27) and the Houston Texans (Jan. 3). The Texans, who are the reigning AFC South champions, also visit Nissan Stadium on Oct. 18.

THE BRONCOS

The Titans' Week 1 opponents are led by head coach Vic Fangio, who begins his second season at the helm for the Broncos. A 41-year coaching veteran with 33 seasons of NFL experience, Fangio served as the Chicago Bears defensive coordinator from 2015–2018 before arriving in Denver in 2019.

The Broncos were 7-9 in Fangio's first season. However, they were 5-3 in the second half of the season, and all three losses were at the hands of eventual playoff teams. The Broncos defeated the Titans at Mile High in Week 6.

Broncos quarterback Drew Lock was a second-round draft pick in 2019 and started the club's final five games as a rookie, earning a 4-1 record. His passing statistics included 1,020 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions.

The Broncos defense is led by 10th-year outside linebacker Von Miller. Since entering the NFL in 2011, the seven-time Associated Press All-Pro leads the NFL in sacks (112.5) and ranks second in forced fumbles (27).

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