The Browns and Tennessee Titans face off in Cleveland today, with both teams sitting at 2-1. Thanks to the revitalization of quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and a dominating defense, the Titans have weathered the storm that is running back Chris Johnson’s slow start.
To get a better look at the Titans, I spoke with Brandon Clark of TitanSized, asking him about Chris Johnson, Matt Hasselbeck, and what Browns fans can expect to see from the Titans’ defense.
1. Chris Johnson is obviously not off to the start that Titans fans expected. Do you see it as a result of him missing the preseason, poor run blocking, or something else?
I’m fully convinced the slow start is, at the least, 80% due to the offensive line. I wrote many times during the preseason about how the interior line bothered me. The tackles, they’re fine. You don’t have to be too familiar with the Titans to know that there are two really great offensive tackles on this team–Micahel Roos (LT) and David Stewart (RT). Expect the Titans to look for interior help often and early in next year’s NFL Draft. To add perspective, I read yesterday that Pro Football Focus ranked the Titans run blocking as 32nd best…too bad that doesn’t come with a prize.
2. Better news for the Titans, though, is that QB Matt Hasselbeck is experience somewhat of a career resurgence in Tennessee. Is that something you can see him sustaining over the entire season?
Absolutely! I’ve followed Hasselbeck since 2004, give or take a year. He’s the kind of QB that when given time will pick you apart. He doesn’t need great receivers, just the types of guys that can get to their spot on time. Hasselbeck’s problem in Seattle sat with the ineptitude of their offensive tackles in pass protection. As I mentioned above, the Titans are great in that department. Hasselbeck’s only glare since starting in Week One of the preseason was his lack of timing with Nate Washington. It was obvious, and big plays were missed because of it. The real career revival seems to be Washington, who is now in time with Hasselbeck. I do worry about Joe Haden, though.
3. Some might say that the Titans are a surprise at 2-1 so far. What’s the biggest reason the Titans have gotten off to a good start in 2011?
The Titans, mostly, have a young defense. The defense seems to play like Cortland Finnegan, and I don’t mean pick a fight and lose. They are scrappy. They hit hard. They want to win, more than I remember seeing in a while. Look for Akeem Ayers (rookie OLB out of UCLA) to be a problem in pass rush and run defense for the Browns. MLB Barrett Ruud does his best in coverage. The corners have played better than most expected and right now there is a safety battle. Jordan Babineaux (former Seahawk) is filling in for longtime starter Chris Hope. It looks permanent.
4. Who are a few under-the-radar players for the Titans who Browns fans should be made aware of?
You may have heard of Jared Cook. Cook got that “raw athleticism that gives you a chance for high potential” tag coming out of South Carolina. He’s a physical freak and a match-up nightmare for any defense, especially since athletic tight ends are so hard to defend to begin with. Cook stands 6’5″ and weighs over 240 lbs. He runs a 4.5 40-yd dash and has a vertical jump of over 40″, so yeah, he’s for real. Another newcomer to watch for is defensive tackle Karl Klug. Klug is the undersized type that probably should’ve been drafted as a strongside end. He weighs in the 270 lb range and is a starting defensive tackle. I know, it sounds like the Colts. Klug, however, is a highly disruptive player with a mean streak. He wants to rip the ball out of your hands. He wants to hurt the lineman he pushes out of his way, regardless of their size advantage. He’ll make noise Sunday.
5. The big question: who wins this one, and why?
I think the team that has a running back top 85 yards wins. Hillis was on the Madden cover so let’s hope his career isn’t over, I’ve liked him since his college days in Arkansas. What a backfield that was: Darren McFadden, Felix Jones, and Peyton Hillis! That’s unfair to the rest of the teams. Then there’s Chris Johnson. His ability isn’t a question, however, his potential for productivity is a major question. I guess we’ll see Sunday, but I won’t give you a score, I’m biased.
Thanks again to Brandon for taking the time to answer a few questions for us. You can follow him on Twitter @BCTitanSized.