The Seahawks will welcome back their fans Sunday when they host the Tennessee Titans in their home opener at Lumen Field, the first regular-season game with fans in the building since the end of the 2019 season. The Titans bring a talented team to Seattle after winning the AFC South last year, but they're looking to bounce back after a lopsided loss to Arizona in Week 1.
To learn more about this week's opponent, we reached out to Ben Arthur, the Titans beat writer for the Tennessean, and someone Seahawks fans might remember from his time providing excellent Seahawks coverage on Seattlepi.com.
Q: Let's start with the obvious, what happened last weekend for the defending AFC South champs to get blown out at home like that? And what do the Titans need to do to bounce back?
Arthur: Offensively, you must start with the lack of practice time. The Titans this season have arguably their most talented offense, particularly at the skill positions, in franchise history. But the group had little time together in training camp/preseason and in the lead up to the Arizona game. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill and two offensive-line starters spent more than a week on the Reserve/COVID-19 into September. Julio Jones missed three weeks of training camp. A.J. Brown has been dealing with a knee issue and he was in and out of practices all summer. The chemistry and cohesion weren't there heading into the opener, and it started with the O-line, which didn't give Tennessee a chance to get into its offense against the Cardinals. It all made for a tough predicament for the Titans new offensive coordinator, Todd Downing.
Then defensively, the Titans don't have an identity right now. They were historically bad on third down last season and essentially cleaned house on that side of the ball in the offseason. They have six new defensive starters, so there are a lot of new faces that are being worked in. I'd say Tennessee is equipped to be stronger later in the season than in the early going. Their marquee defensive signing, former Steelers pass rusher Bud Dupree, is working his way back from a torn ACL that cut his 2020 season prematurely. He didn't look 100% against Arizona. And the Titans' first-round rookie cornerback, Caleb Farley, has had two back surgeries since he last played in 2019. He's still knocking off rust. He's not a key contributor at this point.
Bouncing back for the Titans starts on offense -- the strength of their team -- and getting Derrick Henry going. The offensive line will obviously dictate a huge part of that, but Henry has been dominant on the road the last couple years. In his last 16 regular-season road games, he's rushed for more than 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Q: Julio Jones was one of the biggest names to change teams this offseason, I realize it has been only one game, but big picture what has he brought to the organization, and what is the hope for what he and A.J. Brown can do together?
Arthur: The Titans' hope is that the Jones-Brown tandem gives them two No. 1 receivers, creating matchup problems for opposing secondaries. The thought is that the presence of those two, coupled with Henry in the backfield, gives the team a "pick your poison" type of offense: stacking up the box against Henry will free up Jones and Brown; putting more defenders in coverage to stop Jones and Brown makes it easier for Henry to pummel you on the ground.
By trading for Jones, the Titans signaled that they're all-in on making a Super Bowl run. We'll see how that pans out.
Q: How big of a concern is pass protection after last weekend with a pretty productive Seahawks pass rush coming up next? Is that a real issue for the Titans offense, or was it just a case of Chandler Jones, who had five of Arizona's six sacks, just having a ridiculous day at the office?
Arthur: Jones was brilliant in Nashville, but there are certainly concerns for the Titans up front. Their Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan, who was responsible for two of Jones' five sacks, played just five games last season after tearing his ACL. Week 1 marked his first regular-season game since last October. He's clearly far from 100%, and it could take a few weeks for him to return to form. That could be a matchup the Seahawks look to exploit on Sunday.
Lewan isn't the only Titans offensive linemen who struggled in the opener, though. The week of practice heading into Seattle should help (as I noted earlier, the first-team offensive line didn't have a ton of time together over the summer). Tennessee has a lot of veteran experience up front, too. But if what the Seahawks' defensive line did to the Colts in their opener is any indication of what its capable of, it could be another tough day for the Titans.
Q: Going to the other side of the ball, after giving up a lot of big plays to the Cardinals, what do the Titans need to do better on defense against a dangerous Seahawks offense?
Arthur: It starts on third down for the Titans. The Cardinals converted 7 of 13 attempts on third down last week and scored three of their four passing touchdowns on third down. Corralling Kyler Murray was a big issue for Tennessee (as it has been for many teams). His ability to extend plays with his legs to set up scrambles and passes was a back-breaker for the Titans.
The Titans have another mobile quarterback this week in Russell Wilson, so the task doesn't get any easier. A big key for Tennessee is to be strong plastering in the secondary in scramble-drill situations. Wilson is brilliant when plays break down.
What are a few matchups you're most looking forward to seeing Sunday?
Arthur: Derrick Henry vs. Bobby Wagner is going to be a fun one. A 2,000-yard rusher, Henry is known for wearing opponents out in the course of games and he's so hard to bring down at 6-3 and 247 pounds. Wagner, of course, is a future Hall of Famer.
An underrated matchup in my opinion: Titans cornerback Kristian Fulton vs. DK Metcalf and/or Tyler Lockett. I think most observers are expecting Seattle's star receiving tandem to run over Tennessee's secondary, but Fulton was one of the few bright spots in a bad defensive showing in the Titans' opener. He's a 2020 second-round pick who missed most of his rookie season last year. Fulton played at LSU and matched up against Metcalf when they were in college.
Photos of the Seahawks playing the Titans throughout the years, including their time as the Houston Oilers. The Seahawks face the Titans at Lumen Field during Week 2 of the 2021 regular season.