Music City Musings – Week 3: Cleveland Browns
The Tennessee Titans travel to Cleveland to take on the Browns / Elves and catch the Guardians take on the plucky AL East-leading Orioles during the weekend. Can the Browns rebound from an emotional loss to the always bitter rival Steelers? Tennessee is coming off an emotional overtime victory and will look to continue the good vibes in the Rock and Roll Capital of the World. Who will get the upper hand in this battle of 1-1 teams?
Browns Offense vs. Titans Defense
The Browns are a veteran-laden offense with a frustratingly inconsistent quarterback who arrived last season with an immense amount of off-field baggage. Deshaun Watson is a talent still looking to recapture his form prior to his acrimonious exit from Houston. He has yet to find a rhythm under Kevin Stefanski. What isn’t helping matters is the catastrophic leg injury suffered by Nick Chubb last Monday night.
OL vs. DL Matchups to Watch
Cleveland features a youthful bookend duo with veterans on the interior. Mammoth right tackle Dawand Jones is a rookie who took over for the persistently injured Jack Conklin and hasn’t looked out of place too much. Left tackle Jedrick Wills has been a steady presence on the left side ever since being named the heir to future Hall of Fame franchise blocker Joe Thomas. However, Wills and Jones have been putrid according to PFF’s scoring, earning 45 and 46.7, respectively this season. Left guard Joel Bitonio is the wise elder of the group with eight years of solid and steady play. Wyatt Teller mans the right guard position and is a top 20 guard, according to PFF’s metrics. Veteran center Ethan Pocic is the sixth-best center on PFF with an overall score of 71.5.
Where the Titans can exploit the Browns’ weakness is on the perimeter, just as we saw how Pittsburgh dominated on the EDGE. Tennessee doesn’t have an EDGE defender in T.J. Watt’s class but can throw waves of defenders. Denico Autry is the glue of the whole operation with his versatility. Harold Landry is getting his feet underneath him (after his ACL injury last year) and registered his first sack of the season last week. Arden Key continues to be a gem of a find by GM Ran Carthon, even if his impact was muted last week.
The most fascinating matchups will be the Browns’ top-tier interior against the Titans’ star duo of Jeffery Simmons and Teair Tart. It will be the decisive showdown that determines the front seven play.
Skill-on-Skill Matchups to Watch
While the Browns don’t have the armada of weapons the Chargers presented last week, the Titans’ porous pass defense will still have to be on guard. Cleveland has a trio of receivers that can break a game wide-open with star Amari Cooper, Elijah Moore, and tight end David Njoku. Donovan Peoples-Jones is a veteran presence in the receiver room as well. Cooper has been listed on the injury report during the past two weeks but played on Monday so he will most likely play Sunday. Obviously, the Browns’ success is predicated on the dominant running attack behind Chubb, but without him, it remains to be seen how they offset his loss. Jerome Ford would be the next man up and flashed some last week after the unfortunate injury.
The Titans’ secondary is a bit worse for the wear right now with Amani Hooker and Kristian Fulton battling injuries. Cornerback Tre Avery was heavily targeted by the Chargers last week and should expect the same treatment from the Browns. Fulton and Hooker were seen at Wednesday’s practice but Hooker will need closer monitoring due to being in concussion protocol. If Fulton cannot go on Sunday, expect a mishmash once again that consists of Elijah Molden, Avery, and Roger McCreary in the starting lineup alongside SMB.
If there ever was a get-right game for Watson and Company, it’s this one. Their two previous two contests consisted of a no-win situation in the elements against the Bengals and the aftershocks of Chubb’s injury against the Steelers. Tennessee’s pass defense is ranked 28th overall, giving up 563 yards through the air thus far.
Titans Offense vs. Browns Defense
Tennessee looked a bit better last week against the woeful Chargers defense. Now comes the significantly better Browns defense that resembles more of a similar test to that of the Saints. Tim Kelly has been fantastic in calling his brand of offense. Can Ryan Tannehill execute and keep himself from making problematic decisions?
OL vs. DL Matchups to Watch
The most interesting factor in this game is former friends going against their old employers. Tennessee’s right tackle Chris Hubbard was a Brown not that long ago and could provide valuable intel for his linemates. On the other side is DC Jim Schwartz, who was a senior consultant for the Titans last season. He knows the Vrabel / Shane Bowen defense inside and out and could provide the same intel that way. Tennessee’s left side has been a liability at times with left tackle Andre Dillard struggling to find consistency. Dillon Radunz slots in at left guard with rookie Peter Skoronski missing another game due to appendicitis. The aforementioned Hubbard has been a revelation, being one of the highest-graded blockers in the league by both ESPN and PFF metrics. Center Aaron Brewer continues to be one of the better centers in the league this season.
Dillard still doesn’t get a break from really good pass rushers with the uber-talented Myles Garrett lining up against him. Hubbard draws a matchup with the talented Za’Darius Smith. Top backup Ogbo Okoronkwo is another name to watch in the Browns’ front line. The battle on the perimeter will decide things.
Skill-on Skill Matchups to Watch
Provided that the line holds up its end of the bargain and the running backs get to the second level, it should be a fun matchup. Cleveland sports a trio of underrated but talented linebackers that can run all over the place. JOK is an ultra-versatile athlete who can play all over the field and will likely carry the emerging Tyjae Spears up the field on those plays. Mike linebacker Anthony Walker is a steady veteran who’s seemingly always in the right place. Sione Takitaki is a beast in the run game, sporting an 81.9-run defense grade from PFF.
The Browns’ secondary will likely provide a stiff test for the Titans’ limited receiving corps. Cleveland has a trio of standout corners with Greg Newsome II, Denzel Ward, and Martin Emerson being young stars. Mr. Kelly will have to scheme open Treylon Burks and DeAndre Hopkins for sure. Patrolling the back end are a pair of standouts similar to what Tennessee has in Grant Delpit and Juan Thornhill. It will be interesting to see how everybody mixes and matches with whom.
The weather report for Sunday’s tilt projects a temperature of 70 degrees with a 10% chance of rain in the forecast. It’s also predicted to be a partly cloudy day in Cleveland during game time. The humidity will be a balmy 68%, which isn’t bad but higher than usual for a late September game in the area. Winds kick up a notch compared to the previous game in Nashville with a 15 miles-per-hour reading coming in from a north by northeast direction. It could be a good day for football if the rain holds off like last week.
Odds and Ends
Cleveland leads the all-time series by a tally of 36-32-0. Mike Vrabel owns a 1-1 record against the Browns as a head coach. These two teams most recently met up during the 2020 season, which resulted in a 41-35 victory for Cleveland. Tennessee possesses the total score head-to-head by a score of 78 to 54 in the two games. The Titans lead the series 8-6 since the 2000 season. Browns coach Kevin Stefanski is a lifetime 6-0 against the AFC South since taking over prior to the 2020 season.
The Titans are 1-0 against the Browns in the new uniform era in the white tops and navy blue britches. They are 14-10 in this combination since the new uniforms were introduced in 2018.
— Jim Wyatt (@jwyattsports) September 20, 2023
Tennessee will look to continue their winning streak against the spread after a 2-0 start. The Browns are 1-1 against the spread so far. Both teams have been UNDER and OVER to start the season so no real advantage there. The average scoring margin since the turn of the century has been 27 to 20.3 in Tennessee’s favor.
The Titans are currently +3.5 point dogs on the road while the money line is +148 for them as well. Those fightin’ elves are three-point favorites.
This game features a low Over/Under of the weekend, coming in at just 39.5. With a pair of inconsistent offenses and stingy defenses at the helm, the house may be onto something here. Kevin Stefanski’s team has given up 21.2 points per game during his tenure to date. Cleveland has scored an average of 22.5 per tilt in the same frame.
This could be an old-fashioned defensive slobberknocker in ideal weather conditions so the under is the most likely way to go. Mike Vrabel is batting slightly better than .500 as the head coach with three or more point underdog so bet the Titans to cover. This could be the riskiest game on the docket for a big parlay.
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Main Photo Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports