After a lackluster performance in Pittsburgh on Monday, the Browns offense is striving for improvement in Week 3. Yet, they face a challenge as the Titans defense is one of the strong suits of Tennessee.
The Titans defense boasts a fierce defensive line anchored by second-team All-Pro DT Jeffery Simmons, alongside DL Denico Autry and DT Teair Tart. Over the last 17 games, the Titans have only allowed 2.9 yards per carry. Since 2007, no defense in the NFL has been better against the run over a 17-game stretch. Browns OC Alex Van Pelt acknowledged that their defense starts up front with their talented front seven with guys who are strong, powerful and create problems for opposing offenses.
Yet, the backend of their defense earned higher grades from Pro Football Focus in their 27-24 win against the Chargers on Sept. 17. CB Sean Murphy-Bunting earned the highest grade with 84.1, and S Mike Brown had the second highest grade with 81.6. Simmons was the only defensive lineman in the top five with a grade of 75.4.
In a team effort, the defense held the Chargers to a conversion rate of only 14.3 percent on third downs, allowing just two conversions out of 14 attempts. The Titans have allowed only nine third-down conversions out of 30 attempts in two games.
“We’re excited about the challenge of playing another AFC opponent,” head coach Kevin Stefanski said. “Have a ton of respect for Coach Mike Vrabel and all of his coaches. There are difficult matchups when you talk about facing the Titans. Whether it’s their defense, their stout front, how they’re able to defend in the back and the end.”
Stefanski has found great success against AFC South teams as the Browns head coach. He is 6-0 against the AFC South and 1-0 against the Titans. Vrabel is 2-6 vs. the AFC North, including 1-1 against the Browns.
History aside, the Browns offense is currently struggling. Despite leading the league with 404 rushing yards, the offense has encountered issues in the first two games of the season. Penalties and inconsistency in the passing game hurt the Browns in their 26-22 loss to the Steelers. If they expect to defeat the Titans at home, the offense must fix both.
“A couple plays here or there, I think we’ll better,” OC Alex Van Pelt said. “Not 100 percent synced up right now, and it’s the second game of the year, so we continue to grow together. I think that’s where we got to stay positive and keep moving forward.”
One player who has been consistent for the Browns offense is WR Amari Cooper, who will be matched against Bunting throughout the day and is excited for the matchup. Bunting is a press corner who brings the physicality to the secondary. He had a career-high three pass deflections against the Chargers and had five tackles on Sept. 17.
“I like aggressive corners,” Cooper said. “The more aggressive they are, the less good their footwork is. I don’t mind the physicality that he’s going to bring.”
Cooper has had a solid start to the 2023 season, as he caught seven passes for 90 yards against the Steelers. But some of his receiver counterparts didn’t have the strongest games against the Steelers. WR Elijah Moore caught three passes for 36 yards, while WR Donovan Peoples-Jones caught one pass for seven yards.
After last week’s struggles, the Browns passing game can get rejuvenated against a Titans defense that gave big numbers in the previous two games. The Titans allowed eight receptions for 112 yards to WR Chris Olave in the 15-16 loss to the Saints. WR Rashid Shaheed caught five passes for 89 yards and scored a touchdown, and WR Michael Thomas caught five passes for 61 yards.
Then, against the Chargers, the Titans allowed eight receptions for 111 yards and two touchdowns to WR Keenan Allen. WR Mike Williams caught eight passes for 83 yards, and TE Gerald Everett caught three for 47 yards.
“I watched film of the Chargers game and saw plenty of opportunities for them to exploit their defense,” Cooper said. “If we execute, we will have a good day against their aggressive secondary.”
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