Browns, Titans look for direction
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Titans, a franchise that has struggled in recent years, find themselves at a turning point at the very same moment the Cleveland Browns are hoping to find themselves.
Both teams have new coaches coming off an offseason filled with change in the front office and on the roster. Yet the Titans (2-3) start a three-game homestand Sunday needing a victory for their first winning streak since the end of the 2013 season. The Browns (0-5) are trying to avoid their first six-game skid to open a season since losing the first seven in 1999 as an expansion team.
The Titans insist they aren’t in position to believe they’re better than the Browns.
“I mean, we’ve won five games in the last two years, so I don’t think we’re (at a) standpoint to look at a team and judge them by their records,” cornerback Jason McCourty said.
Titans coach Mike Mularkey, given the job permanently in January after taking over last November on an interim basis, has had one simple message coming off a 30-17 road win at Miami.
“It’s not about home, two in a row, the fans, the Browns have beaten us twice,” Mularkey said. “It’s about we’ve got to win this football game. Win this game.”
Browns coach Hue Jackson has been scraping together his roster, with injuries forcing him to start three different quarterbacks and play five overall, and 10 starters having missed time. Cleveland lost 33-13 to New England last week, and this is the Browns’ fourth road game of the season, with a visit to Cincinnati next.
But the Browns have won five of the last seven against Tennessee.
“I wasn’t part of that and this is a new team and a new year,” Jackson said. “I think we’ll come in ready to play. Obviously, our guys are working hard. We’re eager and hungry for the opportunity and grateful for the opportunity to come to Tennessee and play a game against a good football team.”
Here are some things to know about the Browns and Titans:
MURRAY ON THE RUN: Tennessee’s DeMarco Murray looks like the running back who won the NFL Offensive Player of the Year in 2014. He ranks second in the NFL with 461 yards rushing and has at least 114 yards or more in two of the past three games. He leads the NFL with 33 first downs and has five TDs combined rushing and receiving. The Titans rank second in the NFL in rushing per game, averaging 148.6 yards, with Marcus Mariota coming off his best game running — 60 yards in Miami.
KESSLER BACK AT QB: The Browns will start rookie quarterback Cody Kessler for a fourth straight game, even though the third-round draft pick out of Southern California hurt his chest last week in the first quarter. He was replaced by Charlie Whitehurst, who injured his knee in the fourth quarter and was released two days later. Veteran backup quarterback Josh McCown is not yet ready to return from injury, so rookie Kevin Hogan, promoted from the practice squad this week, is the No. 2 quarterback.
SACK FLOODGATES: Titans linebacker Brian Orakpo already has six sacks this season for the best start of his career, and now some of his line mates believe they’ve finally broken through themselves. Tackle Jurrell Casey and linebacker Derrick Morgan got their first sacks of the season last week in Miami and joined Orakpo in finishing with two each. Tennessee is now tied for eighth in the NFL with 12 sacks.
BROWNS’ LEFT SIDE: Protecting the quarterback could be an issue for Cleveland. Starting left guard Joel Bitonio sprained a foot last week and was placed on injured reserve on Friday, while Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas did not practice Wednesday because of a knee issue. Thomas has started all 149 games in his career and has not missed an offensive snapped since being drafted in 2007. His consecutive snaps streak of 9,262 is the longest active streak in the league.
HORTON CONNECTION: Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton had that same job the past two seasons with Tennessee and left the Titans in January after interviewing for the head coaching job hours before Mularkey was hired . Mularkey made Dick LeBeau his defensive coordinator and also changed the offense. Mularkey says he knows how Horton approaches and calls a game. “I don’t know how much difference it’s going to make in the game,” Mularkey said.