With Minnesota preparing for their Saturday night dual against the Titans, there are still many storylines to take note of. As their first preseason game brought us some clarity, there are still names to watch, position battles to look for, and football to be had. The Titans square up against Minnesota at 7:00 p.m. CST tonight, here are eight things to look for in the upcoming matchup tonight.
Captain Kirk Arrives
As starters look to take the field tonight, all eyes will be on Kirk Cousins as he enters year two of the O’Connell system. Though we may not see Jefferson or Hockenson, the focus should be on first rounder Jordan Addison and embattled receivers Jalen Reagor and N’Keal Harry. The Cousins showcase may be brief, but seeing his connection and how he jells with these receivers is key. Similarly, watch for Mullens and Hall tonight as a second week of snap splits will give a better idea of how the quarterback room may play out. As of now, beats out of camp are starting to surface whispers of Hall being in danger of a roster spot. Whether he is or isn’t, tonight’s snaps have to be counted as a precious commodity.
Mattison v Chandler
As Minnesota has spent the last two weeks bringing in a handful of free agents (Hunt, Davis, Peterson), there is clearly concern for the depth of the position. As McBride and Smith looked lackluster in their touches last week, Chandler was phenomenal. However, as the drum beats get louder from fans, this is still Mattison’s backfield to command. It will be interesting to see how the coaching staff decides to divide splits in tonight’s game, but anything Chandler can do, Mattison can do too. When Mattison got the opportunity to lead in the four years he’s been under contract, he’s been sensational. Don’t expect that to change now.
Improvement on the Offensive Line?
Ingram was the only starter who played in last week’s matchup against the Seahawks, but tonight should see more action for the starting five. With good reports coming out of camp about Darrisaw, O’Neill, and Cleveland, there is optimism. However, Bradbury and Ingram will need to take a step forward to help solidify an offensive line that returns all five starters from last season… And wasn’t phenomenal at protecting Cousins. Tonight will be a good test to see if there’s been growth with this unit. Similarly, the depth last week from the backup linemen was suspect at best. Hall was left scrambling for his life and the Seattle pass rush ran rampant. There needs to be massive improvement from some of these backups to help provide more ease of mind going into the season.
Pass Rush on Display
Luiji Vilain showed out last week filling the stat sheet in his efforts against Seattle. It was a great change of pace as one of the largest criticism’s from last season was Minnesota’s lack of pressure and ability to get after the quarterback. After the first week of preseason, Flores showed his aggressive style of play calling will be coming with him to the Twin Cities. With Hunter and Davenport slated to play tonight, all eyes will be on the edge rushers. However, Flores has shown an ability to bring pressure from all over the field, using not just the defensive line, but linebackers, corners, and safeties alike. Expect Minnesota to try and bully a suspect Titans offensive line that has just 806 total regular season snaps amongst the starting five.
Solidifying Special Teams
With Podlesny waived, Greg Joseph has locked up the starting job for his third season in Minnesota. However, new Special Teams Coordinator Matt Daniels had his hands full this week as the Vikings special teams unit looked undisciplined and unprepared for game time. Though Ryan Wright has been getting rave reviews in camp, the hope and expectation is improvement on this side of the ball. More specifically, look for kickoffs and kick and punt returns to hopefully be shaped up for tonight’s bout.
Backup QBs Galore
As Tannehill returns for his fifth season with Tennessee, all eyes are on the backups as both Will Levis and Malik Willis are vying to get closer to that starting spot. Reports earlier in the year state Willis fell out of favor with the Titans brass, however reports out of camp recently have been encouraging. In his start last week, Willis went 16/25 for 189 yards and an interception. That said, Levis wasn’t much better going 9/14 for 85 yards and an interception. The expectation is for Levis to eventually become the face of the franchise as they traded up in the 2023 NFL Draft to get him at the top of the 2nd round. However, tonight will be telling as to how Willis or Levis fair against Flores’ aggressive defensive system.
Defensive Battles Continue
Two of the major battles that have captivated Tennessee fans is the battle for off-ball linebacker and for cornerback. With the inside linebacker battle, Azeez Al-Shaair has locked up the main starting spot, but who will start next to him is up for grabs. Jack Gibbens is currently listed at MLB2, but Rice and Campbell have staked their claim to start as well. Throw in journeyman Ben Niemann and tonight’s defensive battle may matter a ton. In the cornerback realm, Fulton is solidified as their lead back, but the depth behind him remains to be set. Sean Murphy Bunting was signed this offseason, but Molden and McCreary look to compete to start as well. At corner, both the Vikings and Titans need telling games tonight.
The last time Deandre Hopkins and Minnesota squared up, the star receiver cooked the Vikings defense to the tune of 12 catches for 159 yards and a touchdown. As Hopkins looks to make his Tennessee debut tonight, Minnesota’s starters may have their hands full. Throughout the week, Mehki Blackmon regularly lined up on the newly acquired WR1, however Blackmon’s injury late in the week may affect that. Another question that Tennessee fans look to answer is who will replace Burks. It’s truly an open competition and someone has to catch passes in the wake of the former first rounders injury.