Week two of the 2015 NFL season has the Cleveland Browns hosting the Tennessee Titans this Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium in a 1:00 p.m. kickoff. Cleveland enters the game at 0-1 following a 31-10 loss to the Jets in New York last Sunday. Tennessee comes to the shores of Lake Erie at 1-0 following a 42-14 win over the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay last Sunday.
Sunday’s game will be the Browns home opener. Cleveland is looking for a victory in its home opener for the third time since returning to the NFL in 1999. The Browns two previous home opening victories were in 2004 over the Baltimore Ravens 20-3 and last year over the New Orleans Saints 26-24. The Browns know they need to come out and put up a solid performance in front of the loyal Browns fans.
“I think our guys know that if we handle our business right that the place will be rocking,” head coach Mike Pettine said. “I think we look forward to every home game but the first one, especially.”
“0-2 is not a good look and you definitely want to get to 1-1,” cornerback Joe Haden said. “Especially it being a home game and especially after all that we put into the first game and then go out there and lay and egg like that, you want to just get that taste out of your mouth and go out there and show that that’s not the team that we want this team to be this season.”
Sunday’s matchup will be a battle of former Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks Johnny Manziel for the Browns and Marcus Mariota for the Titans. Manziel was named the starter on Friday after Josh McCown was not cleared from the NFL’s concussion protocol. Both quarterbacks don’t see the meeting as a battle of former Heisman Trophy winners, but it’s the Browns battling the Titans.
“Two guys who had careers like we did in college, both Heisman Trophy winners, I think it is cool,” Manziel said. “I think it makes obviously for a little bit of excitement, but the bigger thing is I think you have to look at this game as far as last year. I am sure they come in here with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder, as well, going up 28-3 and us storming back like that to win the game the way that we did. I think just looking at the team matchup it is a good one.”
“Johnny and I have met each other through numerous occasions,” Mariota said.. “Particularly in high school when we were going through the recruiting process, we were both at the University of Oregon doing the football camp. We kind of informally met there, didn’t really see each other until we got into college and ended up being at the Manning Passing Academy. And then through, like you said, some of the Heisman festivities we were able to see each other again. Johnny’s a great guy I’ve got to know him a little bit. I look forward to-whatever the case may be, maybe playing him this weekend. He’s a good football player, he really makes something out of nothing so our defense has a task for them but we’ll see what happens.”
The Browns defense will need to be ready to face the number two overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft. Mariota had a debut for the ages against Tampa Bay. Mariota threw four touchdown passes in the first half and finished with a perfect quarterback rating of 158.3.
“It’s not even about being a rookie. Nowadays in the National Football League, you can be caught up to speed pretty fast. It’s about what we want to do to every quarterback,” safety Donte Whitner said. “First and foremost, we have to be good on the early downs, put them in second and longs, third and longs and then we’ll be able to confuse them a bit. We’ve been able to confuse veteran quarterbacks so it’s not even about being veteran or rookie. It’s about getting in the quarterbacks head, getting them in third and long and make them have to read and look at certain things. That’s our game plan this week; that’s our game plan every week. The offensive game plan is to stay out of second and long, stay out of third and long. It’s a battle of wills when it comes to that. We understand if we get a lot of third and longs, it’s a good chance that we’ll win the football game.”
“He is like a Polynesian rabbit,” defensive tackle Danny Shelton said. “He is going to be a guy that can throw, but don’t be naive to his running skills. We are going to be ready for the zone read, obviously. Really just trying to play football, our type of football.”
Sunday’s game will be a homecoming for a pair of Titans running backs but for very different reasons. Starting running back Bishop Sankey played his high school football at Wadsworth high school before going across the country to play his college football at Washington alongside Browns first round pick Danny Shelton. The Browns know they need to contain Sankey and continue to improve as a team at stopping the run.
“Last year, I thought he was a guy that ran hard. I think he’s similar to (Jets RB) Chris Ivory in a sense,” defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil said. “He’s going to get the ball and he’s going to get downhill. He’s not running away from anybody. If you’re in the hole, he’s going to try and run you over. He’s a complete back. He can catch the ball out of the backfield. He can protect. He’s a good player. I know that Danny and some of the guys from the west coast are familiar with him because they either played against him or played with him in college.”
The Browns will also see their share of former teammate Terrance West on Sunday. The Browns traded West to the Titans just a couple of weeks ago after really struggling during the preseason. A change of scenery might have been what West needed in his second season in the NFL. The Browns hope West doesn’t return to Cleveland on Sunday and make them pay for their decision to trade their third round pick from 2014.
“Terrance always plays with an attitude so I guarantee he is not leaving that behind,” Pettine said. “He did some good things in their opener. Our guys know Terrance well. I’m sure they will be exchanging pleasantries before the game and throughout.”
“I think he’ll be looking forward to going against us,” Whitner said. “It’s a good opportunity for us both.”
“We didn’t think about the change of scenery when we acquired him,” Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “We felt like we were getting a back that we liked in the draft process last year. We had lost back to the IR-designated for return and needed one and felt like it was a good move to get him. He’s been good with us, I’m excited about seeing him grow in our scheme.”
The Browns offense should get a much needed boost if wide receiver Dwayne Bowe returns to action. Bowe was inactive in last Sunday’s season opener after he aggravated his hamstring injury that he was dealing with for the majority of the preseason. The Browns gave Bowe $9 million this offseason so he needs to get back on the field and prove he is worth the money the team gave him.
“It is important to prove to the team,” Bowe said. “My job is to make sure I am the best at what I do on and off the field. It is a major role I play and contribute to. Just going out and doing it on Sunday is all I can control and worry about.”
The Browns and Titans played last year in week five down in Nashville. The Browns made NFL history by mounting the biggest road comeback in NFL history. Cleveland rallied from a 28-3 deficit to beat the Titans 29-28 on a touchdown pass from Brian Hoyer to Travis Benjamin with 1:09 remaining.
“I remember we were down big and we went no-huddle and came back,” left tackle Joe Thomas said. “It was exciting doing that on the road. Having a big comeback like that, running the ball, throwing the ball down the field, it was exciting and a fun game.”
“I remember we played really bad for a half and we played really good for a half. It was a Murphy’s Law start,” Pettine said. “A lot of stuff went wrong and we fell behind very quickly, but I think the score, we drove the length of the field and scored before the half, which I thought was key. Then I think we also got the second half kickoff and were able to go down and at least put a long drive together. I don’t know if we scored, but I just remember building momentum late in the second quarter and remembering not having to say much at half time because the veteran players were already saying that on the way in, that they knew that we had come back against Pittsburgh Week 1 and fell short. Guys were upset that it got to the point where it was, but there was that resolve to get back. It was probably our most memorable win of the year, but that’s not going to help us this year.”
The game will air regionally on CBS. Tom McCarthy and Adam Archuleta will be on the call. Oddsmakers in Las Vegas have the Browns anywhere from a one to two point underdog. The Browns will go with their all white uniforms for the home opener.