The Titans and Falcons are both coming off of disappointing seasons and look to make 2015 a fresh start. The Titans and second-year head coach Ken Whisenhunt will look to bounce back from a dreadful 2-14 campaign last year. The Falcons hired new head coach Dan Quinn, formerly the defensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks.
Here are five things to watch for in tonight’s preseason matchup.
1. Marcus Mariota
Since being picked second overall in the 2015 draft, Mariota has been under constant pressure as the face of the franchise. The hype kicked into another gear as Mariota has yet to throw an interception in training camp. Most think he is the closest thing to NFL-ready as any rookie quarterback will be this year. He has become a leader in the locker room, picked up the offense quickly and has kept his headlines to what has happened on the field. Now let’s see what he can do against a live defense.
2. Vic Beasley
It’s safe to say that the Atlanta Falcons haven’t had a pass rush in a very, very long time. Oh they’ve drafted players, but unfortunately they have missed on all of them. The Falcons hope that Beasley, the eighth overall pick a few months ago, will be everything they hoped he would be. Beasley has impressed in practice and looks the part. We know he can get up field, but can he secure the edge and help his team stop the run as well?
3. Dorial Green-Beckham
With their second-round pick, the Titans decided to give Mariota some help on the outside by drafting Green-Beckham, who is talented but has had problems staying out of trouble. If DGB can grow up, this will be the steal of the 2015 draft. If he continues his ways, it will be another miss for the Titans.
4. The running game
Both teams feature a number of young ball carriers that were taken in the last couple of drafts. The Falcons’ Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman will both be sidelined with injuries so that will mean plenty of carries for Antone Smith and Terron Ward. Smith continues to be an enigma, as he is very talented but for some reason can’t get playing time. Look for rookie David Cobb to get a lot of carries for the Titans as the backup to Bishop Sankey. The Titans have faith that Sankey’s rough rookie season was primarily due to him making the adjustment to the NFL.
5. Upgraded defenses
The Titans added free agents Brian Orakpo, Da‘Norris Searcy and Perrish Cox to help DT Jurrell Casey in hopes to upgrade a unit that ranked 27th in total defense in 2014. Bringing in Hall of Famer and longtime Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau should help as well. The Falcons hired a defensive-minded head coach in Quinn and immediately signed defensive help in free agents Brooks Reed and Justin Durant, while loading up on defenders in the draft, including Beasley, Grady Jarrett and Jalen Collins. Then again, considering this unit ranked dead last in total defense, it will need all the help it can get. Both teams needed to make drastic changes on that side of the ball and were aggressive this offseason in doing so. Will it equal better results on the field and in the win column? Only time will tell.
— Written by Justin Nails, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @justinnails