To open the 2021 season, the Arizona Cardinals are on the road against the revamped Tennessee Titans. Entering this season, the Cardinals have playoff expectations after adding high-quality veterans and explosive rookies.
The Titans are 2.5-point favorites against the spread at -135. This contest has the highest projected total of the week at 52 points according to Draftkings Sportbook.
In every game, there are battles within the battle. My three matchups to watch this Sunday.
Derrick Henry vs Arizona’s front seven
Derrick Henry is coming off a 2,000-yard season in 2020. The Titans' offense thrives off Henry’s dominance and Ryan Tannehill flourishes off play action. Henry grows stronger as the game goes longer. Therefore, defenders are not as enthused to tackle Henry.
The Cardinals' front seven must match Tennesses’ physicality from the start. J.J. Watt will be tested in his first action as a Cardinal. These young athletic linebackers will be vital for the defenses’ success. They must read their keys with patience. Zaven Collins and Isaiah Simmons must know when to fill in the gaps and to flow to the perimeter to contain Henry.
That Zaven Collins TFL is even prettier on the all-22. Just a total freak of nature to be able to trigger and get downhill that quick at 255-260.— Brett Kollmann (@BrettKollmann) August 18, 2021
He's Dont'a Hightower size but moves like he's Deion Jones. pic.twitter.com/XL9iIc4FCc
Stopping King Henry should be priority number one for the Cardinals. If they want to have a chance to steal their first win, force the Titans to become one-dimensional offensively.
Julio Jones/AJ Brown vs Cards’ secondary
As of August 31st, Malcolm Butler has been placed on the reserve/retired list. This is a big blow to an already limited cornerback room. This group will have their hands full with star wideouts Julio Jones and A.J. Brown.
In 2020, they combined for over 1,800 yards receiving, albeit on separate teams. They present physical and athletic mismatches for Arizona’s cornerbacks. Byron Murphy and Robert Alford are listed as the started on the depth chart. They will require safety help over the top to prevent explosive passing plays.
Defending Tennessess play-action deep-shot plays will be pivotal for the success of the defense. Arguably, Arizona’s cornerback position is the worst in the NFL. Week one will be one of their tougher tests this season.
Rodney Hudson vs Jeffery Simmons
Like most wars, they are won in the trenches. Jeffery Simmons is one of the best young defensive tackles in the league. He is extremely disruptive against the run and pass. He blends together explosiveness and power off the ball. His violent hands and knockback power can wreak havoc for opposing quarterbacks.
In another off-season acquisition, Rodney Hudson is manning the middle of Arizona’s offensive line. Hudson is a wily veteran that understands how to work leverage, anchor, and seal defenders. His ability to keep Kyler Murray clean in the pocket will pay its dividends.
#MondayNightFootball Preview via #Raiders C Rodney Hudson working off multiple threats, staying active and providing a physical presence from the pivot#NOvsLV pic.twitter.com/2ZJZGFSr2i— The Scouting Academy (@TheScoutAcademy) September 21, 2020
Murray had 16 passes knocked down at the LOS last season. Hudson anchoring against Simmons and company can create throwing windows for Murray in the pocket. If Simmons has his way with Hudson or the interior offensive line, Murray will be running early and often.
This matchup has explosive potential. We could be in store for a good old fashion shootout. Buckle your seatbelts, the Cardinals 2021 journey is about to begin.