News & Analysis

NFL Week 1 PFF ReFocused: Tennessee Titans 16, Denver Broncos 14

Without two of their better players — Von Miller and Courtland Sutton — the Denver Broncos kept this game close with the help of Stephen Gostkowski. But ultimately, it was Gostkowski who delivered the game-winner in the waning moments for the Tennessee Titans

With that, Tennessee jumps out to a 1-0 start on its quest to build on an AFC Championship Game appearance in 2019. The Titans sit atop the AFC South with the Jacksonville Jaguars — just like everyone drew it up. 

Editor's note: All of PFF's grades and advanced stats from this game will be finalized and made available to ELITE subscribers within 24 hours of the final whistle.

STORY OF THE GAME

You never want the story of the game to involve a kicker — particularly when it stems from said kicker missing three field goals and an extra point in a one-score game. But alas, that’s exactly what Gostkowski did. Per Next Gen Stats, the probability of him missing those kicks was well under 1%. 

While that is clearly less than ideal, you can look at the fact that Gostkowski attempting those kicks in the first place is a sign that Tennessee’s offense wasn’t quite firing on all cylinders like it did to close the 2019 season. The Titans trailed only the Baltimore Ravens in expected points added per play offensively from Ryan Tannehill’s first start in Week 7 through the end of the 2019 regular season. Over that same time frame, just four of their drives ended in field goals. Tennessee was simply finding the end zone at an impressive rate.

That was not the case tonight, as the Titans saw several stalled drives lead to those Gostkowski misses. In the end, the veteran kicker came through with a game-winning, 25-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter. 

In non-kicker news, fourth-year wide receiver Corey Davis was the star offensively for Tennessee. He tied A.J. Brown for the team lead in routes run (39) and brought in seven of eight targets for 100-plus receiving yards. He looked plenty motivated by the fact that the Titans did not pick up his fifth-year option for the 2021 season. 

On defense, Jadeveon Clowney was active against the run in his Titans debut and made several plays at or near the line of scrimmage. That’s an area he has always excelled in throughout his career.

In a losing effort, Denver’s team run defense was strong, as well. Derrick Henry crossed the 100-yard threshold behind a massive 31-carry night, but he averaged under 4 yards per carry and roughly 2 yards after contact per attempt. Last season, Henry led the NFL with 4.2 yards after contact per rush attempt. 

Sep 14, 2020; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Broncos wide receiver Jerry Jeudy (10) warms up before the game against the Tennessee Titans at Empower Field at Mile High. Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

ROOKIE WATCH

All eyes were on Jerry Jeudy in this one with Courtland Sutton missing the opener due to a shoulder injury, and there were certainly moments where Jeudy showed exactly why he was the fifth overall prospect on the PFF Big Board heading into the 2020 NFL Draft. His releases, the crispness to his routes and his ability to create with the ball in his hands all jumped off the screen. Unfortunately, so did a couple of drops, but you’ll live with those given what he brings to the table offensively. Jeudy ended the game with four receptions for 56 yards. Tyrie Cleveland also saw limited action at wide receiver, catching one pass on four routes for seven yards. 

Lloyd Cushenberry III — a rookie center out of LSU — drew the start for Denver. It was an impressive debut for the Broncos’ third-round selection, particularly in the run game. He should end up as one of Denver’s higher-graded offensive players upon grade review tomorrow. 

There were a host of rookie cornerbacks who saw action in this one. For Tennessee, seventh-rounder Chris Jackson (35 snaps) drew more snaps than second-rounder Kristian Fulton (24 snaps). As you would expect from a late-round rookie seeing significant action in his first NFL game, Jackson got beat a couple of times in coverage. He played almost all of his snaps (28) in the slot, while Fulton split time between the slot (10 snaps) and out wide (12 snaps). 

Michael Ojemudia drew the start at outside cornerback opposite A.J. Bouye for the Broncos. His biggest play — a diving interception on the sideline — didn’t end up counting due to a penalty away from the ball, but Ojemudia had a solid showing overall. An injury to Bouye opened the door for playing time for Essang Bassey, who played 45 defensive snaps without getting beaten for any big plays. 

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