Lions vs. Titans preview: Defend the tight end

James Hawkins, The Detroit News
Titans running back DeMarco Murray scored both of Tennessee's touchdowns in its opener against the Vikings.

James Hawkins breaks down Sunday's Lions-Titans game at Ford Field (1 p.m. CBS/WJR).

Titans to watch

DeMarco Murray, RB: The former Cowboys and Eagles back made a solid first impression with his new team. Despite not making a major impact in the run game (13 carries, 42 yards), Murray came through by hauling in five receptions for 35 yards. He scored both of Tennessee’s TDs, tying the amount of total TD receptions he had the previous five seasons.

Marcus Mariota, QB: The 2014 Heisman Trophy winner’s second year got off to a shaky start. Mariota threw for 271 yards and two TDs on 25-for-41 passing and ran for 19 yards on four carries, but unraveled in the second half with two costly turnovers. He threw a 77-yard pick-six in the third quarter and botched a handoff with DeMarco Murray that was returned 24 yards for a score in the fourth.

Tajae Sharpe, WR: The rookie out of Massachusetts had a strong debut by leading the team in targets (11), receptions (7) and receiving yards (76). While Tennessee doesn’t feature a high-octane passing game, Sharpe is emerging as the top receiving option and is going up against a Lions secondary that allowed 11 catches of at least 10 yards to opposing receivers.

Detroit News predictions: Lions vs. Titans


Local flavor: The key to the Titans success on offense hinge on OTs Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin. The former Wolverines and Spartans players had a solid showing in Week 1 and anchor a line that gave up two sacks to a formidable Vikings defense. The duo will have their hands full again fending off DEs Ziggy Ansah and Devin Taylor.

Tight end challenge: A glaring soft spot in Lions defense has been tight end coverage. Detroit surrendered three TDs to Indianapolis TEs Dwayne Allen and Jack Doyle, with LB Tahir Whitehead being targeted 11 times and giving up nine receptions for 93 yards and two TDs, per Pro Football Focus. Whitehead and Co. face a tougher test with Titans TE Delanie Walker, who led all tight ends with 94 catches and ranked third with 1,088 yards last year.

Youth movement: Titans coach Mike Mularkey is rebuilding a team that has gone 5-27 the past two seasons. The roster features 14 first- and second-year players, including five starters on offense. Expect Tennessee to lean on its ground game with DeMarco Murray and rookie Derrick Henry, and its experienced front seven on defense led by DL Jurrell Casey.

Cooter effect: How good has QB Matthew Stafford been since offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter took over? Dating to last season, Stafford has completed 71 percent of his passes (236-for-332) for 22 TDs and 2 INTs in nine games. He’s the first Lions quarterback since at least 1950 to register a passer rating of least 115.0 in four consecutive games.

Facts and figures

• Since moving to Ford Field in 2002, the Lions are 8-6 in home openers.

• The Lions are 0-4 against the Titans since the franchise relocated from Houston to Tennessee. Detroit trails the series 8-3, with its last victory coming over the then-Oilers, 24-17, on Dec. 10, 1995 at the Houston Astrodome.

• QB Matthew Stafford has 21 career winning drives and 19 since the start of 2011, tying him with Cowboys QB Tony Romo for most in the NFL.

• The Lions recorded 448 yards offense in Week 1, fourth-most in the league. It was also the fourth-most to open a season in franchise history since at least 1950, and second-most on the road since Detroit’s 494 yards at Los Angeles on Sept. 7, 1980.

• Since Week 10 of the 2015 season, the Lions are tied for the second most regular-season wins (seven) with the Cardinals, Panthers, Texans, Steelers and Seahawks. They trail the Chiefs (nine).

Lions 'D' wary of Titans 'triple-threat' QB Mariota