IRVING, Texas – Preparations for Week 2 are well underway, and I have now had a chance to study the tape on Tennessee. As always, I've come up with three players the Cowboys will need to keep an eye on if they want to get out of Nashville with a win.
One of these guys, defensive lineman Jurrell Casey, is a second-team All-Pro and no stranger to opposing gameplanners. Two of them are relative newcomers – to the Titans, at least – who look likely to make an impact on this game.
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Weapon: Dexter McCluster, RB
When the Titans line up on offense, veteran Shonn Greene is the starter at running back with Leon Washington also getting opportunities to take a snap or two in some special packages. Both Greene and Washington are the type of back that are steady in their approach and ability, but not dynamic in the way they can put pressure on an offense.
Where the Titans rely on that difference-maker type of back is with Dexter McCluster. What is interesting about McCluster is how Ken Whisenhunt uses him in normal down and distance situations, instead of the traditional roles that he had in Kansas City -- where he was a third down or gadget back. For the Titans, he is getting the opportunity to carry the ball for more than one or two snaps a series. He is now seeing multiple snaps and is even running the ball between the tackles.
Where Rod Marinelli and this defensive staff must be concerned with McCluster in this game is in his ability to take a simple hand off or a screen in the flat and turn it into a sizeable gain. He has the ability to break a defense down if he gets the ball in space with his elusiveness and quickness. The key for this Cowboys defense is to get bodies on McCluster quickly before he has the chance to get going, because if not he was will a problem all afternoon long.
Nemesis: Jurrell Casey, DE
When the Titans made the switch from the 4-3 defense to the 3-4, I wasn't really sure how many of their current players would be able to fit. One guy that I was really interested in was Jurrell Casey and where he would fit after playing as a tackle in his first three seasons.
Defensive coordinator Ray Horton has Casey lining up at end – which, at 6-1, 305, is not the most ideal position due to his size. How Horton has gotten away with it is that he has not asked any of these mismatched players like Casey to just stand in there toe-to-toe and slug it out with bigger offensive lines. [embedded_ad]
He will put Casey on the edge of the offensive tackle, then the next snap he is over the guard -- I have even seen him stand up and rush like he was a linebacker. Casey is relentless in the way he plays. His lateral burst and quickness is outstanding. You never see him stopping when trying to chase the ball. He plays with great stamina. He is a difficult man to handle one-on-one and has the strength to defeat double team blocks as well. He does a nice job of using his hands while he is on the move. Feet never stop working and the only way to block him consistently is to try and out work him. Wherever he lines up along this Cowboys offensive line, a hat needs to be on him.
Under The Radar: Justin Hunter, WR
Each week when I study these opponents the Cowboys face, I am always looking for those players that pop out to me off that tape. The Titans have a second-year receiver named Justin Hunter that is exactly that type of player I am looking at. I remember Hunter while I was working on the NFL Draft in 2013 and how impressed I was with his natural ability to play the position.
He has an outstanding frame. In college he tended to catch the ball along his body, but in the pros has done a better job of extending his hands and making adjusting catches. In college he did catch the ball in traffic and this has carried over. He has the ability to make the contested catch. When he wants to run a vertical route, he can get some separation. He can cover some ground with his stride.
Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr have to be ready for Ken Whisenhunt trying to get Hunter down the field, and they have to find ways to get their hands on him before he gets going up the field. They'll need to make him fight for space and prove that he can consistently get off the press. Shows some wiggle with the ball in his hands and run after catch. Titans like to line him up wide or in the slot and he has responded well with his opportunities.