JACKSONVILLE – Senior correspondent Brian Sexton examines the AFC South entering Week 2 of the 2023 NFL season …
The Titans spent the week working to get past a difficult 16-15 loss in New Orleans in Week 1 – in particular, quarterback Ryan Tannehill and his three interceptions. The veteran quarterback quickly grew tired of questions about his performance, contract and future.
"Guys, I really just want to move on to San Diego," he said before realizing his mistake. "I'm sorry, I mean Los Angeles."
It was that kind of week for Tannehill, who has been a solid contributor and helped the Titans win a pair of AFC South division titles – and who has helped his head coach to a 50-38 record.
"Ryan has played good football for us when we've been able to protect [him]," Titans Head Coach Mike Vrabel said. "I'm confident he'll hit the ones we're supposed to hit and eliminate the mistakes."
Quarterback isn't the only concern for the Titans, whose identity appears to be slipping in ways surprising to longtime followers. They aren't running as efficiently as normal and they're losing close games down the stretch that Vrabel's teams normally don't lose.
A team that was 22-9 in one-score games with Vrabel and Tannehill has lost its last five such games, all during a current eight-game losing streak.
"Based upon losing seven [consecutive] games [to end] last year," Pro Bowl safety Kevin Byard said. "It was a big emphasis for us to try to go out there and start fast and try to get that losing-streak taste out of our mouth. It didn't happen. But hopefully, we'll get it done this week."
The big story in Indianapolis and Houston this week is the showdown between the No. 2 overall selection in the 2023 NFL Draft and the guy picked at No. 4. Colts quarterback Anthony Richardson (No. 4) is coming off a solid showing against the Jaguars in Week 1 and Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud (No. 2) had his moments in the Texans' Week 1 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. But Richardson isn't focused on Stroud.
"The last time I tried to compete with somebody else, I didn't play great," Richardson said. "I'm just focused on myself, focused on my details and trying to help my teammates."
The "last time" to which the rookie from the University of Florida referred is when the Gators – fresh off their upset win over Utah last season – went to Kentucky in 2022 Richardson attempted to outshine Wildcats quarterback Will Levis, who is now with the Titans. Richardson rushed for four yards and threw a pair of interceptions.
"I was so excited, so pumped," Richardson said. "Two highly-sought quarterbacks are getting ready to play in front of all these NFL scouts, and that's when it hit me. … I told myself: 'I have to play perfect.' Trying to battle against him instead of battling against their team."
Stroud and Richardson have known each other for years, becoming acquainted on the camp circuit, and both are excited for the chance to play on Sunday – but not necessarily against one another.
"That's my guy," Stroud told reporters in Houston on Wednesday. "Known him since we were in high school, competed against each other, became real good friends there and kind of kept the relationship when he was at Florida and I was at Ohio State."
At some point in time both franchises and their fan bases hope that the games featuring two of the Class of 2023 quarterbacks will become a marquee matchup worthy of prime time. Until then, they're focused on getting their teams pointed in the right direction after Week 1 losses.
"I think he'll be fine," Colts Head Coach Shane Steichen said of Richardson. "A lot of the times, it's quarterback versus quarterback. To me, it's team versus team. It's not quarterback versus quarterback, it's the Houston Texans versus the Colts. That's what we've got to focus on and treat it that way."
The Texans' other Top 5 selection from the 2023 NFL Draft is making headlines himself. Defensive end Will Anderson Jr. not only notched the first sack of his professional career in his first NFL game, he also generated six pressures according to NFL's Next Gen stats – the most by a rookie in Week 1 since Nick Bosa of the San Francisco 49ers in 2019.
He also had six defensive stops, which was tied for the most by a rookie edge in Week 1 since 2016 with Bosa and Jaguars outside linebacker Josh Allen.
"I think it just started with discipline and preparing for this game," Anderson said. "The coaches did a great job coming up with a great game plan for us. We knew we couldn't get to him every time, but the pressure would add up."
Anderson was a revelation during his time at Alabama, entering the NFL with all the physical tools and skills to create game-changing plays. His head coach knows Bosa and pass rushers. It's why the Texans, after selecting Stroud at No. 2, moved back up into the No. 3 spot to take Anderson.
"Will has been who he's been," Texans Head Coach DeMeco Ryans said.
Anderson, who played for one of the game's most notorious task masters in Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban, wasn't reveling in his Week 1 success.
"It was fun," Anderson said. "I took in every moment, and I think the team did a really good job. We made some mistakes, but we just have to keep learning and getting better. We need to do a better job in the red zone, and we can be a really good defense."