Continuing a Week 1 tradition, the NFL offers a Monday Night Football doubleheader to start the 2020 season.
Kicking off the night from MetLife Stadium, the New York Giants host the Pittsburgh Steelers at 7:10 p.m. ET and, from Empower Field at Mile High, the Tennessee Titans visit the Denver Broncos in the nightcap at 10:20 p.m. ET.
Here are six things to watch for in the pair of Monday nighters:
Big Ben’s return
Pittsburgh’s long, arduous 2019 saw the effects of losing its franchise quarterback less than two games into the season. There were duck calls, neglected beards, and helmet calamities during Ben Roethlisberger’s absence, but with a redeeming season, those bad memories can be rendered a sheepish afterthought. Reports out of Pittsburgh say Big Ben is feeling rejuvenated after elbow surgery and, entering his 17th season, Roethlisberger, 38, sees “multiple” Lombardi Trophies in his future. As Big Ben roamed the sidelines as a pseudo-coach last year, he witnessed an anemic offense in desperate need of his poise, leadership and deep ball. Per game, the Steelers offense finished 31st in passing (186.3), 29th in rushing (90.4), and 27th in points (18.1), and somehow went 8-8 thanks to a defense that improved upon Minkah Fitzpatrick’s arrival. With a good defense and their offensive field general back on the field, the Steelers are a dark horse candidate to compete in December. Big Ben will certainly want to make an impression in his first game back.
Judgement night in New York
Joe Judge’s debut as Giants head coach may come without any fanfare thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but there’s nothing like a fresh start. Judge, who spent the last eight seasons as a special teams/wide receiver coach in New England, is a chip off the old coaching block for Big Blue. The Bill Parcells coaching tree has familiar roots of success in New York, starting with the Big Tuna’s reign (with Bill Belichick) through the 1980s to Tom Coughlin’s 11-year tenure of law and order. Both coaches brought two Super Bowls to New York, but the Giants have fallen mightily since Coughlin’s resignation in 2015 with just 10 combined wins the last three seasons. Although he’s dealt with an offseason unlike any other, Judge has already set the tone of his no-nonsense, old-school coaching style that has multi-millionaires running extra laps. Whether it resonates positively with his team remains to be seen, but it won’t happen overnight. Given the wild ride so far in Week 1, anything goes in 2020.
Daniel Jones officially takes the reins
Monday night will mark the first time in 16 years that someone other than Eli Manning will start the season opener as the Giants’ QB, and Daniel Jones has the honor. Jones got the job after Week 2 of his rookie season, and although he started with two consecutive wins, reality struck the Giants with a 4-12 season. Jones’ introduction to the NFL was rough before it even started and worsened with his ball security issues, but with a new coaching staff at the helm, there’s opportunity for a fresh start. Jason Garrett was hired as the team’s offensive coordinator and the ex-Cowboys coach has past success grooming QBs. With Saquon Barkley now fully healthy and capable of just about anything, how it all comes together for Jones and Co. will be a major storyline in New York week in and week out.
Ground attacks at Mile High
In a matchup made for running back hipsters, the Titans and Broncos feature offenses built on moving the football the old-fashioned way. Titans RB Derrick Henry — the NFL’s reigning rushing champion — aims to defend his title and become the first to lead the league in rushing two years in a row since LaDainian Tomlinson did it in 2007. Henry has been remarkable the past two seasons and the Titans rewarded the bruising back with an extension this summer. Who shares the carries when Henry needs a breather is the only remaining question for the Titans, but there is plenty of intrigue with how the Broncos divvy up the carries between Philip Lindsay and Melvin Gordon. The Broncos brought in Gordon on a two-year deal, which came as somewhat of a surprise considering Lindsay has logged over 1,000 yards in each of his two seasons on an undrafted free agent contract. Perhaps a heated competition between the two will blossom and a new dynamic duo emerges, which would be perfect situation for the Broncos on this night with No. 1 receiver Courtland Sutton questionable with an injury.
Jurrell Casey’s redemption
The Broncos defensive line was upgraded this offseason with the arrival of Jurrell Casey, who was acquired from Tennessee for a lowly seventh-round pick in March. Casey voiced his displeasure after the move, saying the Titans traded him away ‘like a piece of trash’ after nine reliable seasons of Pro Bowl-caliber play. Casey had a right to be angry, but Tennessee needed to make room for Henry’s impending contract extension, not to mention their eventual signing of Jadeveon Clowney. Now, Casey has the opportunity to stick it to his former team by helping stop the NFL’s reigning rushing champion in Week 1. Casey is a versatile disruptor the Broncos’ interior D-line lacked last season, and his performance in the 2019 playoffs proved he can still make plays just one year removed from a horrible knee injury. On a night where Casey’s emotions will run high, watch out for No. 99 as he goes up against an offensive line he knows far too well and a team he has it in for.
Ryan Tannehill’s new beginning
This time last year, Marcus Mariota was the Titans’ starting quarterback on Week 1 for the fifth consecutive season, but a new era has dawned in Tennessee thanks to the reigning AP Comeback Player of the Year. Tannehill took over as the Titans QB ahead of Week 7 and helped Tennessee to the playoffs with a 9-7 record after starting the season 2-4. They were one win away from reaching the Super Bowl. The Titans reaped the benefits of Henry’s breakout season, but Tannehill was there to make big play-action throws when called upon. Entering Tannehill’s second season with the Titans, it will be interesting to see what offensive coordinator Arthur Smith has in store for an athletic QB who can throw a deep ball. A fluid offense with an already stacked defense will bode well for Mike Vrabel’s Titans
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