The Tennessee Titans enjoyed a mini bye over the weekend after their dominant victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars last Thursday. The win moved Tennessee to 4-4 at the midway point of the season.
As the Titans prepare for the second half of the season, which resumes Sunday in San Diego, we’ll take a look back at the first eight games…and grade the team’s performance so far based on preseason expectations.
Rushing Offense – A+
The Titans couldn’t have asked for a better performance from their rushing attack over the first eight games, ranking third in the league with 152.3 yards per contest. Tennessee’s feature back, DeMarco Murray, is currently second in the league in rushing with 756 yards (6 tds). It’s the most yards gained after eight games by a Titans running back since Chris Johnson’s historic 2000 yard season in 2009. And though he has been used sparingly so far this season, backup rookie running back Derrick Henry has also impressed when given his opportunities. He is averaging over four yards per carry and scored his first touchdown as a professional last Thursday. The Titans wanted to be a dominant running team this season, and has executed that plan to perfection thus far.
Passing Offense – C
The Titans are currently 26th in passing yards per game (225.5), thanks in large part to a slow start from quarterback Marcus Mariota and inconsistent play from the receivers. After an impressive training camp and preseason, rookie wide receiver Tajae Sharpe has since fallen off the proverbial cliff. Luckily for Tennessee, Kendall Wright is now healthy and making huge plays in the passing game…especially down the field. His resurgence rendered veteran Andre Johnson to the role of bystander, so it was no surprise that he abruptly retired from the league on Monday. Rishard Matthews has been steady, and tight end Delanie Walker is still producing at a high level. While things have been slow to click with this phase of the offense, the passing game has looked much better in recent weeks. It will need to continue trending upward if the Titans want to keep their hopes for a division title (and playoff berth) alive.
Rushing Defense – A
Tennessee allowed 112.3 yards per game on the ground in 2015, ranking 18th in the league. After eight games this season the defense is 5th in that category, and they’ve accomplished this by trimming a whopping 30 yards per game from last year’s average (82.5). A huge factor in the improvement is the team’s ability to stay close in games. Tennessee fell behind early and often last season, which allowed teams to rack up the rushing attempts to close out games. This season opposing offenses have to stay more balanced, and in the case of the Jaguars’ game last week, abandon the run all together.
Passing Defense – C
Tennessee’s pass defense has been another story, however. The Titans are currently 20th against the pass, and a glaring weakness of the unit has been the linebackers’ inability to cover backs and tight ends in space. The deficiency reared its ugly head two weeks ago against the Colts, when the unit failed to stop Andrew Luck from marching down the field for the go-ahead score late in the game. Pressuring the qb has been a bright spot for this phase of the defense, though, as the Titans are currently tied for third in the league with 22 sacks.
Special Teams – F
Yes, an F. You can’t fire your special teams coach (as head coach Mike Mularkey did) a few games into the season and receive a passing grade. Missed extra points, allowing onside kick recoveries, allowing punt returns for touchdowns, not creating field position with their own returns. An all around mess. One could argue that the special teams unit was the reason for two close losses to Houston and Indianapolis. The team is winning in spite of them, and that must change for the Titans to continue to improve overall.
Coaching – B-
Mike Mularkey orchestrated a team philosophy that played to the strength of his roster. New offensive line coach Russ Grimm has done wonders with the offensive line, which is widely considered one of the best units in the league after being an embarrassment the last two seasons. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has picked up where he left off last season, turning up the pressure and taking away the opposing team’s best player far more often than not. But the special teams’ coaching woes brought this grade down.
Overall – B+
There is one stat to point to when handing out the overall grade. The Titans are one of just two teams (Arizona) that currently has a top ten offense (9th) and top ten defense (10th). The team bears no resemblance to the ones that compiled just five wins in two seasons, and at the rate they are going, the Titans could find themselves listed in the playoff picture scenarios come December…something that no one saw coming heading into the season.