The foundation of the Tennessee Titans’ stunning 2016 turnaround was laid by their new exotic smash mouth identity…spearheaded by running back DeMarco Murray.
Murray’s hot start kept the Titans afloat during the first eight games of the season, when the passing game was still trying to find its continuity.
Over the last month, however, it was Marcus Mariota and the passing game that not only kept the Titans afloat, but also kept them right in the thick of the AFC South division race.
Mariota has been one of the hottest quarterbacks in the league over the last the last two months, and his November production earned him AFC Offensive Player of the Month honors.
Tennessee’s second year signal caller has accounted for multiple touchdowns in eight consecutive games, a franchise record. His 115.0 passer rating in November is fourth best in Titans / Oilers history, and his 101.9 passer rating for the season is currently fifth best in the entire league.
At times it seemed as though Mariota was a one-man show over the last four games, but the weight of that responsibility needs to return to Murray if the Titans want to do what most thought was impossible a few months ago.
Yes, Mariota played like a man amongst boys in November, but Tennessee’s December opponents have prided themselves on corralling opposing qbs.
Three of the Titans’ remaining four opponents have top five defenses against the pass (Denver – 1st, Jacksonville – 3rd, Houston – 5th).
Coincidentally, three of those defenses are equally inept against the run (Denver – 28th, Kansas City – 27th, Jacksonville – 24th).
Translation…paging DeMarco Murray and the run game….
While he is still second in the league in rushing with 1043 yards, it’s no secret that Murray’s numbers started to dip after injuring his toe against the Jacksonville Jaguars on October 27th.
Prior to the injury Murray reeled off four 100 yard games with eight touchdowns (6 rush, 2 rec). Since then, Murray has just one 100 yard game, which was aided by a 75 yard touchdown run on his first carry against Green Bay.
The rest of that game Murray had 16 attempts for 48 yards (3 yards per carry).
After a well-timed bye week, Murray told reporters after practice today that his toe is feeling better than it has in a long while, and that he is ready to go this Sunday.
With the likes of sack machine and last year’s Super Bowl MVP, linebacker Von Miller, roaming the field Sunday, the Titans’ best recipe for success is to keep Mariota out of harms way as much as possible, and that starts and ends with a dominant performance by Murray.
In fact, for the Titans to run the table and all but assure themselves their first division title since 2008, Murray needs to return the favor to Mariota and earn his own Offensive Player of the Month honor in December.