The Tennessee Titans finished the 2016 regular season with the third best rushing offense and second ranked rushing defense.
Can the Titans finish number one in both categories in 2017? The answer is yes…and here’s why…
Key players return on both sides of the ball
Tennessee boasted one of the best offensive lines in all of football last year, and the entire starting unit returns this season. All Pro rookie right tackle Jack Conklin hasn’t even scratched the surface on his potential, and Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan flourished in his first season of smash mouth football in Nashville.
Pro Bowl running back DeMarco Murray proved to his naysayers last season that he is still in the prime of his career, and will be looking to build on his 1,287 yard performance from a year ago. And second year backup rb Derrick Henry (4.5 yds per carry in 2016) should get even more opportunities…especially early in the season as the Titans may look to pace Murray’s carries for a potential playoff push late in the year.
Two fresh backs running downhill in December could be a recipe for disaster for opposing defenses with three months of banging and bruising on their bodies.
Like the offense, the Titans’ front seven on defense also returns in tact. The unit allowed a paltry 88.3 yards per game on the ground last season, and added additional run stoppers this offseason.
While the Titans didn’t draft a defensive lineman for the first time in nearly a decade, they added veteran pieces that aren’t afraid of sticking their nose in there when the play comes their way.
Free agent acquisitions Logan Ryan (cb) and Jonathan Cyprien (s) were tackling machines in New England and Jacksonville, and defensive tackle Sylvester Williams (6’2 313 lbs) was brought in to be the massive gap filler that he was in Denver a year ago.
New weapons in the passing game
One of the Achilles Heels of Tennessee’s offense in 2016 was the wide receiver group, and their collective inability to make defenses (and safeties specifically) play honest and not stack the line to stop the run.
The Titans believe they addressed that problem by drafting a couple of speedy play making receivers in the first and third round of this year’s draft.
Corey Davis (1st rd) and Taywon Taylor (3rd rd) showed that field-stretching play making ability in college, and will be called upon to make teams pay for not providing safety help this season.
Taking that additional run stopper out of the play should open up more room for Murray and Henry, and they have both shown to be home run hitters when they clear the first line of defense.
A new pair of starting corners
No, they haven’t played a meaningful down in two-tone Titan blue, it’s hard to imagine the new starting duo of Logan Ryan and rookie first round pick Adoree’ Jackson playing worse than last year’s starting corners Perrish Cox and Jason McCourty. If Tennessee’s secondary can get off the field on third down just a couple of times more a game, then the offense will have even more opportunities to run the ball and control the clock.
Number one rushing offense and defense is not only realistic, but attainable for the Titans in 2017.