There’s only one thing that can push the Tennessee Titans’ 57-14 drubbing at the hands of the Houston Texans to the back pages of the local news, and that’s an injury to franchise quarterback Marcus Mariota.
His third in as many seasons.
Mariota suffered a strained hamstring in the first half of the loss at Houston last Sunday and is listed as day-to-day. He was on the practice field today, albeit in limited action.
His status for Sunday’s game in Miami is uncertain.
In the aftermath of the meltdown in H-Town, fans flooded local call-in shows. But no one wanted to talk about the loss itself, all of the talk was about the dismal performance of backup qb Matt Cassel, and the team’s bleak future if he has to start multiple games.
A firestorm of controversy was ignited yesterday when the Titans signed journeyman qb Brandon Weeden to back up Cassel instead of Colin Kaepernick, who plays a similar style to Mariota.
The national media weighed in with their claims of a conspiricy, and a once-unified fan base waged war by taking sides on local radio and social media.
As for the players themselves, it is important to remember that this team was constructed to be more than a one man show….regardless of who’s under center.
For all of the gifts and qualities that makes Mariota worthy of being the face of a franchise, we must remember that he is not Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, or Drew Brees.
And the Titans aren’t asking him to be.
Tennessee’s offense is predicated on controlling the clock with a physical run game, and as of today DeMarco Murray, Derrick Henry, and one of the league’s best offensive lines are not listed on this week’s injury report.
Sure, without Mariota the run-pass option plays are thrown out the window. But the line is capable of being dominant enough to overcome that for a week or two.
Rishard Matthews is still one of the best receivers in the league in catching tough passes in traffic, and Delanie Walker is still one of the league’s elite tight ends.
And yes, the defense struggled mightily last Sunday, but they have also proved they can make enough plays to secure a victory when not left on the field for quarters at a time…as they were last week.
Miami’s offense may be the perfect antidote for a unit that’s looking to restore their confidence. The Dolphins have scored six points in their last two games combined, and were shut out by New Orleans’ defense last week in London.
And let’s be honest, no one would mistake the Saints defense for the 85′ Bears or 2000 Ravens.
In fact, the shut out bumped New Orleans up to 28th in total defense….
But I digress.
Brian Orakpo, Derrick Morgan, and Jurrell Casey feasted on Miami’s offensive line last season to the tune of six combined sacks. All three had two sacks apiece to go along with two interceptions on the day by the defense.
And let’s remember, the Titans had five Pro Bowl players and an All Pro on their roster last season, and none of them played quarterback.
All six players (Taylor Lewan, DeMarco Murray, Delanie Walker, Brian Orakpo, Jurrell Casey, and All Pro Jack Conklin) will be in uniform on Sunday.
These are the cornerstone players that can affect the game on any given Sunday, and must do so in order to hold down the fort until Mariota returns to the lineup.
Let’s also remember that Tennessee has a solid special teams unit with a Pro Bowl caliber place kicker, punter, and return man in rookie sensation Adoree’ Jackson. A big play (or two) from this unit can also mask the absence of their starting qb if Mariota is unable to suit up this week.
Lastly, the Titans proved they could win with a total team effort the last time that Mariota sat out with an injury.
Tennessee defeated Houston 24-17 in last year’s regular season finale with Cassel under center. And while he only threw for a pedestrian 150 yards with a td and an interception (of course), he was aided by a ground game that rushed the ball 29 times for over 100 yards and a touchdown and a defense that registered four sacks, a fumble recovery, and a score of their own.
It was an ugly, physical game. The kind of game the Titans are built to win without a stallworth passing attack. The kind of game they need to reproduce until their franchise signal caller is healthy enough to return.
And they can do it, as long as they tune out the talk and remember that they are more than a one man aerial show.