The Titans produced their third win in a row last Sunday against Baltimore. Here are a handful of storylines to follow this week as the Titans prepare for Cincinnati.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Halfway through the 2017 season, the Titans have reason to feel good about themselves.
Their 5-3 record is one win better than it was last year at the midpoint, and it has the Titans in a first-place tie with Jacksonville in the AFC South.
When the Titans hit the field on Sunday, they’ll be looking to extend their winning streak to four games, which would be the team’s longest since 2009.
Here are five key questions for the Titans looking ahead:
Is the Titans’ rushing attack still impacting games? – The Titans’ run game is ranked 10th in the league, but it hasn’t steamrolled opponents the way it did last year and earlier this season. Tennessee has been held under 90 rushing yards in four of the last five games.Titans coach Mike Mularkey said his team has gone head-to-head with some quality defenses this season, but also noted that the Titans’ run-blocking could be better.
“We’ve got to do a better job … of sustaining blocks,” Mularkey said. “That’s everybody – that’s our line, that’s our tight ends, that’s our fullbacks – have got to play better. That’s our receivers getting involved. That’s how big runs come, is when receivers block like they should here.”
The good news is that the threat of the Titans’ running game is still clearly making an impact.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota‘s 128.1 quarterback rating while using play action is third-best in the NFL this season, per ESPN. Mariota was even better than that on Sunday, posting a 144.0 quarterback rating while using play action, per Pro Football Focus. The Titans used play action to pick up 29 yards on the first play of the game and also to produce a 16-yard scoring pass in the first quarter – both throws going to Rishard Matthews.
“We will need to get it cranked up better than it’s been going,” Mularkey said of the run game, “but it certainly has had an effect on Marcus’ accuracy and percentage of completions. He was perfect (in play action against the Ravens).”
Should we expect quarterback Marcus Mariota to run more often in upcoming games? – Odds are good.Since returning from a hamstring injury that sidelined him against Miami, Mariota has carried six times for 14 yards in three games. He looked much more mobile against the Ravens than he had in his previous two contests, but still ran only three times for six yards. It looked as if two of those runs were more scrambles than designed running plays.
But Mularkey noted that Mariota had an option to run on a few other plays against Baltimore, choosing to hand the ball off instead. So expect Mariota to get back to the level of his first four games, when he carried 20 times for 116 yards (5.8-yard average) and three touchdowns before suffering the hamstring injury.
How might Adoree’ Jackson impact the Titans’ offense? –Judging from his one run in Sunday’s win over Baltimore – a 20-yard gain, even after he bobbled the hand-off – I’d say it’s very likely we’ll see the rookie cornerback get some more offensive snaps in the second half of the season.There are at least three good reasons why:
One, the lightning-fast Jackson brings a change-up element to the running attack, a speedy player who hits the hole quicker than either of the Titans’ two power backs – DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry.
Two, the more success Jackson has, the more concerned opposing defenses have to be about him whenever he enters the game. Even if Jackson doesn’t get the ball, he can serve as a decoy, creating more opportunity for his teammates.
Third, Jackson has explosive-play potential, which can really help an offense that’s struggled at times. Recall that Jackson averaged over 16 yards on his 39 career catches at USC, and over six yards per carry on his 15 runs.
Who set Wesley Woodyard‘s clock back this year? – We’re not talking about turning back Woodyard’s clock an hour, but more like several years.In 2016, a 30 year-old Woodyard played in 56.1 percent of the Titans’ defensive snaps, per Football Outsiders.
So far this season, the 31 year-old Woodyard – a 10-year veteran at inside linebacker – has played in more than 85 percent of the Titans’ defensive snaps. He played all 75 defensive snaps against Baltimore, throwing in his usual handful of special-teams snaps as well.
But it’s what Woodyard is doing with those snaps that’s the real story.
In eight games, he’s already piled up 102 tackles, which is already well over his entire season total of 88 last year. Woodyard has produced double-digit tackles in seven of eight games this season, including the 20 (he registered against the Ravens.
“He works hard all the time,” Mularkey said. “He takes care of his body. You guys have heard me talk about pre-practice, post-practice, he’s one of those guys. He can play as long as he wants to play.”
What should the Titans expect from the Bengals? –Cincinnati is likely to come into Nashville hungry to bounce back following an uninspiring loss to Jacksonville last week, one that had some Bengals questioning the team’s intensity.“I know we ain’t gonna win every game, but at a certain point it’s a reality check with the guys in the locker room,” former Titan Adam “Pacman” Jones told Cincinnati media after the game. “And do you really want to win?
“That’s my question to some of these guys. How much do you want to win? And I ain’t saying everybody gotta’ make every play. That’s not what I’m saying. But I’m talking about heart and playing with a passion.”
Overall, the Bengals (3-5) are ranked last in the league overall offensively – last in rushing, 28th in passing – and have been held to an average of 10.8 points in their five losses. Cincinnati ran just 37 offensive plays against the Jaguars and produced 148 total yards.
The good news for the Bengals is that star receiver A.J. Green, ejected in the loss to Jacksonville, will not be suspended for the game against the Titans. In his two career games against the Titans, Green has 13 catches for 185 yards.
Cincinnati’s defense is sixth overall and has been especially good against the pass. Bengals Geno Atkins and Carl Lawson have combined for 9.5 sacks.
— Reach John Glennon at email@example.com and follow him @glennonsports.