The Titans hope to carry the momentum of last week’s win against Jacksonville forward, as they prepare to host the always dangerous Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Buoyed by a big divisional win last week in Jacksonville, the Titans will look to post their first home victory of the season Sunday against Seattle.
The Titans have won four of their last five games at Nissan Stadium, the lone exception being this year’s season-opening loss to Oakland.
Here’s a look at five key questions for the Titans as they ready for the Seahawks’ first visit to Music City since 2005.
1. What will the running back rotation look like this week? – Titans coach Mike Mularkey left no doubt Monday that DeMarco Murray, when healthy, is still the team’s top running back.But it remains to be seen how healthy Murray will be come Sunday, considering hamstring strains can be nagging injuries – the kind that only heal with proper rest.
The most carries Derrick Henry has had in a game is 16, when he rushed for 60 yards against Jacksonville last season. It certainly wouldn’t be a shock to see Henry break that mark this week, after carrying 14 times for 92 yards against the Jaguars last week.
Henry looks as if he’s an improved version of last year’s impressive rookie. The former Heisman Trophy winner out of Alabama is averaging 5.85 yards per carry through two games, which is third-highest in the NFL among running backs with at least 20 carries.
2. Can the Titans run on the Seahawks? – The Seahawks have a history of impressive defenses. Seattle finished 2016 as the the seventh-best team in the league against the run, allowing just 93 yards per game.But the Seahawks were pounded last Sunday by San Francisco’s big back, Carlos Hyde, who carried 15 times for 124 yards. Meanwhile, the Titans appeared to get back to their 2016 form in the run game, piling up 179 yards against Jacksonville.
Patience is key with the running attack, as it often takes time to make its mark. Against the Jaguars, the Titans had 12 carries for 58 yards in the first half, but 24 carries for 121 yards in the second half.
If the weather stays as forecast for this Sunday – a high in the upper 80’s – it’s possible that a Seattle team used to cooler climates could start to wear down in the late going.
3. Could we see more of Taywan Taylor this week? – The former Western Kentucky standout got 12 snaps against Jacksonville, doubling his total from the season opener.It would not be a surprise to see Taylor get even more action against Seattle, for a few reasons.
First, Taylor made an impact in his limited time against Jacksonville, picking up a first down on a 17-yard run and catching a 42-yard pass that set up a Titans touchdown. Second, Taylor’s presence on the field causes difficulties for opposing defenses, because they know they have to be prepared for him as a running threat – on jet sweeps, reverses and end-arounds – as well as a receiving threat.
Third, fellow rookie wide receiver Corey Davis, like Murray, is dealing with a hamstring injury. If Davis is limited or sidelined Sunday, Taylor steps in as the third receiver.
4. Can the Titans keep up this turnover pace? – The Titans are plus-two in the turnover department after two weeks, thanks to the three turnovers they produced Sunday against Jacksonville.That continues the team’s upward trend over the last few years. The Titans finished 2014 with a minus-14 turnover ratio and finished 2015 with a minus-10 turnover before breaking even in 2016 – Mularkey’s first full season. Over the last 10 regular-season games (eight last year, two this year), the Titans are plus-8 in turnover margin.
Nine of the NFL’s 12 playoff teams last season produced a positive turnover ratio. So if the Titans can keep up this pace, they’re likely to greatly increase their chances of reaching the postseason.
“It’s pretty important in every game,” Mularkey said. “It’s the difference. You can put a chart that goes back 20 years and (it will) show you the difference in the outcomes of games based on turnovers. It’s the same every year, and it’s amazing how it’s held up.”
5. Can the Titans corner Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson? – Through two games, Seattle has surrendered 16 quarterback hits (tied for fifth-highest in the league) and six quarterback sacks (tied for ninth-highest in the league).Those are encouraging numbers for a Titans linebacking corps that’s recorded all four of the team’s sacks this season. Linebacker Derrick Morgan has a sack in each of the first two games.
But beware a cornered Wilson. The shifty quarterback is one of the most elusive in the game, evidenced by his 14 carries for 74 yards through two contests. Wilson made a superb play in Sunday’s win over San Francisco, avoiding a heavy rush and finding Paul Richardson for a nine-yard touchdown pass.
“If we’re not disciplined with our rush lanes and where we’re supposed to be … if we’re not in tight coverage and he gets out of the pocket, you’re talking about bad things can happen,” Mularkey said. “He has a history of that and we know that. We know the potency of this offense.”
— Reach John Glennon at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him @glennonsports on Twitter.