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March of the Titans? Babysteps…

The Titans sit at 3-3 and second place in the floundering AFC South. They are very much alive in the race for the division title and are yet to play the Colts and Jags. All four of these games, at the moment, should be pushes given the terrible play of all three. The Titans have lost to the Texans, on the road, but play them in Tennessee in week 17 which could (massively early and bold prediction here) be for a shot at the Division at the Play-Offs.

So what is the state of the Titans? From 1-3 to 3-3 they have put up numbers in the last two weeks scoring 30 in Miami and 28 at home. Is ‘Exotic Smashmouth’ (urgh, I just threw-up a bit in my mouth) finally paying dividends? Are the O clicking with Mariota rediscovering his rookie form? Is the D playing aggressive, shut-down football? What is the reason for the Titans being .500 and still in Play-Off consideration?

The O-Line

Would you belive that through six weeks of the season, the Titans have the highest ranked O line per Pro Football Focus? Me neither. Last year they ranked 29th. Yes, they have added first round pick Jack Conklin at RT which has worked out really well as he has slid into the pro game without too much issue but they also booted Taylor Lewan to LT full-time and it has paid surprising dividends.

The Running Game

The Titans run the ball as much as any other team in the NFL and have invested in the RBs to deliver their gameplan. DeMarco Murray has bounced back from a disastrous year in Philly to be 4th in rushing yards through six weeks with the fifth most rushing attempts in the league, averaging  a respectable 4.6 yards per carry. More than these numbers, Murray actually looks like he has gas in the tank to rip off big plays, with a long of 67 yards this year.

This guy predicted Murray would lose his job to Derrick Henry by mid-season but the big, bruising rookie out of Alabama has seen a much lower share of the load with 36 rushing attempts yielding 158 yards at 4.4 yards a click.

The Defence

The Titans have 18 sacks through six games. I know! Me neither…Now, 12 of these have come in the last two games against the garbage Miami line and the overwhelmed Browns line but these raw numbers are very encouraging. Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo are playing very well off the edge and, as predicted by this guy, are above average contributors, they just need to stay healthy.

Here’s a statistical quirk – the Titans are the only D in the league not to have recorded a forced fumble through the first six games! They have a slightly above the line total of six interceptions but they have not converted any of these into TDs. It’s a mixed bag from a mixed secondary,  really.

The biggest bright spot is the exceptional play of Jurrell Casey. This is more one for the real nerds out there (if you’re reading an analysis of the Titans season to date, I’ll class you in this category with me), but have a look at the All-22 film on NFL GamePass at Casey. He is huge and the attention he demands, often being double-teamed by linemen, offers the space for Orakpo, Morgan and others to benefit. The most recent game against the Browns was a master class in D-line play from Casey. He is the marquee name on that D and he is living up to the billing right now.

What’s not working?

Pic: Espn.com

Pic: Espn.com

Marcus Mariota has two nice stat lines in a row but that hides the fact that he isn’t playing that well. He has definitely regressed in terms of his ball-placement and footwork. If we go back-up to the fact that the O-line is outperforming its expectations, we can also see that they are keeping Mariota relatively pressure free (pressure rate is 19th in league according to PFF) and it isn’t turning into the sort of dual-threat, game changer we thought, he is even struggling to be the Alex Smith-esque dual threat at the moment. Again, the box score looks ok but the tape tells a different tale. He isn’t helped by the paucity of the play at WR. Tajae Sharpe, predictably after the hype, has disappeared, Rishard Matthews has been ok but subdued, Delanie Walker is battling through injuries and poor play and then Andre Johnson is the  guy we expected this declining Hall of Famer to be. This last week, Kendall Wright returned to have a monster day against the Browns which bodes well…if Mariota can find him consistently.

 

What’s next?

The Titans are at home for the next two weeks against the Colts and then the Jags. They have to come out 2-0 from these games to remain relevant in the Division. This would put them at 5-3 with a 2-1 division record. It will give them heart with some winnable road games in San Diego, Indy, Jacksonville and Chicago all to come.

Given the state of the Colts right now, the Titans should get pressure on Luck and be able to bolster those sack numbers. The O-line, if it plays to form, should give time to Mariota and create some wide-ass running lanes for the RBs given that the Colts D is like warm butter at the moment.

I genuinely think the Titans do the AFC South double over the next two weeks. Titans fans, prepare to be mildly excited!

Pic credit:  Alchetron.com

Article written by:

Gareth joined the NFLGirlUK.com team in 2016 and covers the AFC South for the site. He has been following the NFL for over 15 years, though first encountered the game through Channel 4’s hourly recap programme in the late 1980s, and over the last couple of seasons begun to write about the draft through his own blog. Gareth tweets from @GDux3 and you can also follow him on Instagram and LinkedIn.

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