On Now
Coming Up
  • Sun., Dec. 17, 2017 6:30 PM - 7:30 PM CST Live Postgame Press Conference WATCH LIVE as Head Coach Mike Mularkey (and selected players) meet with the media to recap the Titans-49ers Week 15 game, live from Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.

    Sunday, December 17
    approx. 10 minutes after the game
Print
RSS

Five Key Questions for Titans Heading into Bye Week

Posted Oct 24, 2017

The bye week comes at a good time for the Titans, who will use the break to heal nagging injuries and to re-tool parts of the offense. Here are five key questions the Titans will face as they ready for their remaining nine games.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Titans' victory over the Cleveland Browns last Sunday may not have earned style points, but it left the team in solid position heading into the bye week.

Tennessee has won two straight games, is tied with Jacksonville atop the AFC South and will host its next two opponents – Baltimore and Cincinnati.

Here are five key questions for the Titans as they head into their annual break:

How much difference will a fully mobile Marcus Mariota make? – The Titans are hopeful an extra week's rest will allow Mariota, who's been very limited on foot the last two weeks, to regain full mobility against Baltimore.

Through the first four games of the season, Mariota was averaging about 30 rushing yards per contest, which put him on pace for a career high on the ground. He'd also already rushed for three touchdowns, which was more than he'd totaled in either of his first two seasons. In addition, Mariota had run for eight first downs, keeping drives alive.

What the numbers don't show is the extra split-second Mariota often gives his backs on running plays, on read options and more traditional runs. Defenders have to hesitate, making sure Mariota isn't keeping the ball himself and running.

In addition, a fully healthy Mariota means defenses must commit more often to using a spy on pass plays, eliminating a defender from pass coverage or from the rush.

“I think hopefully if he's back to full-strength we can get back to our full game-planning and get back to what we're good at, and that's multiple things.” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. “Hopefully that's the case, that's the plan as we sit here.”

Are the Titans facing more defenders in the box this year than last? – The Titans aren't generally facing more defenders in the box this year, but they haven't had as much success running against defenses designed to stop the run game.

In 2016, the Titans ran the ball against eight defenders in the box a league-high 127 times, averaging 4.58 yards per carry on those plays. Through seven games this season, the Titans have run the ball against eight defenders in the box 46 times, averaging 3.02 yards per carry on those plays.

“A lot of these teams, and Cleveland being one of them, that’s how they stop the run,” Mularkey said of packing at least eight defenders in the box. “They’re up there – they all know you can do that. That typically wins games.

“We’ve had to try to establish (the running game) and sometimes that hasn’t happened until the second half of the games. Our guys are all in with that. We're going to go until it breaks. But I'd like us to be better obviously than we are.”

How long will it take Corey Davis to make an impact when he returns? – Not long.

Let's remember that Davis, the fifth overall pick in the draft, didn't play a single preseason game because of his hamstring injury, but still stood out in the Titans' opener – catching six passes for 69 yards against Oakland.

Mularkey has said several times that Davis has helped his cause by keeping his mind focused on football despite the injury, something that's not always easy for rookies.

“We have a lot of confidence in him,” Mularkey said. “He has kept up mentally with everything we're doing for these games although knowing for a fact that he's not going to play. I call on him just as I call on all the other players (at offensive meetings). I call them rapid fire question. He gets the answers all the time. I know he's mentally into it.”

Mularkey said Davis was running routes on his own Monday, and that the 6-3, 209-pound Illinois native is tentatively scheduled to return to practice next Monday. So it wouldn't be out of the question to see Davis back in the lineup against the Ravens.

What can the Titans build on coming out of the break? – The Titans' defense has bounced back in a big way over the last three weeks.

After Tennessee's one-sided loss to Houston, the Titans' defense was ranked 29th overall in the league. But after impressive showings against Miami, Indianapolis and Cleveland, the defense has jumped 13 spots to 16th overall.

In those three contests, the Titans allowed just two defensive touchdowns, the first time the team had accomplished that feat since a three-game stretch in 2010 against Oakland, Pittsburgh and the New York Giants. Tennessee also forced a combined seven turnovers – four interceptions and three fumbles.

Even allowing for defensive points scored against the Titans, Tennessee surrendered an average of just 15.7 points per game over the past three weeks – tied for seventh-best in the league during that stretch.

“I think we’ve played very well,” Mularkey said. “If you look at them like we’ve done ... stopping the run, the turnovers we’ve created, our red zone play has been outstanding. We’ve been very consistent and that’s why we’ve won the last two games, because of how consistent our defense has played.”

Where have the Titans shown growth in the first seven games? – The secondary comes to mind as a group that took its lumps against Houston earlier in the year, but has made strides since.

It's worth remembering the Titans didn't have a lot of experience in the secondary going into this season, so they had to hope second-year safety Kevin Byard and rookie cornerback Adoree Jackson would come along quickly.

Byard picked off Cleveland's two quarterbacks three times last Sunday, and his four interceptions this season are now tied for first in the league with Buffalo's Micah Hyde.

Jackson was picked on by Oakland in the season opener and has been targeted regularly due to his lack of experience. But he's holding his own in coverage and is a very sound tackler, especially for his size.

The Titans have allowed an average of just 169 passing yards over the last three games, along with a combined two touchdowns through the air.

-- Reach John Glennon at glennonsports@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @glennonsports.