As the Tennessee Titans continue to evolve from their 2016 exotic smash mouth identity, the pieces are in place for the mantra to make a curtain call this season.
In fact, the Titans are poised to lead the league in rushing offense and rushing defense in 2019.
Tennessee’s offense was riddled with injures throughout the entire 2018 season, and it started in the season opener.
Three prominent starters were injured in that opener (left tackle Taylor Lewan, tight end Delanie Walker, quarterback Marcus Mariota). Lewan and Mariota missed the following week while Walker missed the entire season.
The Titans had to start their third-string tackle in place of Lewan in week two. All while playing a hobbled Jack Conklin at right tackle as he was still recovering from an ACL injury.
The offensive line played musical chairs throughout the season, and Mariota was in and out of the lineup with a bothersome season-long nerve injury.
With that said, the Titans still finished seventh in rushing last season.
Reason for optimism
It’s hard to imagine the injury bug biting the Titans’ offense as hard as it did in 2018. Conklin is now a year removed from his injury and should play closer to his 2016 All Pro ability.
Rodger Saffold was brought in to play alongside Lewan at left guard, and should immediately upgrade that unit.
More importantly, Henry found his confidence late in the season and led the league in rushing the last four games with an eye-popping 585 yards.
And that was behind a beat up offensive line.
If Henry can reproduce his late-season 2018 productivity with an improved effort from Lewis, plus Mariota’s usual contribution to the ground game, then the Titans could very well lead the league in rushing in 2019.
Yes, Tennessee’s defense finished 17th against the run last season, but there were contributing factors that were out of the unit’s control.
For starters, the Titans had the league’s second best run defense in 2016. They ranked 4th in 2017. One huge reason for this? The outstanding play of departed middle linebacker Avery Williamson.
Williamson led the team in tackles in 2016 and racked up 195 tackles over that two year span.
Last season Williamson departed for New York, and rookie replacement Rashaan Evans struggled with injuries and inconsistent play for mush of the season.
Evans dramatically improved as the 2018 season progressed, and if healthy, he should be poised to man the middle as effectively as Williamson in his second season.
Evans is bigger, stronger, and more athletic than his predecessor, and should benefit from a full training camp and second season in Dean Pees’ defensive system.
An improved offense should greatly help Tennessee’s run defense. Last year the Titans struggled to score points. Their 19.4 points per game ranked 27th in the league, allowing teams to stay committed to the run.
Scoring more points should alleviate that problem, and the return of Walker should aid in that. The free agent addition of Adam Humphries and draft selection of AJ Brown should add scoring punch to a passing attack that finished 29th in the league last season.
If the Titans could improve their scoring average by a touchdown at the minimum, then teams will be forced to throw to stay in games. Which, on a side note, would play right in the hands of one of the league’s best secondaries.
Exotic smash mouth football may be a thing of the past in Tennessee, but they have the personnel to dominate on the ground on both sides of the ball this year.