After rediscovering a rushing attack that had been AWOL for at least two years, the next step for the Tennessee Titans offense is to do it again.
The revamped offensive line and new look running backs rolled up 288 yards and three touchdowns last week in the preseason opener against the Chargers.
But with San Diego being a fellow also-ran from 2015, those skeptical of how real the Titans’ improvement is say that showing a strong running game against a contending team would be a better barometer of how far the Titans have really come in one off-season.
Enter the Carolina Panthers, the top team from the regular season last year, and a team that came probably within a Cam Newton fumble of a potential Super Bowl championship.
Though the Panthers’ starting defense is likely to play only some portion of the first half, it should provide enough of an indicator to better gauge just how far the Titans resurgent run game has really come.
“They’re a great front seven and have maybe the best middle linebacker in the league (in Luke Kuechly). Their whole core altogether is unbelievable, so we have to do a great job of being physical,” left tackle Taylor Lewan said.
Physical play expected
Titans coach Mike Mularkey expects the Panthers to bring a physical aggressive style that the Titans will have to match in order to keep up, even if it is just preseason week No. 2.
“We played them last year. We talked about their style of play. We anticipate that type of game,” Mularkey said. “It may be not your normal preseason game. It’s just how both teams are made up. That’s their makeup. I don’t think the preseason will have any difference in making that.”
The key for the Titans will be close they can come to the production that DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry gave them a week ago against a much more formidable front seven.
Building off week one and duplicating that against the Panthers without any noticeable drop-off is what Mularkey is expecting on Saturday.
“I think it’s important we come back and not have a let down in really anything we do. You know, this is a different defense. It’s a different style of defense. They’re built to stop the run with the number of bodies they’ll have up there,” Mularkey said. “It will definitely be more of a challenge this week. We’re certainly up to the challenge. I think that’s going to be every week. This is a good test for us against a good defense.”
Lewan said the style the Titans played against the Chargers needs to be the norm, not the exception and not some temporary confidence builder.
“I don’t take it as a confidence boost. The physicality is going to be there. We should play that way every single down,” Lewan said. “People may want to call it a confidence boost, but I believe it should be a regular feeling around here.”