Technically, Sunday’s game is not must-win for the Tennessee Titans, but for the team’s psyche and its AFC South title hopes, the game against the San Francisco 49ers is one they can ill afford to put in the loss column.
The 49ers come into this game 3-10, yet somehow are a slight favorite over the 8-5 Titans, who lost all semblance of offense last week in Arizona. The Titans must fix what offensive issues they can in the short term to get ready for the postseason – assuming they take care of business and make it to the playoffs.
1. Get Marcus Mariota as comfortable as possible. Injuries, inconsistent receivers and a spotty run game have derailed Mariota this season. So what can the Titans do about that on the fly? Probably not as much as a good offseason. But offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie must find something that works for Mariota and get him a good rhythm.
2. Use Delanie Walker. A good place for Mariota and Robiskie to start in trying to fix the offense is with tight end Delanie Walker, who makes a return to his old stomping grounds as a much more accomplished player than when he was a second tight end in San Fran. The Titans have to get the ball to Walker on a consistent basis, as he is really their only reliable weapon on offene.
3. Balance the run game. DeMarco Murray’s play has been up and down this season. Meanwhile, Derrick Henry goes from being a fourth-quarter workhorse one week to getting only 13 snaps – not carries, snaps – last week. In order for the run game to be successful, both backs need their fair share of work.
4. Keep playing strong defense. The Titans had eight sacks against Arizona in a loss and also had eight sacks the week before against Houston. Even without sack leader Derrick Morgan for the second straight week, the Titans have been potent and they will need to be able to pressure new 49ers QB Jimmy Garroppolo and not allow him to find a comfort zone.
5. Jekyll and Hyde? Carlos Hyde is a solid running back for 49ers. The run defense has been a strength most of the season, but the Titans allowed the Cardinals to run for more than 100 yard last week. They will need to tight that up and now let Hyde be a big factor on Sunday.