By Greg Arias
The Tennessee Titans shocked the football world on Sunday with their 34-10 whipping of the New England Patriots at Nissan Stadium, and it wasn’t that close.
It’s not the fact that the Titans won necessarily, but that they won by 24 points after entering the game as a 6.5 point underdog. It was also because it was a dominating performance by both the offense and defense that included head coach Mike Vrabel and offensive coordinator using a trick play as an “in your face’ to the Patriots and Bill Belichick.
First the Titans dominated time of possession against Tom Brady by more than five minutes, 5:57 to be exact (32:57 to 27:03). Brady can’t hurt you when he’s sitting on the bench.
Then there was Marcus Mariota, who outplayed Brady in every way. For the day Mariota finished 16 of 24 for 228 yards and two touchdowns. He added 21 rushing yards and 21 receiving yards just for good measure.
However, it was the Titans running game that triggered not only this win, but the win six days ago in Dallas.
Harken back to the early parts of the season when both the Seattle Seahawks and Houston Texans were struggling to win game. Both teams turned to the running game and increased their carries per game by more than 10 attempts per contest. The Titans have followed a similar script, if only by accident and not design in the last three games.
On Sunday the Titans used the run game, paired with Mariota’s precision passing to control clock, move the chains and score points. As a team, the Titans rushed the football 36 times for 150 yards and two touchdowns -Derrick Henry with both- while the Patriots were held to just 40 yards on 19 attempts for the game.
Is it a direct correlation between the Titans improvement in the last three weeks and the fact that they are running the football more often, and more consistently?
In the Titans loss at Buffalo, the Titans ran the ball just 25 times for 100 yards. The passing game was certainly less than stellar to be sure, but over the last two weeks, the Titans have rushed the football 36 times vs Dallas on Monday, and Sunday versus New England, and they’ve won both games.
“It’s a credit to the offensive line and their blocking, “said running back Derrick Henry. “Us as running backs are just trying to do our jobs, but once we get the running game going, the passing game opens up and vice versa.”
That answer wasn’t quite what I was looking for, but it was the politically correct response from a team who earlier this season all but begged for national respect then promptly laid an egg.
So next up, Taylor Lewan, who made the aforementioned comments about attention.
“I mean I got my foot stuck up my (expletive) last time, or my foot in my mouth, however that combination works, the last time talking about that kinda stuff man, I mean I think this is the kind of game where it’s great to be above .500 and we did a great job today.”
Still looking for more I asked Lewan the same question in a different way, He was somewhat more open the second time around.
“Anytime you can get the run game going it opens up a lot more things and as an offensive lineman, you obviously take the run game seriously, and you have pride in those running backs getting yards, whether it’s Marcus (Mariota) or the others,” said Lewan. “Then when those second and third down throws happen you do your best to protect, so we are just working to continue to get better and play as hard as we can.”
It’s not exactly scientific, but at least for the moment, the Titans are running the football more often, and more efficiently and their record is showing it.
By Greg Arias