NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The only thing hotter than the Tennessee Titans starting offense and defense Saturday was the weather in Downtown Nashville when the team bested the Carolina Panthers 34-27 in its preseason home opener at Nissan Stadium.
Have I used enough qualifiers?
Much of the reporting out of the two teams’ joint practices this past week at St. Thomas Sports Park were that the Titans competed well with Carolina, but that the Panthers still appeared to be a superior squad as a collective. And, by much of the reporting, I mean that I made that statement on our air waves not once but twice. But, in Saturday’s live-game scenario, Tennessee’s ones pushed around their foes with relative ease on both sides of the football.
Rookie wide receiver Taywan Taylor ran with the first team because of exemplary performance when he’s been given opportunities in preseason and in practice as well as injuries sustained by the team’s fifth-overall draft pick this year Corey Davis and free agent addition Eric Decker and last season’s leading receiver Rishard Matthews missing the game for personal reasons, according to coach Mike Mularkey. Taylor snagged a 20-yard completion on the team’s first offensive play of the night.
— Tennessee Titans (@Titans) August 19, 2017
The third-round pick out of Western Kentucky caught three balls for 41 yards and was not the only beneficiary of Mariota’s strong showing. The third-year signal caller finished 6-of-8 for 61 yards and a passing touchdown to tight end Delanie Walker, as well as nine yards on the ground. Matt Cassel trotted out to relieve the Heisman Trophy-winning starter in the first quarter after after he led his team on two consecutive scoring drives and put the Titans ahead 10-0.
“He makes good decisions,” Mularkey said of Mariota following the win. “That touchdown throw, the touch on that pass to let Delanie get underneath it was what he does well. Delanie wasn’t even looking for the ball, and he put enough air on it — initially everybody thought there was no way he was going to catch that and then he just dropped it right in his lap. He’s just getting comfortable, he’s getting back to where he wants to be. It’s good to see him in the red zone, being effective.”
But it was not the play of the offense that put the Titans in position to get that score; the defense stepped their game up too after last week’s 7-3 loss in East Rutherford against the New York Jets. Logan Ryan, who was signed away from the New England Patriots this offseason for big money, forced a fumble by Panthers’ receiver Devin Funchess on Carolina’s first offensive play that safety Kevin Byard recovered.
Dick LeBeau’s unit caused two turnovers that were turned into touchdowns on the preceding offensive drives. After the Funchess fumble, rookie linebacker Jayon Brown got a paw on a low Derek Anderson pass and Justin Staples got under it for the interception.
That pick led to the first of two Derrick Henry (DeMarco Murray was held out again as they slowly bring him back from a hamstring injury) touchdown runs, this one for 17 yards to bring the score to 17-0. Henry was effective in the end zone but mostly struggled to get going on the ground with only 36 yards on 16 carries. The real star of the run game was special teamer/third-string running back David Fluellen who rushed 10 times for 76 yards, including a 53-yard dash.
Based off the amount of work he’s receiving and his play, Fluellen appears poised to make the roster as the third back behind Murray and Henry.
- Adoree’ Knows – The second of this year’s first-round picks by the Titans, cornerback Adoree’ Jackson took a punt 63 yards to the house but the score was negated two penalties. Tight end Philip Supernaw was caught holding and Logan Ryan committed a block in the back. The former was declined and the latter accepted.
- Not Without Fault – Carolina’s second and third teams kept them competitive after falling behind by 17. The Titans were also called for 11 penalties Saturday resulting in a loss of 93 yards and receiver Tre McBride dropped an easy touchdown pass from Cassel.
If you don’t know, now you know. @AdoreeKnows
— Tennessee Titans (@Titans) August 19, 2017
- Stand Tall – After the collective Titans offensive lines gave up eight sacks against the Jets, the starters allowed Mariota to operate in a clean pocket. According to Pro Football Focus, Mariota was not pressured on seven of his eight attempts and completed six of those passes for a passer rating of 142.6. On the one attempt he was under attack, Mariota threw the ball away for an incompletion.
- Injury Report – Murray (hamstring), Davis (hamstring) and Decker (ankle) were all sidelined Saturday as previously mentioned. Also sitting were defensive lineman Karl Klug (ankle), long snapper Beau Brinkley (groin) and corner Demontre Hurst (groin). Safety Curtis Riley was held out as well. Fullback Jalston Fowler left the game in the third quarter with what would be later diagnosed as a thigh bruise. Fowler was helped off the field but went into the locker room under his own power.