Buck Reising, Tennessee Titans reporter and host of Tackling Music City, provides insight on the team’s upcoming match-up with another divisional foe.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Running back Leonard Fournette heads into his second NFL season as one of the most talked about players at his position thanks in part to the punishing running style that makes him one of the most effective players at his position.
A hamstring injury kept Fournette out of the Jacksonville Jaguars Week 31-20 handling of the New England Patriots but the LSU product returned to practice on Wednesday and was listed as “limited” on the injury report. Regardless of Fournette’s Week 3 status, thought, the Tennessee Titans defense face a sneaky daunting task.
Leonard Fournette has missed 4 career games.#Jaguars are 4-0 in them with point totals of:
27 (31.5-point average)
— Evan Silva (@evansilva) September 16, 2018
Jacksonville has proven it does not require Fournette’s services to win football games. In addition to besting Tom Brady in Week 2, the Jags shut out the Indianapolis Colts (27-0) and beat both the Cincinnati Bengals (23-7) and Houston Texans (45-7) demonstrably a season ago without the fourth pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. Arguably the best team in the AFC, Jacksonville appears prepared for sustained success without their featured back.
“I think we’re looking at that too,” Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said of how his offensive dynamic changes without Fournette. “I think that sometimes human nature kicks in where someone is down and people have to step up and people feel like they have to do a little bit more. It’s just human nature. People are going to try to gather to that and rise to the occasion. I think there’s a little bit of that with our team. Whether it’s T.J. Yeldon or Corey (Grant) back there, we feel very comfortable. T.J. was able to carry the load last time – last year at this time when Leonard (Fournette) was out or it was the middle of the season. We feel comfortable with the guys that we have. But, again, it’s just guys stepping up, just like for the Titans. They’ve had a bunch of guys step up and play well and they win. I think you see that around the league.”
Tennessee rallied to beat the Houston Texans 20-17 in Week 2 without starters Marcus Mariota, Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin but Jacksonville’s margin for error is wider due to superior depth.
Fournette still carried the ball 268 times for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns in his rookie campaign; he accumulated nine totes for 41 yards in the season opening win over the New York Giants before exiting due to injury. Quarterback Blake Bortles and Yeldon received the bulk of the rushing work load against the Patriots, combining for 93 yards on 16 total attempts.
“I think that we’re going to have to stop the run regardless of who is in there,” said Titans coach Mike Vrabel. “They’ve got three good backs, and you can throw the quarterback in there as well. He’s got 77 yards on 10 carries, that’s a pretty good average right now, first two games. The dynamic is we’re going to have to stop the run. So, making sure that we do that. They came out in multiple personnel groups against the Giants that we’ll have to be ready for. New England, they felt that the game plan was best played in 11 personnel. Whatever decision they made, it was the right one. They looked good and gained a bunch of yards.”
Fournette may or may not be available when Tennessee travels to face the Jaguars. Vrabel’s first win as NFL head coach Sunday shows that the Titans staff will have their team ready regardless.