Buck Reising, Tennessee Titans reporter and host of Tackling Music City, provides three observations from the team’s Week 9 victory over the Dallas Cowboys.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Coming out of their bye week, the Tennessee Titans looked shaky, at best, in their first quarter of Monday Night Football. The way Mike Vrabel’s team responded, however, delighted a national audience and kept the 2018-2019 season’s hopes alive. Here is what else stood out in “Jerry’s World:”
- Tennessee looked incompetent in the first quarter against the Dallas Cowboys (3-5). Their first two drives ended after five and three plays respectively when the Dallas defense forced two costly fumbles by Marcus Mariota. The team that had lost three straight games heading into their bye week looked headed towards a fourth disastrous “L.” Enter Kevin Byard.
- Having fumbled on their own 41, the Titans offense put the defense in bad position. Running back Ezekiel Elliott then caught a short pass from Dak Prescott for 37 yards to the Tennessee 4. Safety Kevin Byard then made the play that bailed his team out with an pick in the end zone followed by a victorious trot to the infamous star logo at midfield and, in a tribute to Terrell Owens’ celebration, spread his arms wide.
- The resulting swag spurred a 15-play, 80-yard Titans touchdown drive.
- “It was huge,” said Mariota of Byard’s interception. “The defense has done an unbelievable job throughout the year in building us up. They found ways to give us plays, to get turnovers.”
- Mariota said he did not see Byard’s celebration but T.O. certainly did…
I gave ’em the drip, they sucked it up, I got ’em on it. pic.twitter.com/qYTzuE0xRb
— Terrell Owens (@terrellowens) November 6, 2018
- Monday Night Mariota
- Mariota played lights-out on Monday Night Football. Byard jump-started the team, but Tennessee’s quarterback put on a show to propel his team back into relevancy. Responsible for a total of three touchdowns, Mariota tallied 240 passing yards on 21 of his 29 attempts and racked up an additional 32 yards on 10 carries, including a nine-yard scoring run with 4:38 remaining to put the game out of reach.
- “We won the game, and that is the most important thing,” Vrabel said of his quarterback. “He threw some great balls and ran the football and scrambled and scored a rushing touchdown when nothing else was there. We are excited about that performance. It was a winning performance.”
- The Titans offense netted 340 yards and 24 first downs and continually teed off on third-down situations, converting 11 out of 14 (78%). Tennessee came into the Week 9 contest averaging just over 15 points per game and put up four touchdowns last night. Monday Night’s red zone success still leaves them with tied with the Jacksonville Jaguars as the as the third worst scoring offenses in the league (16.8 ppg).
- Malcolm Butler…and the Defense
- Cornerback Malcolm Butler is being repeatedly exposed in Dean Pees’ defense. Through nine weeks of football, these are facts that cannot be disputed. Amari Cooper caught his first career touchdown pass as a Cowboy in the first quarter, faking Butler out on a slant for the score. Butler then got abused on a double move by Allen Hurns that went for a 23-yard score to tie the game at 14 with :39 to play in the half. Butler played markedly better in the second half of the game against Dallas but the continued lapses in coverage by Butler need to be addressed.
On the whole, the Titans defense was a point of strength all night. In addition to Byard’s turnover, linebacker Jayon Brown forced a Prescott fumble at the Cowboys 40-yard line to set up the tie-breaking Titans touchdown in the third quarter and the unit held Cooper, Prescott, Zeke & Co. scoreless for the entirety of the second half.
- It’s been a point of emphasis for Vrabel, Pees and the defensive staff to keep teams out of the red zone. Allowing scores on only 33% of opponent’s red zone trips coming into Monday Night, the Titans now boast a league-best 17.6 points given up per game.