Buck Reising, Tennessee Titans reporter and host of Tackling Music City, takes you inside the locker room for updates from St. Thomas Sports Park.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Chief among the Tennessee Titans (5-6) offensive woes this season is a lackluster rushing attack with plenty of potential.
Headed by Heisman-winner Derrick Henry, offseason acquisition Dion Lewis and heavy investments across the offensive line, Tennessee’s middling run game ranks 19th in the NFL with 111.1 yards per game and 1,222 total rushing yards on 312 attempts for a 3.9 average yards per carry. Personnel usage varies from game to game, but the emphasis has clearly been on Lewis as the team’s “featured back” since their Week 7 trip to London to face the Los Angeles Chargers at Wembley Stadium (8-3).
The Titans fell 20-19 in the waning seconds of that game but it served as a break-out of sorts for Lewis; he carried 13 times for 91 yards and caught six passes for an additional 64 to help bolster an offense that had been hugely underwhelming. Since London, though, the former New England Patriot’s effectiveness has been limited by the opposition. Lewis has averaged 3.3, 2.9, 2.4 and 1.1 yards per carry and 14 catches for 122 receiving in Tennessee’s last four games.
The Titans are 2-2 in that span.
“We’ve gone against some good defenses. I’d like to give them some credit as well,” said coach Mike Vrabel. “We have to do a better job. I’m not making excuses, but I think that we just have to make sure that everybody is doing their job and that we’re getting guys covered up and we’re letting these guys get started, that there’s no penetration as to where guys make a cut and then they have to make it a little deeper in the backfield than what you’d like. I think that when runners get into a line of scrimmage and have the ability to make a cut, that’s a little easier to do that than to make the cut behind the line of scrimmage.”
Breaking tackles and juking defenders is a specialty of Lewis but too often are opponents meeting him in the backfield and taking away his cutback lanes. Tennessee’s underachieving offensive line that helped DeMarco Murray lead the AFC in rushing in 2016 is not blameless despite fielding the same five starters the past three years.
For his part, Lewis remains undeterred.
“There’s a lot of belief in this room,” Lewis said Thursday. “We believe in ourselves. We’re a confident bunch. If you don’t believe in yourself, you shouldn’t be in the NFL. So, it’s just come out here every day with a mindset that we still got a chance and that we’re going to win. It only starts one game at a time. This is our game. This is our season right now. We’ve got to take that approach and give it our all and hopefully win that game and then we’ll see what happens next week.”
Tennessee will have the opportunity to get it’s running game right against the New York Jets (3-8) Sunday at Nissan Stadium after two blowout losses on the road. New York is allowing an average of 128.2 rushing yards per game and an average of 4.4 yards per carry by their opponents. In Week 12, the visiting New England Patriots (8-3) savaged the Jets run defense for 215 yards on 36 carries.
With five games left to play and the postseason still within their grasp, the Titans need every advantage they can get.