Good NFL teams have one of four things: an otherworldly quarterback, suffocating defense, quality depth, or a combination of these three things. Jake Locker didn’t make many highlight reels with his pedestrian-at-best performance: 11-of-20 for 125 yards. What was on display was the importance that depth can have on any game. Their contributions can come from sources other than the overall stat line.
Tennessee Titans running back Jackie Battle proved that point in a 16-9 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Listed as the No. 3 running back behind Chris Johnson and Shonn Greene, Battle was called upon when Greene suffered a knee injury during the second quarter. Battle finished with eight carries for 21 yards with a three-yard touchdown run.
Nothing special about that stat line? That doesn’t mean Battle didn’t play a significant role in this victory. Check out three of his most important carries and when they occurred during the game. These three highlighted carries total six crucial, game-changing yards:
The first drive occurred in the second quarter. This included the key 4th-and-1 pickup that extended the go-ahead touchdown drive. It also includes the three-yard touchdown run. The second drive occurred in the fourth quarter. It includes a critical 3rd-and-1 pickup that extends a potential field-goal drive, nearly icing the game at 13-2.
Let’s assume Battle wasn’t kept on the 53-man roster and the No. 3 running back was either Darius Reynaud or Jalen Parmele. Good chance they’re not picking up that 4th-and-1. Instead of a touchdown, that drive ends with a turnover on downs or a 43-yard field-goal attempt. A 7-2 Titans lead becomes 3-2. Even if the Titans got down to the three-yard-line, can Johnson power it in or Locker toss it in for the touchdown?
Now consider that 3rd-and-1 pickup at their own 21-yard-line. Without a healthy power back, that drive ends and the Steelers get solid field position. Getting that first down made it possible to secure a 6:19 drive with a 44-yard field goal. It could’ve been a touchdown if David Stewart kept his composure.
Don’t forget that Battle barely received an invite to training camp. One-and-a-half months later, his presence may have saved the Titans from an ugly Week 1 loss at Heinz Field. That insurance behind Greene saved the Titans at least seven points, five-plus minutes of time-of-possession and a lot of field position.
Winning teams don’t always win pretty. They do get contributions from unexpected sources. On Sep. 8, that’s exactly what happened. A few more of those will put the Titans in favorable position in the AFC Wild Card picture, maybe even the AFC South title conversation.