After three games, the Tennessee Titans’ go-to players on offense are starting to separate themselves from the pack. Rookie qb Marcus Mariota has exceeded all expectations, earning the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month for September.
Wide receiver Kendall Wright is playing at a level befitting a number one option, leading the team in receiving yards in two of the three games. The one game that he didn’t (Cleveland – wk 2), Wright was injured early…and gimpy throughout the game after trying to play through it.
Delanie Walker led all tight ends in targets, receptions, and yards in two of three games. And like Wright, the only game where Walker did not lead his position in productivity was week 2, when he missed the game with an injury.
As for the running backs? Um…well…
The Titans have had three different leading rushers in three games. Second year back Bishop Sankey led the team in rushing in week 1 (74 yds, 2 total tds). The following week, seldom used Dexter McCluster led the team with 98 rushing yards against the Browns.
Two weeks ago it was Antonio Andrews, not newly acquired Terrance West, that led the team in rushing. Andrews, in his first action of the season, had more carries than Sankey and McCluster combined. He averaged 4 yards a carry and scored his first career touchdown. West was inactive for the Colts game.
Tennessee’s rushing stats through three games:
Bishop Sankey: 29 att, 126 yds, 4.3 avg, 1 td
Dexter McCluster: 17 att, 113 yds, 6.6 avg, 0 td
Terrance West: 16 att, 51 yds, 3.2 avg, 0 td
Antonio Andrews: 12 att, 49 yds, 4.1 avg, 1 td
The good news: The Titans’ quartet of backs are averaging a combined 4.5 yards a carry.
The bad news: The stats were accumulated against three of the worst rushing defenses in the league so far. Indianapolis, 25th (119.5 ypg). Tampa Bay, 30th (136.8 ypg), and Cleveland, 31st (141.5 ypg).
This week, Tennessee faces Buffalo and their stout rushing defense. The Bills are currently giving up just 78.5 yards a game on the ground, good for third in the league.
Against a tough front seven, who has the best chance to lead the Titans in rushing this week?
If head coach Ken Whisenhunt‘s approach this year stays true to form, then we may have some insight into the answer.
After Sankey turned in a career rushing performance in week 1, Ken Whisenhunt elected to go with him early the next week in Cleveland. But after a shaky start in the Dawg House, Sankey was quickly replaced by McCluster, who rambled off over nine yards a carry that day.
After McCluster turned in his career best performance as a Titan, coach Whiz elected to go with him early the following week against the Colts. But after a shaky start, McCluster was quickly replaced by Andrews, who went on to have a career day himself.
Anyone see a trend here?
If coach Whisenhunt stays true to form, then Andrews will get the first crack at being Tennessee’s bell cow back this Sunday. He also has the best chance of leading the team in rushing this week.
At the end of the day, Tennessee’s best chance for success this week will fall on the right arm of Marcus Mariota, as the Bills are currently 29th against the pass…giving up close to 300 yards a game through the air.
But that approach comes with a caution sign. Buffalo has a plethora of defensive players that can get to the qb in a hurry, and Mariota has already seen his share of hits in the pocket this year.
Tennessee must find some semblance of a run game Sunday, if for no other reason than to keep the Bills honest, and their franchise qb upright.
Andrews’ size and downhill running style gives the Titans the best chance to accomplish that goal this week.