Tennessee Titans: Roster depth key to postseason hopes

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 16: LeShaun Sims #36 of the Tennessee Titans walks off the field at the conclusion of the Pittsburgh Steelers 40-17 win over the Tennessee Titans at Heinz Field on November 16, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 16: LeShaun Sims #36 of the Tennessee Titans walks off the field at the conclusion of the Pittsburgh Steelers 40-17 win over the Tennessee Titans at Heinz Field on November 16, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) /

With injuries at key positions all over the roster, the Tennessee Titans will rely on their roster depth to defeat the Colts and earn a playoff spot.

Roster depth is one of the most underrated aspects of what makes the best teams. There are tons of teams with quality starters throughout the league, but if and when a team’s superstars are injured, they must have quality depth to continue competing. Some teams — like the Carolina Panthers and Washington Redskins in 2018 — can’t overcome injuries, whereas other teams — like the New England Patriots — are renowned for their “next man up” mentality that keeps them relevant every year.

Even last year, with injuries to key players like Carson Wentz, Jason Peters, and Darren Sproles, the Philadelphia Eagles leaned on their depth at each position and won a Super Bowl; one of those depth players, Nick Foles, won the Super Bowl MVP. The Tennessee Titans have proved this season that they are a good team. In the first year with a new head coach, they have gone 9-6 with quality wins against teams like the Patriots, Eagles, and Dallas Cowboys. Now they will prove if they can be considered a great team by fighting their way into a playoff spot by relying on the strength of their whole roster rather than just their starters.

On defense, the Titans have had one of the top scoring defenses in the league all season and it has played a key role in keeping the Titans in a lot of games and taking stress off of an offense that has really struggled this season. One of the underrated players on the defense who fans might forget was not a starter coming into the year was Kenny Vaccaro. The Titans signed Vaccaro after starting SS Johnathan Cyprien tore his ACL right before the start of the season. Vaccaro has developed into a valuable member of the Titans’ run and pass defense, and is the perfect example of the Titans finding a way to get production at a position after losing a starter.

If the Titans want their defense to continue to play at a dominant level, they will need several depth players to step up for injured starters in Sunday’s game against the Indianapolis Colts. The Titans have lost valuable veteran defenders like Brian Orakpo, Logan Ryan, and sack leader Jurrell Casey in the last quarter of the season. Against the high-octane Colts offense, the Titans will need to replace this production immediately.

Second round pick Harold Landry had a huge sack to stall a late Washington drive last week. He will need to put Andrew Luck on his back multiple times and keep him from getting comfortable in the pocket. Meanwhile, the Titans need third-year corner LeShaun Sims to not be a liability in coverage and let Luck pick on him all day. On top of that, the Titans need Austin Johnson to start living up to his draft position in a hurry. It would be foolish to not expect a drop-off in play from Casey to Johnson, but the Titans would love to see him provide a spark off the bench and make a few impact plays.

Meanwhile, on the offensive side of the ball, the Titans will also be relying on depth players at several key positions to put up points on a Colts defense that has been quietly very solid. Although a red-hot Derrick Henry will likely shoulder the load against the Colts as Vrabel and LaFleur try to ride him to victory and keep the ball out of Luck’s hands, the Titans will still rely on depth players even for that game plan to work. Most importantly, swing tackle Dennis Kelly — in for injured RT Jack Conklin — must continue to lock down the right side of the line. Kelly would no doubt be a starter on many other NFL teams and the Titans are lucky to have such a talented sixth offensive lineman to create lanes for Henry in Sunday’s game.

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Of course, the biggest story of Week 17 for the Titans is the health of QB Marcus Mariota after exiting last game with a stinger. Mariota, up to this point, has been very limited in practice and given no clarity about his status in Sunday’s game. This puts Titans backup QB Blaine Gabbert under a spotlight heading into Sunday’s game. The Titans would certainly love to see Mariota suit up in Week 17, but Gabbert has allowed the team to keep the entire playbook open and deliver the Titans key wins against Washington, Houston, and Jacksonville. If Mariota can’t play on Sunday, they will rely on Gabbert to have another efficient day throwing the football to keep safeties out of the box and avoid turnovers.

The Titans, thanks to Coach Vrabel and Jon Robinson, have overcome tons of adversity this season to get the opportunity to make the playoffs. They need quality play from their depth players to overcome even more adversity that has sprouted up recently and get a victory against the Colts and any other team they might face in the postseason.

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