Jim Wyatt, SENIOR WRITER/EDITOR
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Titans dropped the season-opener at Miami on Sunday, and now the team has its sights set on the Houston Texans.
Here’s a look at six things standing out for the Titans …
The division of carries
Derrick Henry or Dion Lewis? After the uniforms were unveiled, it became the most popular question of the offseason. My answer each time when asked about playing time/division of carries: It depends on the matchup, how a team defends the Titans, and how the players perform. Well, Lewis led the way with 49 snaps, and 16 carries (for 75 yards) against the Dolphins. He racked up 110 all-purpose yards, compared to 20 snaps, 10 carries, and 26 rushing yards for Henry, who arguably should have added a 62-yard TD run (a questionable holding penalty wiped it out). Coach Mike Vrabel said he rode the hot hand late. Lewis was fun to watch, no doubt. But Henry is going to be a bigger factor as the season goes on.
The Titans suffered a devastating blow when tight end Delanie Walker was injured, and placed on Injured Reserve. A team captain, Walker has been a tone-setter, and a playmaker, throughout his career in Tennessee. Seeing the injury was gruesome, but what also got my attention was the group of players who rushed to the scene to pat him on the helmet and wish him well – it included a large number of Dolphins. There were some bad feelings during and after this one, but the amount of respect all players have for Walker was also on full display.
Lack of a pass rush
Vrabel hasn’t criticized the team’s pass rush in the wake of Sunday’s loss, instead pointing to the secondary’s shared role in creating pressure. Nonetheless, Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill had too much time to operate. The Titans sacked him just once, and the extra time allowed him to settle in and make some big throws. Moving forward, beginning with Sunday’s game against the Texans and quarterback Deshaun Watson, the Titans need to do a better job of making the quarterback uncomfortable. Some things did look good on D: Third down defense (2-10 for Miami) and solid play in the red zone, where the defense stiffened and forced field goals.
Protecting the QB
On the flip side, I thought the Titans did a heck of a job protecting the quarterback against a Miami pass rush with some dangerous rushers. Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota wasn’t sacked in the contest, and neither was Blaine Gabbert. Big props go to starting tackles Dennis Kelly and Taylor Lewan, and also to Kevin Pamphile, who stepped in and did a solid job after Lewan was knocked out of the contest. Across the board, the Titans held up well up front. The group will face another big challenge this week against a Texans defense with a ton of talent along the front seven.
Work in progress
Mariota was far from perfect in his 2018 debut. He admittedly underthrew tight end Luke Stocker on what should have been an early touchdown pass, and he was off target on some other throws. He threw a pair of picks after suffering an elbow injury, and left the game. In a new offense, with some young receivers, I felt going into the season there would be some turbulence along the way before Mariota and the offense looked smooth. The hope is things will develop sooner rather than later, but expecting perfection out of the gate was an unreasonable expectation.
A bold head coach
It didn’t work, and because of that it was easy to question Vrabel’s early decision to go for a touchdown rather than kicking another field goal against the Dolphins. What it showed, though, was Vrabel’s fearless, aggressive approach that will make him unpredictable at the helm. Personally, I liked the decision, which gave the Titans a chance to seize some early momentum. What wasn’t great was the way the team responded immediately afterward. Instead of rising up, the defense allowed a 12-play, 98-yard touchdown drive, and the offense couldn’t get anything going until the fourth quarter.