The Tennessee Titans Still Have Questions at Receiver
The Tennessee Titans kicked off 2016 on a positive note on Saturday, defeating the visiting San Diego Chargers 27-10. Mike Mularkey and Jon Robinson’s ‘exotic smashmouth’ philosophy yielded results in a minimally impactful game. The game served as little more than a mouth-watering glimpse at the potential of this style of play.
‘Potential’ is the important factor in that equation. Excitement is sure to stir up after such a dominant performance, but it’s the first preseason game of the season. The Titans travel to San Diego to face the Chargers on November 6, so it’s likely both teams withheld plays on both sides of the ball.
Outside of DeMarco Murray’s strong performance, the bulk of the rushing yardage was chewed up against second and third-string defenders. Yes – that’s including the wonderful night Derrick Henry had. This isn’t to detract from what the Titans accomplished. Committing to a power running game was the primary goal of this offseason, and they showed up on Saturday.
Murray finished with 93 yards, including a 71-yard touchdown run. Henry compiled 74 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. Bishop Sankey rattled off 52 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Antonio Andrews, David Fluellen, Dexter McCluster and Matt Cassel contributed to a 288-yard team performance.
In their first opportunity to show what ‘exotic smashmouth’ was all about, the Titans excelled. Check test No. 1 off the list. They passed.
However, that’s the extent to which this win should be celebrated. Plenty of questions still hang over this franchise. The defensive line didn’t have a great night. Philip Rivers hit Melvin Gordon for a 44-yard touchdown reception. The big play has been the Achilles heel of the Titans defense for years now, and Gordon isn’t exactly Julio Jones or Adrian Peterson. That’s a little concerning. San Diego’s first team offense moved the ball with ease against the Titans.
With Perrish Cox out of the lineup, B.W. Webb was given an extensive look at cornerback and struggled mightily. Overall, the defense didn’t generate much pressure – only Deiontrez Mount and J.R. Tavai registered sacks. For the time being, the defense gets a pass. Dick LeBeau didn’t show much last preseason, and likely won’t until the regular season kicks off against the Minnesota Vikings.
The biggest question surrounding the Titans continues to be the wide receiver position. Right now, Rishard Matthews and Tajae Sharpe are the two starters on the depth chart. Kendall Wright has been highly productive at times, but has been relegated to the slot. He should excel in the role, but is considered the team’s third receiver right now. He’s certainly not benefiting from missing time due to a hamstring injury. His reps are now going to Harry Douglas.
Dorial Green-Beckham was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles for G/T Dennis Kelly, so he's completely out of the equation now. Andre Johnson’s addition has provided a solid veteran presence. Tre McBride may land a roster spot if he can solidify himself as a viable returner. Justin Hunter is on his last legs with the team.
In terms of actually receiving, there’s a glaring issue. It may prove to mean nothing if the running game is as brutal as the Titans hope, but there’s going to come a time when the team has to score points.
Does the assortment of receivers listed above instill a great sense of confidence in the passing game? I don’t know. Sharpe and Matthews are the real deal. Both have dependable hands and run consistent routes – just what Mularkey and Robinson want in a receiver. Is either going to be that dynamic offensive force that stretches defenses and is a vertical threat on every play? Who knows? Maybe.
The Titans hope that type of player will emerge from this pack of receivers, or that such a need simply won’t exist. As for where the receivers are after preseason week one, they’re just where they were before it - shrouded in mystery.