It's crazy, but week five is already upon us. The Titans are, of course, coming off their early bye week after falling short against the division-rival Colts. Though Tennessee only has one win to their name so far this year, there is reason for optimism. Marcus Mariota is leading a high-powered passing attack, and he's doing it without a significantly talented supporting cast too. On top of that, the Titans have been turning a new leaf on defense that, while still a work in progress, can put pressure on passers and make big plays.
We have seen, even in the relatively small sample size of three games, that this team can win football games if it can protect Mariota. While his athleticism is what garners attention, it's his talent from the neck up that separates him from his peers. He has been nothing short of phenomenal in this regard, and it's this cerebral approach to attacking defenses that is allowing him to take full advantage of the skill players at his disposal. He doesn't have a Mike Evans like Jameis Winston does, or a particularly dangerous running back to hand the ball off to, but what he does have is the intelligence and the accuracy to shred NFL defenses if given time; and the ability to elevate the players around him. His quick release is a massive help, but as we saw in Cleveland, the offense has to be able to overcome protection issues more quickly. It's great to see that Mariota gives this team the potential to come back from behind, but this shouldn't need to happen on a weekly basis.
He comes into week five facing a very talented defensive unit. The Bills feature a front seven that's among the best in football, operating out of the same 3-4 formation that gave the Titans offensive line a lot of trouble in Cleveland. Hopefully the Titans will get Chance Warmack back into the fold, but the real weak spot at RT is likely of greater concern, where Jeremiah Poutasi is getting his "welcome to the NFL" lumps more often than the team would like.
On the other side of the ball, the Bills will roll out with Tyrod Taylor, who gives their offense an entirely new dimension. That dimension also happens to be one that the Titans have struggled to contain in the past, once this season already with a very-limited passer in Johnny Manziel. The Titans did a great job for a majority of their game against the Cleveland Browns in containing Manziel and limiting his opportunities, but it was several big plays that essentially sank Tennessee in that matchup. Tyrod Taylor brings a similar skill set to the table, albeit one thats arguably a lot more polished. Taylor's supporting cast also contains the talents of Sammy Watkins and LeSean McCoy.
The rest of the AFC South is in shambles, with the Texans and the Jaguars struggling to produce. The Colts topped the Titans in what could end up being a massively important divisional bout in which Tennessee outplayed them. They cannot let those types of match-ups slip away from them. While expectations for this season have been well-tempered among Titans fans and critics, there is no reason they cannot make the competition interesting in such a weakened division.
So this is a crossroads of sorts. The team has had a chance to rest and analyze what went wrong over their first three games. They face a three-game home-stand against the Bills, Dolphins, and Falcons, followed by their second divisional game of the year against the Texans. It's not easy, but it's not impossible either. If the team can get out of that stretch at 2-2 or better, it would make a statement that they intend to compete for the division this season.
Can this Titans squad top a talented Buffalo team and help build their case in the AFC South? Only time will tell, but as we have seen already in this NFL season, this is a transformed Titans team in more ways than one. Hopefully the weaknesses that linger don't give them led shoes in the worst division in football.