The Titans will enter Sunday’s game with some of their key players less than 100%.
Tennessee have five starters have appeared on their official injury report this week- a list that includes Marcus Mariota, Corey Davis, Taylor Lewan, Derrick Morgan and Jack Conklin. No surprise with Conklin, as his return date remains unknown.
Other names that weren’t surprising include rookies Rashaan Evans and Harold Landry. Both were full participants in Thursday’s practice which is a positive sign. It doesn’t guarantee they’ll see the field, but the odds are more likely.
As we know, of the names listed above, Lewan remains the biggest question mark as he’s been resting and recovering. The Titans should feel confident in Kevin Pamphile and Dennis Kelly’s abilities to man the tackle positions for another week following a solid performance against Miami.
If you don’t think the offensive line did well despite being without Lewan and Conklin, read some of Mike Herndon’s work here.
A healthier Lewan in week three against the Jaguars may be better than an 80% or less Lewan facing a tough Texans defensive front, long-term. The risk of Lewan suffering another concussion against the Texans defense following a non-practice week cannot be overlooked.
Key Texans Limited
Houston also has some key players dealing with injuries.
The Texans have been taking it easy with Jadaveon Clowney, who is dealing with a back injury as well as his elbow. Clowney was among a few notable names listed in Houston’s injury report.
Of the four receivers listed on the injury report, the obvious standouts are DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller. Fuller missed the opener against New England, whereas Hopkins appears to be dealing with a foot injury following his 78 yards on eight reception performance against the Patriots.
Hopkins and Clowney’s limited participation doesn’t mean anything. Both are playing Sunday but their workload has been scaled back, similar to what the Titans are doing with Davis.
Fuller, on the other hand, was initially expected to miss a few weeks. The Titans can afford to wait on seeing Fuller until the second meeting in November.
Scheming to Mask Personnel
At this point, the Titans will likely be without both starting tackles.
It’s not the end of the world - although the world would be much better with Conklin and Lewan in the starting lineup.
The “next man up” mentality is something HC Mike Vrabel’s staff have been reinforcing since their arrival. This helps provide confidence needed to fill in when the top guys aren’t available.
Jonnu Smith, Kelly and Pamphile are the “next man up” at their respected positions. OC Matt LaFleur and Offensive Line Coach Kevin Carter have both likely been buried in film with a focus on finding what both Kelly and Pamphile did well or excelled at.
Scheming to their strengths will be imperative. Quinton Spain easily had the best showing of any offensive linemen against the Dolphins. Spain and the interior will have to avoid becoming a liability and strive to replicate their performance.
The tackles are capable of doing just enough. However, if the interior struggles, so with the tackles.
Smith will be an important piece heading into Sunday. Being tasked with filling in for Delanie Walker seems daunting enough. The Titans do not need Smith to be a carbon copy of Walker - the team just needs him to showcase his own skills. Walker was clearly a better blocker, but the team won’t need Smith to do so at such a high level - at least they shouldn’t scheme for putting Smith in those situations.
The Titans need Smith to do just enough blocking - and they will allow for Luke Stocker and Anthony Firkser to help out on that front. Stocker will be used a lot like New England’s James Develin was last week - tasked with the clean up blocks on edge defenders.
Firkser drew comparisons to former Colts TE Dallas Clark in a piece written by The Athletic’s John Glennon. If Firkser can contribute in the same manner Clark did for Indy, it would be huge in helping accommodate for Walker’s lost production.
Episode Two of the Derrick and Dion Show
Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis were both vital to the team’s offensive success. The box score won’t fully reflect that, but the tape doesn’t lie.
Henry was a few shoestring tackles away from having MONSTER gains and had a 60 yarder called back. It was a good day on the ground, and a majority of the praise should go to the Titans offensive line.
Expect the “hot hand” strategy to be the case every single week. Both backs could feast on the Texans defense and surely LaFleur will scheme accordingly. Lewis should be a match nightmare against the Texans linebackers in coverage. Henry should be a handful on the outside runs against Houston’s corners.
Henry has already stated he is upset with how he played. How he responds against the Texans could translate to a big day on the ground for the pair of Titans ball-carriers.
With Marcus Mariota not a lock to start, the running backs will be vital to the offense.