Football games are won and lost in the trenches.
That is a fact. Yet, offensive linemen are the most unheralded players on a football roster. The points don’t show up on their stat line, but productive offensive line play is the catalyst for offensive points being scored.
After two weeks of play, the Titans sit 1-1 with a division win already in the bag. The offensive line is a big reason why.
Titans Offensive Line Coach Keith Carter was dealt a pretty difficult hand early.
He started the season without starting RT Jack Conklin. He lost the highest-paid offensive lineman in football before the first half of the first game of the season with LT Taylor Lewan going down with a concussion.
Carter lost TE Delanie Walker (yes, I know he’s not a lineman), who was hands down the Titans best blocking tight end - who helped make up for the difference in skill level between swing tackle Dennis Kelly and Conklin.
Then, he loses Kelly to an unknown virus with his timetable of return unknown at this point.
The Titans were forced to promote T Tyler Marz into the starting lineup at the last minute. With grocery bags full of practice squad reps for both the Titans and the Chargers, Marz was thrust into the line with no regular season snaps under his belt.
The Titans hosted the Texans defensive front without their top three tackles active. That is what nightmares are made of.
But, it wasn’t a nightmare at all.
Credit to Carter
Carter worked through - what appeared on paper to be - a personnel nightmare.
Prior to DE Jadeveon Clowney being ruled out, the Titans offensive linemen were gearing up for their toughest task of the season as the Texans defensive front is far superior to the Miami front they faced week one.
Carter’s guys were prepared and didn’t enter the game lacking confidence in their own abilities. The group also didn’t show a lack of confidence in their understanding of the offensive game plan.
OC Matt LaFleur installed the Wildcat offense during the week (or, at least that’s what we assume) in order to account for the possibility of playing without starting quarterback Marcus Mariota.
For the offensive line, this meant learning some new strategies or techniques, memorizing new terminology and a lot of shifting from level to level. Granted, it was only executed for one series, it still did the job. The offensive line was a big reason for the success of the Wildcat series.
Be on the lookout for Mike Miracle’s All 22 breakdown which will showcase in great detail what the offensive line did well.
Adjusting for Jacksonville
It’s unknown whether or not we will see the same offensive line group in Jacksonville or if Lewan and Conklin make their return into the lineup. It’s fair to guess Lewan is more than likely going to play, but nothing is set in stone with Conklin.
The Jaguars defensive front is tough, but the Titans offensive line will not head into Florida with an intimidated mentality. Instead, Carter will have his group primed and ready for the challenge.
The secondary of the Jaguars the strength of their defense, but a game plan with emphasis on Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis can neutralize the effectiveness of the secondary. When the balance of pass to run tips in favor of the run heavily, the strong pass defensive secondary has not bearing.
QB Blaine Gabbert did well, although the Titans didn’t unleash him yet. He was asked to do just enough in the passing game, which is great. It provides the Jaguars with little tape on what the Titans may try to do in the passing game on Sunday.
Gabbert, who defeated the Jaguars last season with a less talented Arizona Cardinals team, is up for the challenge of earning another win against his former team.
With the Cardinals, Gabbert defeated essentially the same Jacksonville team and did so with his arm. He threw the ball 38 times, racked up 241 yards with two touchdowns to one interceptions. He did fumble the football twice, so he’ll have to ensure ball security if he gets the nod to start.
Gabbert has earned a vote of confidence by his teammates and if the Titans can afford to rest Mariota, they absolutely should.
The offensive line is prepared to block for whoever is under center or whoever is running the football.
And under Carter, that is how the group will be conditioned all season.