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Unsung Heroes: Dontrell Hilliard and Elijah Molden shine for Titans in Week 11

NFL: Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

The Tennessee Titans suffered a letdown of all letdowns on Sunday, losing a home game to an awful Houston Texans team. There’s a lot of blame to go around. Starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill inexcusably turned the ball over four times, and only avoided a fifth when an offensive linemen recovered a fumble he lost in the pocket. This offense also badly misses Derrick Henry.

Titans fans may not be in a very good move following that loss, but I did want to make sure that two under-the-radar players get their roses throughout the week: Running back Dontrell Hilliard and rookie cornerback Elijah Molden.

Starting with Hilliard, he was a standard practice squad elevation for this contest due to an injury to running back Jeremy McNichols. We speculated that Hilliard may serve as the third-down back in McNichols’ absence, but he was even more than that. Hilliard was surprisingly utilized as a between-the-tackles runner, and flashed some juice while carrying the football. He received a surprising amount of playing time early in the contest, and ultimately earned seven carries, gaining 35 yards. His five yards per carry led all Titans running backs, and his seven carries matched D’onta Foreman, who many thought would operate as the lead back.

With Tennessee falling behind by three scores in the third quarter, Hilliard saw an increased amount of snaps as Tennessee’s pass catching back. With Houston’s defense content to let Tannehill nickel-and-dime them, Hilliard was the checkdown option. He secured a team-high eight receptions for 47 yards. Hilliard proved himself capable of stepping up to the plate.

Onto Molden. The former University of Washington standout was easily Tennessee’s best player on either side of the ball. It was especially fun to see Molden line up with a fellow rookie in tight end Brevin Jordan. They combined for several large moments, most of which went in Molden’s favor. On Houston’s first offensive drive, Molden had great coverage while bracketing Jordan to the sideline on a third-and-7. It ended in just three points. There was a similar play in a similar situation midway through the third quarter, and Molden once again recorded a third-down PBU while covering Jordan. It forced a punt. Molden made another great play in the fourth quarter when he laid a major hit on a Houston receiver just short of the sticks. It forced a crucial point. Molden was excellent. Molden may be undersized, but he’s extremely feisty and competitive in coverage. It’s going to lead a long, successful career.

The Titans badly need to get healthy down the stretch.