Tennessee Titans veteran cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting was on the injury report all week leading into Thursday’s primetime defeat to the Pittsburgh Steelers with a thumb (or thump) injury. Murphy-Bunting was initially active, but exited the contest after just eight defensive snaps. The Titans missed their most experienced starting cornerback.
With Roger McCreary also sidelined with a hamstring injury, Murphy-Bunting’s absence catapulted undrafted sophomore Tre Avery, and undrafted rookie, Eric Garror into larger roles. Avery played 52 defensive snaps, which accounted for 86.7% of defensive plays. Garror was involved via 12 plays. Amani Hooker, Kristian Fulton, and Elijah Molden did the heavy lifting, playing every Titans defensive snap.
Avery gave up two receptions on three targets for 38 receiving yards, or an explosive 19 yards per catch, according to Pro Football Focus. An injured Kenny Pickett completed seven passes to Diontae Johnson, who finished with 90 receiving yards and his first touchdown in nearly two years. The Steelers as a whole converted 50% of their third-down attempts (6-of-12).
Garror, who has doubled as an effective punt returner, took his bumps and bruises in coverage. Through two appearances, Pro Football Focus has slapped him with a lackluster coverage grade of 44.0. Garror isn’t currently developed enough to be covering elite NFL receivers. Garror would have given up a touchdown if George Pickens didn’t make an inexcusable error by failing to get his feet in bounds.
The mini bye week should allow the Titans to get both McCreary and Murphy-Bunting versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 10. Don’t underestimate the 3-5 Bucs, who have weapons such as Mike Evans and Chris Godwin at receiver. Evans and/or Godwin versus Avery/Garror would be nightmare matchups for the Titans.
The Bucs scored 37 points against the Houston Texans on Sunday. Baker Mayfield threw for 265 yards and two touchdowns. They would have defeated Tennessee’s AFC South rival Texans if not for the heroics of rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud, who countered with a historically impressive performance.
The Titans will need their starting cornerbacks at full strength moving forward. The depth is getting exposed otherwise. The disappointing pass-rush could also alleviate some of the pressure faced, but that’s a topic for another story.