Atlanta, Georgia — In what was their first game in the $1.6-billion Mercedes Benz Stadium, the Tennessee Titans faced the hosts — the Atlanta Falcons — and it turned into a game where the Titans finally showcased their offensive talent. Their first drive was a scoring one, and from that point forward, they were in control of the match, mostly due to an impressive performance by Derrick Henry and an ungiving defense. The final score read 24–10 for the visitors, putting Tennessee to a 2–2 record.
After the game, Marcus Mariota, the quarterback, said that their offensive outing on Sunday should be the blueprint for the Titans in the future. Mariota jokingly said that OC Arthur Smith should take the blueprint, frame it, and put it on his office wall. The quarterback claimed that the team would have a pretty successful season if they succeeded in transferring the last night’s form into the games in front of them. He was adamant that their offensive roster was capable of making plays regardless of the defense they faced.
In the first three weeks, the Titans won the opening game against the Browns and lost the other two to the Jaguars and the Colts. In all three of those games, they were one of the most predictable teams in the league offensively. For virtually every first down, they would opt for running the ball, and opposition defenses didn’t take long to adjust. They would just load the box with bodies and stop Henry in his tracks. Subsequently, they would often end up in second- and third-and-long situations that they had trouble overcoming.
Mixing It Up
Sunday opened up with some visible changes to their action-calling. For instance, their very first play was a throw which saw Corey Davis gain 14 yards. In their second drive, their first first-and-ten was a play-action pass. A.J. Brown caught the ball and ran 55 yards to score a touchdown. Basically, they kept switching it up between different plays and held the Falcons’ defense on their toes the entire match. They began five of their first eight possessions by throwing the ball, while simultaneously gathering 24 points before the end of the half.
The 24 points meant that they scored against the Falcons exactly the same number of points as they did in their two previous games they lost (19–17 against the Colts, 20–7 against the Jags). With the lead going into multiple scores, they had the luxury not to be in a hurry offensively, and they spent the other half melting the clock away thanks to Henry and a sturdy defense. The running back had 27 rushes, completing 100 yards.
Talking to the media afterward, Henry lauded the team’s passing play, saying that both Davis and Brown produced some great plays. He was also complimentary of Mariota’s performance, stating that the quarterback read the game brilliantly and was consistent with his throws. Henry gave center stage to other players, and in his own words, he was happy to do so and accepted the role of running the ball later in the game.
Essentially, the Titans made the running game possible by establishing their passing lanes, which is not something Tennessee could pride itself on. They’ve started making creative playcalling which paid off.
When defenses know what they will deal with, no NFL team is too bad not to be able to prepare themselves and stop the opposition. That’s why it’s paramount for any offensive coordinator to keep their options open and mix it up continuously. The Falcons game showed that Smith had many other options for playcalling — not just Henry.
Despite Atlanta having superstar WRs on its roster in the shape of Muhammad Sanu and Julio Jones, it was Brown and Davis that took all the accolades. The two of them together had eight catches, three touchdowns, and a total of 185 yards. Davis said that they went into the match determined to put on a great show, especially when all the limelight was on the opposition WRs. Brown was a bit more reserved in his post-match comments, saying that his only focus was to work hard and make plays for the team.
Both Davis and Brown are physical, fast, and big players for their position. They showed their ability to run into open spaces, catch the ball, and make plays while in possession. The Sunday game demonstrated that Mariota should direct more balls at them. Mariota himself is seemingly not opposed to it. He targeted the two WRs throughout the game in a game which allowed the QB to bounce back from the previous two showings.
Mariota said that the pair could be something special, and he wanted to help them continue to produce for the team. He added that he would try and keep them involved as much as possible, and hopefully, the Titans fans would see a similar performance every week. Mariota had a good game individually as well, finishing the week with 18/27 for three touchdowns and 227 yards. The coach talked about Mariota, applauding him for his accuracy and quick decision-making. This season, Mariota has thrown seven TD passes without conceding any interceptions.
The Titans’ defense put a stop to any of the Falcons’ efforts to come back into the game. They sacked Matt Ryan five times, while Jurrell Casey managed to strip the ball and recover a fumble during one of the sacks. The Falcons’ Matt Bryant helped Tennessee’s defense by missing a field goal at the end of the first half as they managed to force the Falcons onto fourth down three times.
Safety Kenny Vaccaro stated that a sack fumble or a pick felt the same way as a turnover. According to Vaccaro, when a team is down by 20 odd points, they will do their best to hit their checkdowns and move the ball along the field. But the Titans’ defense was able to make plays in every do-or-die situation.
The game concluded the month of September for the Titans, who go into the second month of the season with a record of 2–2. The first month was pretty difficult for the team as they had three road games and had to play without their Pro Bowl tackle Taylor Lewan, suspended for testing positive for performance-enhancing substances. With such circumstances, a great number of Titans fans would have taken the record they have now.
Now, the task ahead of the Titans and their coach Mike Vrabel is figuring out how to make the performance against the Falcons not a one-off thing but rather turn it into a streak. Reportedly, in the dressing room after the game, Vaccaro warned his teammates not to get carried away because the team was often in a position like this one. Vaccaro said he felt like he went through this last year when they beat the Patriots or the Eagles but then lost subsequent matches.
Critics, who won’t have much to talk about this week, will be ready to pounce and are eagerly awaiting another uninspiring performance. Next week, they will face the Buffalo Bills, who’re on 3–1, after losing to the Patriots this week. Last year, the Bills won this fixture. This might be the ideal game for the Titans to prove that they are a different, better team than last year. If they beat the Bills, they can then talk about a new face of the Titans. However, if they lose, it will have a “same old, same old” taste for the fans.
Mariota said this win was a great way for them to finish the first quarter of the year, but they now had to turn their heads to the other three quarters. The quarterback claimed that they spent the offseason discussing how to produce consistent performances which were necessary for the organization to move forward.
In his postgame conference, Vrabel stressed that the win was the result of their hard work throughout the week. The coach said that they would have to repeat that work if they wished to keep on winning. Vrabel stated that they would go over the details that brought them the win and focus on them, which would help them prepare and execute plays.
They had a winning formula on Sunday. Let’s see if they can make it work.