NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Six things standing out for the Titans after Sunday's win over the Jaguars, and heading into this week's game against the Eagles.
Laying the Wood
Veteran linebacker Wesley Woodyard is a playmaker and a tone-setter, and he's playing lights out so far for the Titans. While defensive lineman Jurrell Casey has been disruptive up front (with three sacks in three games), Woodyard has been all over the field. Woodyard led the Titans with 12 tackles against the Jaguars, and on the season he leads the team with 35 stops, two quarterback pressures and three tackles for a loss, along with a sack. This guy just keeps getting better with age.
Returning the Favor
Ryan Succop was a rookie kicker in Kansas City back in 2009 when a 13-year veteran by the name of Mike Vrabel joined the Chiefs. The two were teammates for two seasons in Kansas City, and Succop still remembers how well Vrabel treated him back then. He picked up tabs, and included everyone. Succop smiled and said he was happy to do his part after kicking the game-winning field goal in Vrabel's first win as a head coach vs. the Texans. And on Sunday, Succop kicked another game-winner in the team's win at Jacksonville. Paybacks are swell.
Succop is part of a special teams unit that's made some big plays over three weeks. Returner Darius Jennings returned a kickoff for a touchdown in the opener at Miami, and in Week Two safety Kevin Byard connected with Dane Cruikshank for a 66-yard touchdown on a fake punt. Against the Jaguars, Cruikshank sniffed out a fake punt quashed by the Titans, and LeShaun Sims joined others in blowing the play up. Punter Brett Kern influenced field position greatly vs. Jacksonville, and he's off to a great start, with a 48.0-yard average. The unit hasn't been perfect – the Dolphins burned the Titans for a TD on a kickoff return in Week One – but overall the Titans have been solid on special teams.
Gutsy – and Prepared – Mariota
Quarterback Marcus Mariota wasn't supposed to play against the Jaguars, but when Blaine Gabbert was knocked out of the contest, he stepped in and guided the Titans to a win. Mariota hates being hurt. He's admittedly been frustrated as he waits for the elbow injury to settle down, and allow him to play at 100 percent. But he hasn't been moping. He's worked through it in practices, and even when he wasn't getting live reps, he took snaps behind the line of scrimmage from back-up center Corey Levin while shadowing what Gabbert was doing with his snaps. The extra work allowed Mariota to be successful in Sunday's win. The hope now is Mariota can do more, and the Titans can put in an offensive package vs. the Eagles that will allow him to do more.
Coaching Has Been Solid
It's hard to imagine a head coach having to deal with more than what Vrabel has dealt with at the start of his coaching tenure. The Titans played a seven-hour game with two lightning delays in Week One, when the team lost its starting quarterback with an injury, along with its top lineman (Taylor Lewan) and top offensive threat (Delanie Walker). The team played – and won – the following week with a makeshift offensive line, and a back-up quarterback. Then the Titans traveled to Jacksonville and won on a day when no one gave them a chance, finishing the job with Mariota coming off the bench. Vrabel has taken chances the first three weeks, going for it on 4th down. He called a fake punt, and implemented the Wildcat. Titans OC Matt LaFleur has shown creativity, and DC Dean Pees has his defense playing solid. I previously mentioned the work of special teams coach Craig Aukerman's crew. Vrabel said players deserve the praise, but the coaching early is worthy of some props as well.
Room for More
The Titans are ranked 12th in the NFL in total defense through three weeks. On offense, the team is ranked 29th overall (10th rushing, 29th passing). Needless to say, there's room to grow on a team that's averaging just 16 points per game. The offense should get a jump-start as Mariota gets closer to full strength, and the o-line is solidified. But the Titans are going to need to show improvement in other areas as well. Derrick Henry hasn't been happy with his performance early, and the receivers need to be more consistent. I liked the finish, but the early drops were ugly vs the Jags. The challenge this week is a big one, as the Eagles are ranked 9th on defense, and they're stout up front..
Take a look at the best photos from Tennessee's 9-6 victory at Jacksonville on Sunday, Sept. 23, 2018 at TIAA Bank Field. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)