NASHVILLE, Tenn. —** Call it Thunder and Thunder.
Call it "exotic smashmouth."
Whatever you want to call the Titans' improved running game, the team's performance in Saturday night's 27-10 preseason win against the Chargers has to be called a success.
Running backs DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry were equally impressive for the Titans right out of the gate on a night when the offense rolled early against the Chargers. Later in the game, third-year running back Bishop Sankey stepped in and added an impressive run of his own.
The Titans ran for a whopping 288 yards on the night. Murray led the way with 93 yards, while Henry (74) and Sankey (53) also had big moments.
"It was a nice start for our team,'' coach Mike Mularkey said. "It was fun to see the style of play. I was proud of them. … I'd love to see that all season (in the run game). But that shows what they are capable of doing. They had a really good night."
Murray busted loose for a 71-yard touchdown run on the team's third offseason series. On the run, he started in the middle of the field, cut to his left, and then raced downfield en route to the end zone. He made sure he got there with a stiff-arm, and the result gave the Titans an early 10-7 lead.
"It was a great blocking job by the offensive line and the receivers, tight ends,'' Murray said. "It was a power play, so they caved the entire side, and the linebacker sprinted over to the right. I felt it, and I felt the backside A-gap. DGB [Dorial Green-Beckham] made a helluva block as a receiver. Those are how big plays—especially run plays—that's how they break, by receivers blocking downfield. Him and Harry (Douglas) did a great job, and obviously Marcus (Mariota) got us in the right look."
On the next series, Henry replaced him in the backfield, and the Titans just kept on rolling. Henry scored on a six-yard touchdown run to give the Titans a 17-7 lead midway through the second quarter.
"That's how we want it to look,'' Henry said. "It was my first NFL game, so I was ready to get out there and make something happen.
"We definitely want to be a physical team, especially running the ball. We want to be smashmouth. … Today was a good day with the o-line blocking and us running."
The one-two offensive punch put on display by the Titans running backs provided even more reason for optimism following an offseason when the team bolstered personnel behind quarterback Marcus Mariota via trade, and the NFL Draft.
Murray needed just six carries to get to 93 yards. The Titans traded with the Eagles for Murray, the NFL's Offensive Player of the Year in 2014 while in Dallas, in March. Henry, last year's Heisman Trophy winner out of Alabama, carried the ball 10 times, and busted off a 16-yard run.
The Titans had 179 yards by halftime on the ground. Sankey scored on a 41-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter as the Titans stretched the lead to 27-10.
"I have been blessed and lucky to be here as a Titan, and I am excited about this year,'' Murray said. "It is preseason and we understand that, but at the end of the day we have to go out there and make plays. We are headed in the right direction."
Mariota played three series and completed all five of his passes, for 45 yards. It was good for passer rating of 104.2.
The Titans gave up some plays early on defense, but held the Chargers to just 10 points in the first half before both teams emptied their benches and played with reserves. The Chargers scored a touchdown on their first possession of a 44-yard completion from Philip Rivers to running back Melvin Gordon.
Rookie safety Kevin Byard, the team's third-round pick from MTSU, had an interception in the second half.
"We obviously wanted to start a little bit better,'' cornerback Jason McCourty said. "We didn't want to give up a touchdown, but it's just something we've got to work back from. We came back out and got a stop, but we want to go out there and start the game a lot better than we did tonight.
"It's only the preseason, but just being in front of our home fans, hearing how loud they are, the excitement that's in the air—it's just a blast to be back out there with the guys. And for our team, we've worked so hard in training camp just to be able to come out here and try to do our best. It was a blast and it lets us know the regular season is around the corner."
The Tennessee Titans kick off the 2016 preseason against the San Diego Chargers at Nissan Stadium. (Donn Jones, AP)