I think most Titan fans and NFL analysts were expecting a high-scoring game on Sunday, when the Oakland Raiders traveled to Nashville’s Nissan Stadium for a Week 3 matchup.
The Raiders had given up over 1,000 yards of offense through their first two games, and the Titans were coming off a 16-15 come-from-behind win over the Detroit Lions.
Despite a favorable matchup, Marcus Mariota and company barely reached double-digit points in their 17-10 loss to Oakland, which gives Tennessee a 1-2 record for the season.
While the outcome was disappointing, there were noteworthy positives in the loss. Let’s consider four of them.
DeMarco Murray broke 100 rushing yards and has a great start to the season
Heading into Sunday’s matchup, the Titans had not had a running back break 100 rushing yards in a game since the 2013-14 season, when Chris Johnson rushed for 127 yards against the Houston Texans in Week 17.
Johnson no longer holds the title. Against the Raiders, Murray rushed for 114 yards on 16 carries for an average of 7.1 yards per rush attempt. He also caught all five of his targeted passes for 41 yards.
Murray shined on Sunday.
He scored the team’s only touchdown, a 5-yard run in the third quarter; he led Tennessee in both rush attempts (16) and receptions (5); and he accounted for 155 of 393 total offensive yards.
Without question, Murray has been the Titans’ best offensive player through three weeks of the season. He averages 6.0 yards per carry; he has totaled 17 receptions out of the backfield, which leads all running backs in the NFL; and he has accounted for three of Tennessee’s five offensive touchdowns.
Dick LeBeau’s defense is strong
When seeing that Oakland had 368 yards of total offense, one might think that the Titans’ defense underperformed on Sunday.
A closer looks, however, shows that Dick LeBeau’s defense stopped six opposing drives in the second half and held the Raiders to zero points during that time period.
This defense performance, in large part, allowed the Titans’ offense to nearly tie the score in the fourth quarter. Tennessee was four yards away from forcing overtime before an unnecessary roughness penalty was called on left tackle Taylor Lewan.
Moreover, the Titans’ defense forced Derek Carr’s first interception of the season; they held the Raiders’ top-ranked rushing offense to under 5.0 yards per carry; and they had five quarterback hits and a sack against an Oakland offensive line that ranks among the best in the league.
Perhaps the only downside to the Titans’ defensive performance was cornerback Perrish Cox, who gave up a number of first downs to wide receivers Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper.
Rookies are making offensive and defensive contributions
On both sides of the football, rookie players are seeing a good amount of playing time in Tennessee.
For instance, outside linebacker Kevin Dodd played 54 percent of the defensive snaps as Derrick Morgan nursed a hamstring injury. Also, safety Kevin Byard played 49 percent of the defensive snaps and finished the game with four tackles.
Dick LeBeau praised Dodd and Byard during the offseason, so it is not entirely surprising to see that both rookies are contributing, especially since LaBeau is known to rotate fresh defensive players to keep pressure on the opposing quarterback.
As for the Titans’ offense, Jack Conklin played right tackle the entire game while wide receiver Tajae Sharpe and running back Derrick Henry played 75 percent and 35 percent of the offensive snaps, respectively.
Conklin, Henry and Sharpe have performed particularly well this season.
According to Pro Football Focus, through Week 2 Conklin graded as the No. 1 rookie offensive lineman; Henry graded as the No. 1 rookie running back; and Sharpe graded as a top-five rookie wide receiver.
Titans are only one game behind the Texans in the AFC South
The Houston Texans currently lead the AFC South with a 2-1 record. The Titans and Indianapolis Colts are one game behind at 1-2 while the Jacksonville Jaguars are two games behind at 0-3.
This all goes to say that Tennessee is still a clear contender for the AFC South title.
Next week the team travels to Houston’s NRG Stadium for a Week 4 matchup against the Texans at 12:00 PM CST. A win at Houston would guarantee the Titans a tie for first place atop the Division. A loss, on the other hand, would knock the Titans two games behind Houston.
Both teams will enter Sunday’s matchup knowing the divisional standings at stake.