On Saturday afternoon at Nissan Stadium, the Tennessee Titans lost to the Carolina Panthers 26-16 in their second preseason game.
Let’s recap some highlights and takeaways.
Tajae Sharpe Continues to Impress
After the game Coach Mularkey noted positives from the Titans’ loss. Certain players stood out, strong plays were made, and there were lessons from which the team could learn.
The biggest positive was undoubtedly Tajae Sharpe.
After limited playing time in his first preseason game due to concussion concerns, Sharpe came out on Saturday against a stout Panthers’ defense and impressed, as he caught all six of his targets for 68 receiving yards.
“[Tajae] is one of the guys I’m talking about,” Mularkey said. “That’s really the guy I’m talking about … We have a next wide receiver that you can count on, really on big plays and when you need him.”
The catches by Sharpe did come on big plays. During the first offensive drive, the rookie converted a 3rd and 20 by catching a deep pass in double coverage. On the following drive, he converted a 3rd and 11 on a catch-and-run reception.
What Sharpe has shown Titans’ fans to date is not a fluke. The fifth-round pick climbed to the top of the depth chart during the offseason because of his route running, consistency, and ability to catch the ball.
In the upcoming season Sharpe looks to be a trustworthy target for Marcus Mariota — something Tennessee has lacked in recent history at the wide receiver position.
What you’re seeing is what he basically does in practice,” Mularkey said. “He made some bigger catches today — some big catches that we haven’t had here in a while … It’s a trust factor. [Mariota] believes and knows [Tajae] is going to be at the right place at the right time. To this point, since he’s been here, he has.”
First-Team Defense Struggles Again
Two weeks in a row the Titans’ starting defense has sacrificed a touchdown on the opponent’s first offensive drive.
Last week the San Diego Chargers moved 75-yards on seven plays. This week the Panthers moved 93-yards on five plays, the last of which was a 61-yard catch-and-run reception by Ted Ginn Jr. from Cam Newton.
Certain statements can be made in defense of the starting unit. They were short-handed with cornerbacks Perrish Cox and Jason McCourty on the bench, and they faced a Carolina offense that ranked among the best in the NFL last season.
Nonetheless, for a unit that hopes to top the league under Dick LaBeau, these opening drives are an area for concern. An open-field tackle from Antwon Blake or Da’Norris Searcy could have turned Ted Ginn’s 61-yard touchdown into a 10-yard reception, and last week a miscue facilitated Melvin Gordon’s 44-yard touchdown.
“We take pride in trying to make sure we make a stop and put our offense in the best situation. To put them behind like that at the start of the game is very unacceptable for us as defense,” Jurrell Casey said. “We pride ourselves on trying to be the number one defense in this league, and to be that we can’t allow things like that to happen.”
Mularkey echoed Casey’s statement: “I don’t have to go in there and tell [the defense] — Look we gotta do something about the first drive. That’s two weeks in a row. It’s more than two weeks. It’s been in the past as well, that opening drive. We’ve gotta find a way to stop the opponent’s offense when you know they are throwing the best at you.”
Dennis Kelly Pleased Mularkey
After four days with the organization Dennis Kelly debuted for the Titans at second-team right tackle.
Overall Mularkey was pleased with Kelly’s performance. The 6’8’’, 321-pound lineman did make a mistake in the second quarter, when David Cobb fumbled and lost possession of the football, but learning bumps are expected as Kelly acclimates to the Titans’ offense.
“I know that on the fumble, we had a mistake,” Mularkey said. “[Kelly] had a mental error on the play, which basically let a defensive lineman penetrate quicker and probably put a little bit of pressure on Cobb with the ball … For the most part, for getting here when he got here, to play as much as he did, I was pretty pleased with him. Even when we went no huddle, he was very good with that for a short time being here. So he’s very sharp.”
The Titans traded Dorial Green-Beckham to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for Kelly after heightened concerns regarding Green-Beckham’s consistency. The trade, the fifth the Titans have made since Jon Robinson’s arrival, was controversial and will be an area of discussion this upcoming season.
In his debut with the Eagles, Green-Beckham was targeted twice but made no receptions.
Mariota Makes First Preseason Turnover
In his first two preseason games, Mariota has thrown no passes that have hit the ground. He is a perfect 15-of-15.
Unfortunately one of those passes was to Panthers’ cornerback Bene Benwikere.
The play was Mariota’s first turnover, and perhaps first blemish, of the preseason. His other 14 passes have been completed to Titans’ receivers and tight ends for 149 yards and one touchdown for an average quarterback rating of 104.
After the game Mariota admits that he should have thrown the ball to Dexter McCluster, but he was in rhythm at the time and felt that he could squeeze the ball to Harry Douglas. Instead, Benwikere made a strong play for an interception.
“I felt that I was kind of on a roll and tried to force the ball probably where I shouldn’t have,” Mariota said. “There was a guy playing off of [McCluster] on the left side of the field — probably should have just taken that and moved on.”
While turnovers are never wanted, confidence from a second-year quarterback with a quiet demeanor is certainly a positive. Mariota and the Titans play next versus the Oakland Raiders on Saturday August 27.