For the second season in a row, the Raiders head to Tennessee to face the Titans. Last season they pulled out a 24-21 win over the rebuilding Titans. This team presents problems that team did not. Most notably their bulked up offensive backfield.
Leading the charge in that Titans backfield is former rushing champ, DeMarco Murray. He is joined by reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Derrick Henry.
Murray in particular has averaged 5.2 yards per carry over the first two games this season. That’s a bit better than he averaged against the Raiders when the two teams met in the preseason. In that game he ran for 40 yards on 8 carries (5.0 ypc) and a touchdown. Henry added 49 yards on 12 carries (4.1 ypc) and a touchdown.
Titans coach, Mike Mularkey is glad to have those two guys in his offensive backfield after years of struggles running the ball.
“Well you have to realize we’ve really have been ineffective running the ball my first three years here and I had a lot to do with the run game,” Mularkey said in conference call Wednesday. “I was involved in it. We struggled to really establish it consistently. We lost a couple of games because we couldn’t finish games in the four-minute segment. Now you have a couple of players that are… And again we like Antonio [Andrews]. We have a good backfield. We’re very pleased with it, the upgrade we’ve done. We believe in the run. We believe in balance. It’s a different backfield from years past and it’s very much potent, not just running it but also catching the ball out of the backfield.”
It isn’t just the running backs that can hurt defenses on the ground. They have a quarterback in Marcus Mariota in his second season behind center. Mariota is a dynamic athlete, which means no matter who has the ball in their hands in that Titans backfield, they pose a difficult challenge for the Raiders defense.
“They’ve got two really big backs that are talented,” said Del Rio. “A big offensive line they’ve invested three first round picks in. They’ve got a quarterback that can move and do things with his feet – bootlegs, play [action] passes and extend plays and things like that.”
Last week the Raiders allowed Davonta Freeman to run for 93 yards on 17 carries (5.5 ypc). Tevin Coleman got into the act too, adding 46 yards on 12 carries (3.8 ypc), including the game-clinching 13-yard touchdown. Coleman added two catches for 25 yards.
Thus far this season, however, the Raiders have yet to face a particularly mobile quarterback. And make no mistake; people like to call Mariota a ‘running quarterback’. That is false. He is a pocket passer who can run. His style of play is not dissimilar to that of Cam Newton; though even Newton is known to run it more often than Mariota.
The first two games this season for the Raiders have been shootouts. The Titans would like to try and control the clock and keep it out of the hands of Derek Carr and the Raiders offense whose 470.0 yards per game over the first two weeks is tops in the NFL.
It will be up to the Raiders to stop them from running it down their throats. Something they weren’t able to do in their 27-14 loss to the Titans in the preseason – a game in which the starters played into the third quarter which is when all the points were scored.
In fact, stopping any part of the opposing offense has been a real issue for this Raiders defense every time they’ve stepped on the field in 2016.