In The Know is an ongoing series with the opposing team's beat reporter. Jim Wyatt, senior writer and editor for TitansOnline.com, gives insight on the Texans upcoming opponent this week, the Tennessee Titans.*
The Titans had control of their postseason chances and then we all saw what unfolded in Jacksonville including the injury to Marcus Mariota. What has Coach Mike Mularkey said about that loss and is there any optimism about the fact that Tennessee had a such a promising season and is a contender for the division in the years to come?
Wyatt: Well I think eventually when the season is over, I think people will be able to sit back and realize that this team took a big step in the right direction. The Titans won three games in 2015 and won two games in 2014. To be in a position the team is right now, there's no question it has gotten a lot better. That's hard to talk about and hard to realize when you had your playoff destiny in your hands and you let it go by losing by three touchdowns to Jacksonville. Then they lost their franchise quarterback to a fractured fibula and him having to have surgery. I hate to say it, but it's kind of doom and gloom in the wake of a really, disappointing loss.
When everybody looks back at this season when it's completed, people will realize it was a success but it's still sinking in and the game Sunday still means something. The Titans want to finish 9-7. They want to have a winning record. They want to win at home and finish with a winning record at home. They want to get their footing back in the AFC South and try to leave them on a positive note so something to play for, but right now, there's not a lot of optimism or positive feelings coming off a really tough loss and a tough week when you lose your quarterback.
Marcus Mariota fractured his fibula and had surgery effectively ending his season. What is his prognosis and will be return in time for OTAs?**
Wyatt: That's the expectation and that's the hope. It's really unfortunate the way it happened. From my vantage point looking down on the field, he got hit. He got landed on. I was going to say he was slow to get up, he never got up. He stayed down, but it didn't look like one of those injuries where it was going to be as bad as it turned out to be because there wasn't so much of a reaction, but then moments later, you saw doctors rush out there. Then you saw a cart come out there and then you saw the air cast come out. It was just a serious injury.
Now, the end of the day that followed Mike Mularkey gave a more detailed look into what happened. He fractured his right fibula. He had a plate put in to the area during a procedure on Wednesday in Charlotte, North Carolina. Dr. Anderson performed the surgery. The expectation is that he will need 4-5 months to recover. With the way the OTAs schedule is, that should put him back some point in May or June when he should be able to take part in some of that. Mini-camp is in June across the league and then training camp is July so he should be back for most of that, but everyone is different.
Derek Carr suffered a similar injury in Oakland and his injury, I'm sure, is not the exact same as Marcus Mariota's. He will be dealing with it in a different time table based on the type of injury he had. You really don't know until weeks pass and the recovery process starts, but the hope in Nashville and the hope around the team is that he will be back and able to get some momentum going for 2017 during OTAs.
Matt Cassel stepped in for Mariota and was 13-of-24 for 124 yards and the touchdown. He's bounced around with several teams. What does he do well and what does he need to improve for Sunday's game against the Texans?**
Wyatt: He (Cassel) doesn't have the mobility that Marcus Mariota does. He does have plenty of experience but he doesn't have a lot of playing time this year. He was thrown into action on Saturday. As a backup quarterback, that's the life you live. You don't get a lot of reps in practice. You just have to go on the fly. One thing working in his favor this week is getting all the first-team reps, so he should be better prepared.
The team made a roster move this week. They brought up Alex Tanney from the practice squad to be the No. 2 quarterback, so he'll be there to take the place of Marcus Mariota, who went on injured reserve. The Titans will just be ready to move forward with those two guys to finish the season, but Cassel has experience. Guys have a lot of faith in him. He wants to help this team finish on a positive note and that's kind of what they brought him here for. He's only played one snap up until Saturday in Jacksonville and now he's finishing the season.
The run game with the tandem of DeMarco Murray and Derek Henry has really punished defenses, especially Murray who is third in the NFL with 1266 yards rushing and 9 TDs. How much has that helped boost the Titans offense with a young quarterback and will they rely on it even more with Cassel under center?
Wyatt: Well it should help them. The Titans have run the ball all season, even on days Marcus Mariota had success throwing the football. He had a stretch where he threw two touchdown passes in eight games in a row. They still were running it, part of the reason why he was able to be successful.
They'll continue to lean on the running game. I do think with the new quarterback, they'll try to continue doing that. It's been a really good season for DeMarco Murray. He's going to the Pro Bowl. Derrick Henry no doubt has a promising future in the league. He's proven that when he's had the opportunity to play and I think the Titans offensive line has really shown a lot of promise, given a reason of optimism moving forward. That's a bright spot and it'll be something on Sunday that they will try to take advantage of.
Dick Lebeau will be wrapping up his first season as the Titans defense coordinator. Where did you see the most gains and improvement with LeBeau?
Wyatt: I think one thing people will see is the outside pass rush, (OLB) Brian Orakpo and (OLB) Derrick Morgan. Orakpo is going to the Pro Bowl. He's had double-digit sacks. Derrick Morgan is just one sack away from joining him. This team has had some productive pass rushers since they've been in Tennessee. (DE) Jevon Kearse was a double-sack guy. (DE) Kyle Vanden Bosch, (OLB) Jason Babin was. They've had some guys have some really good years.
They've never had two double-digit sack guys in the same year. They've got a chance to do that if Morgan gets a sack on Sunday. That's one thing they've done well. They rotate a lot of players in the secondary, both at cornerback and at safety. That's something that should help them moving forward and get a lot of young guys experience. They're banged up in the secondary. That's something that started catching up with them on Saturday when they struggled. They had some young guys in there in Jacksonville and they had some trouble. Time will tell who will be available on Sunday but those guys are going to have to hold up and try to close the season strong.
Check out the best shots from Wednesday's practice as the Texans prepare for Sunday's game against the Titans.