For all of the praise the Tennessee Titans offense has been receiving in the offseason, it was the defense that put the team into position to come away with its fourth consecutive opening day win.
The unit kept the Minnesota Vikings’ offense out of the end zone and held star running back Adrian Peterson, the NFL’s 2015 rushing leader, to only 31 rushing yards on Sunday.
What more can you ask?
It was a day when the Titans defense essentially took over the game and gave quarterback Marcus Mariota’s offense every chance to pull out the win, but they couldn’t get the job done. Costly mistake after costly mistake had the team playing catch-up in the second half.
An aggressive Vikings defensive front gave the Titan offensive line problems, and those problems led to Mariota running for his life. Then the mistakes began piling up.
Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks picked off Mariota and returned it for a 77-yard touchdown on one drive. Then there was the miscommunication on a handoff to running back DeMarco Murray that led to a fumble and a 24-yard touchdown run by Vikings defensive lineman Danielle Hunter.
Murphy’s Law hovered over the Titans in the second half the same way it has for so many years. Given the level of excitement surrounding the team this year, every player donned the same solemn look of disappointment like a bad Halloween mask.
“It’s frustrating,’’ Mariota told reporters after the game. “It is something we can learn from. We really just kind of beat ourselves today. We were moving the ball efficiently, and we ended up giving them 14 points and we just can’t do that.”
If there’s one silver lining, it has to be tremendous play of the defense.
The unit limited the Vikings offense to only field goals and took away the running game entirely, which probably enraged fantasy owners with Peterson in their starting lineup. It wasn’t any secret that the Vikings would look to run the football with quarterback Shaun Hill filling in for Sam Bradford until he gets up to speed with the offense.
Peterson has been the lone workhorse for the Vikings for years, and it was obvious the team would once again look in his direction to carry the load against Tennessee. But the Titans defense held its ground.
Peterson was lucky enough to make it to the line of scrimmage on most plays as the Titans stacked the box in anticipation of the run. Hill didn’t have a particularly bad game, despite the lackluster running attack, but the Titans secondary didn’t allow much room to throw the football downfield either.
It was a tremendous effort by the entire defensive unit even in a loss.
“Definitely not what we expected,” said three-time Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Orakpo. “We had high expectations of coming into this locker room with a victory. But it’s the NFL. Crazy stuff happens. That’s what this NFL is all about. There is a lot of adversity that you have to face throughout the game. It’s back-and-forth, and back-and-forth. And when they had a turnover, we just couldn’t catch up. We have to learn from it and get ready for Detroit.”
The Titans offense must be better than it was this week if the team hopes to contend in the AFC South.
One has to believe the coaching staff will make the necessary adjustments and the offense will tighten things up heading into Week 2 against the Lions. Defending against Matthew Stafford will be a much tougher challenge than defending against Hill.
But if the offense can limit the turnovers and this defense continues to play with an attitude, the Titans will remain a significant threat to its division rivals.