On Monday night, the Dallas Cowboys will welcome the Tennessee Titans into AT&T Stadium. Both teams are sitting at 3-4 in divisions that are still up for grabs, and both teams need to win Monday to keep any playoff hopes alive.
On offense, the Titans have several players who could make for a potent attack. Marcus Mariota is a dual-threat quarterback, and the rushing duo of Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis can be a thunder and lightning tandem that’s hard to deal with. Additionally, the offensive line is solid, equipped with two extremely talented offensive tackles in Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin.
However, the offense has been pretty abysmal for Tennessee so far. The team ranks 30th in total offense and their rushing attack, by far their best component so far, is only 19th in the league. Part of the problem is that the Titans have struggled at quarterback up to this point. Mariota was putting up some horrific numbers in the season opener - 9/16 for 103 yards and no touchdowns with two interceptions - before he left with an injury. He missed the next game, but has been playing since Week 3. Aside from a bonkers performance against the Eagles in Week 4, wherein Mariota put up 390 yards of total offense and three total touchdowns, the former second-overall draft pick has looked bad.
On the season as a whole, Mariota is completing 66% of his passes and just crossed 1,000 passing yards last week - CJ Beathard and rookie Josh Rosen have more yards in as many starts - and what’s worse is that Mariota has thrown five interceptions and only three touchdowns. He has also scored a rushing touchdown, but has fumbled three times.
Some have speculated that Mariota came back from his injury too soon. The injury, by the way, was nerve damage to the right elbow on his throwing arm. After he returned against the Jaguars in Week 3, it was reported that he still felt tingling and numbness in his fingers. For what it’s worth, Mariota said earlier in the week that he has feeling in his fingers again and is able to throw without a glove on.
But feeling better in his hand isn’t going to magically revive this Titans offense. He was terrible in the season opener without any injury. And neither running back has been playing to their potential. Henry is averaging 3.3 yards a carry and has only managed one touchdown despite being the guy in goal line situations. Lewis is slightly better, averaging 3.8 yards a carry, but also has just one touchdown to his name despite being a focal point of the passing game.
And that leads into perhaps the biggest issue with this offense: the lack of productive receivers. Don’t worry, Cowboys fans, you’re not the only ones with a mobile quarterback who has nobody to throw to. No, the Titans have Dallas beat on that end. Corey Davis is, by default, the best receiver on this team despite only catching 53.6% of passes thrown his way. He leads the team in receptions (30) and yards (395). The player with the second most receptions and yards? Lewis, the running back. While he definitely runs routes as if he were a receiver, a lot of Lewis’ receptions come on check downs and dump off passes, which contributes to his sky high 87.9% catch rate. Still, the fact that Lewis is second on the team in receiving yards with just 199 says all you need to know about this offense.
Adding to the problems for Tennessee is the fact that 1) The Cowboys’ defense is currently ranked third in the NFL and 2) They are only allowing 14 points per game at home. For the first time in AT&T Stadium history, home field advantage is a real, tangible thing for the Cowboys. Any quarterback would be hard-pressed to succeed against this defense in Dallas, and Mariota has had his worst games on the road. His dreadful performance in the season opener? In Miami. In Jacksonville, he put up just 151 yards of total offense and exactly zero points. He had less yards and the same amount of points, plus an interception, on the road in Buffalo. Last week in Los Angeles against the Chargers, he threw his first touchdown on the road, but also threw a pick in the loss.
There’s not an easy way to put it. The Titans offense is bad, and they’re even worse on the road. Perhaps Mariota’s fully recovered hand will result in a miraculous game for him, or maybe the absence of David Irving allows the rushing game to get going, but with the way this offense has played, and the way the Cowboys defense plays, points on the road will once again be at a premium for this team.