NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Titans are a train that just keeps rolling.
Ten games into the season, seemingly nothing can derail them. Certainly not injuries.
They have won without Derrick Henry. They have won without Julio Jones. They have not had their top four inside linebackers healthy for the same game. They have had four different starters at one cornerback position, three at one safety spot and they have used four different starting offensive line combinations.
Gameday rosters consist of 48 players, but 82 different guys already have seen action this season, and Tennessee already has more wins than any NFL team that used 80 or more players in a single season.
It is clear these Titans can overcome health issues. That is not to say that they have not missed players when they have been sidelined. Here is a look at the injuries that have had the most profound impact.
• Derrick Henry, RB (broken foot, out indefinitely): The Titans have continued to run the ball without the two-time NFL rushing champion, but they have not done so nearly as effectively. The offense averaged 27.5 rushes in the last two games but managed just 155 yards and eight first downs. They have been the two worst games of the season in terms of yards (69 and 66, respectively) and first downs rushing (four each) and the only times this season Tennessee has averaged fewer than three yards per carry. Two weeks ago, the Titans were third in rushing offense. Now they are fifth – and likely to drop even further.
• Brett Kern, P (groin, Weeks 4-6): A hamstring injury sidelined the Pro Bowl punter, who also dealt with COVID-19 during that time. In the seven games Kern has played, the Titans’ net punting average has been 40.2 yards or better. Five times that figure has been 42.0 or better. In two of the three games Johnny Townsend punted in Kern’s place, that average was below 38.0. On 11 punts, Townsend had one touchback, which is one more than Kern has in 22 punts. None of this is to say that Townsend was terrible. Rather, it illustrates how important Kern is to the whole operation.
• Amani Hooker S (hamstring, Weeks 2-5 and 7): The defense held up just fine when he was unable to go against Kansas City in Week 7. That was not the case earlier in the year. There have been six games in which the Titans have allowed more than 7.0 yards per pass attempt, half of them when Hooker was out the first time, including Seattle in Week 2 (9.4) and the N.Y. Jets in Week 4 (8.3), the two worst performances in that regard. The first attempt to replace Hooker was veteran Bradley McDougald, who was released after one game as a starter. Dane Cruikshank has filled in the other times, has had his moments but never made anyone forget Hooker.
• Julio Jones, WR (hamstring, Weeks 4-5, 8, 10-current): Jones has not come close to meeting the expectations anyone had for him after the Titans acquired him in a trade with Atlanta. However, he has been something of a deep threat when he is in there. Among all Titans players with at least five receptions, his average of 16.0 yards per catch is the best. Of his 21 receptions, 13 (61.9 percent) have gone for first downs and he is one of three players – Henry and A.J. Brown are the others – with more than one gain of 30-plus yards this season. The only time Ryan Tannehill has thrown for at least 300 yards this season is also the only time Jones topped 100 yards receiving (at Seattle).
• Kristian Fulton, CB (hamstring, Weeks 6-9): In the four games Fulton missed, the defense allowed an average of 16 passing first downs per game and three times allowed more than 15. In the six games he has played no opponent has managed more than 14 first downs passing. All four opponents in the games he missed threw 47 or more passes while none of the six in the games he played attempted more than 37. That suggests that 1) opponents felt more comfortable throwing when Fulton was not in there and 2) had enough success that they wanted to continue to do so.