NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A Marcus Mariota sprint, dive to the pylon and rushing touchdown resulted first in Tennessee Titans jubilation then angst. A hamstring injury cost him the second half of a 57-14 loss against the Texans, and now the Titans are hoping it doesn’t rob him of much more.
The Titans aren’t a good team without Mariota. It’s the way they were built, for better or worse. This week will be about Mariota’s health, following his MRI results, and how the Titans respond to it.
“Marcus is one of the tougher guys I’ve ever played with,” left tackle Taylor Lewan said. “From a friendship standpoint, my heart goes out to him. I hope he’s healthy. I hope everything’s good. Knowing Marcus, that guy is tough as nails. I’m not too worried about it.”
Receiver Rishard Matthews said Mariota will bounce back.
Despite the optimism, there is still a real possibility that the Titans have to play Sunday at Miami with 35-year-old Matt Cassel as their starting quarterback.
Cassel, who went 4-of-10 for 26 yards with two interceptions and a lost fumble in the second half Sunday, said he’d like to think it would get better because “you can’t get much worse.”
The Cassel-led Titans had just 24 yards in the second half on 18 plays. His three turnovers on consecutive drives led to 13 Texans points.
“He’ll have a week to prepare. He’ll get all the reps with the ones,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said, expressing confidence in the veteran QB.
To be fair, Cassel did not have the benefit of a run game because of the Titans’ 16-point halftime deficit. Cassel does not threaten teams with his arm or legs so the box will certainly be crowded to stop the run if he’s forced into action. Much of Tennessee’s run-pass option offense is limited with Cassel as well.
The Titans only have two quarterbacks on their active roster so if Mariota is unable to play Sunday against the Miami Dolphins, look for Tennessee to sign another quarterback. Rookie Tyler Ferguson is on the practice squad, but he’s not ready to play in an NFL game.
Colin Kaepernick is the most talented free agent quarterback available, but it’s uncertain whether the Titans would consider him. Robert Griffin III, Matt Barkley, and Christian Ponder are a few other available backup options. Mularkey said the team will likely talk about adding another quarterback, if needed, on Monday.
If Mariota is out, the Titans offensive playmakers become vastly more important than the quarterback. Tennessee would shift its offense to lean heavier on DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry. Short passes to Delanie Walker, Taywan Taylor and Matthews would also become more prevalent in the scheme.
“It’s a different game,” Matthews said, describing life without Mariota. “We all got to step up.”
Walker added: “Anyone who is on the field needs to pick up the slack. Especially if you got another guy coming in, you want to make his confidence even better.”
Another concern for the Titans could be the frequency of these hamstring injuries.
Mariota becomes the fifth Titans starter to deal with a hamstring injury through four weeks this season. Safety Johnathan Cyprien (missed three games), receiver Corey Davis (two games), DeMarco Murray (one quarter) and Delanie Walker (one practice) all suffered different degrees of hamstring injuries missing varying amounts of time over the last few weeks.
Mularkey said they haven’t changed anything in their training program from last season so he’s not sure why the results are drastically different.
“If there is anything that is frustrating, that is the one thing that we’re trying to put a finger on I can’t put a finger on it,” Mularkey said. “We’re hydrating. That’s a big part of it. I talk about it every day.”