The Lions hold their home opener on Sunday against the Tennessee Titans, who are coming off a smarting loss to the Minnesota Vikings in spite of stifling Adrian Peterson for most of the game. They’ve drafted the previous two Heisman winners, but progress is still ongoing in Nashville. We spoke with Terry Lambert of Music City Miracles, the Titans SB Nation blog, about the current state of the team and where their strengths and weaknesses lie.
1. Why not, we'll start with Marcus Mariota. How has the former Heisman winner been doing in Tennessee? What have you seen that you would call his biggest area of improvement so far in 2016?
That's a tough question to answer with all of the change that has occurred around him. His skill players are totally different, his coaches have all changed -- however he still looks like the same guy that we all fell in love with last season. He's going to kill you in the intermediate section of the field. He wins with his eyes and getting through progressions -- those things likely won't change. The offense just hasn't been able to get in a rhythm yet. It's only week two of a (somewhat) new regime, so we'll have to wait and see what they can improve in Marcus Mariota.
2. Talking about the ground game, Tennessee picked up DeMarco Murray during free agency and snagged Heisman winner Derrick Henry during the draft. However, both in box score and efficiency numbers (31st in Week 1 rush off. DVOA) the Titans didn't look like they were going anywhere on the ground. What's the plan here moving forward, or will the Titans focus on yards through the air?
The Titans will be very much focused on the ground game all year. They brought in two new backs that can really pound the rock. We saw them get off to a decent start last week, but trail off in the second half against a good Vikings front. Mularkey and Robiskie will run it, even if they have to force it at times. They want to out-physical people and win low scoring affairs. They looked great in the preseason, so I would expect the ground game to get on track sooner rather than later.
3. Let's talk about Jack Conklin, since he's from up around these parts. How has he been doing for the Titans so far?
Conklin has been a pleasant surprise down here. I'm kind of the resident draft nut of the site and I really wasn't a fan of moving back up to grab him, but I've got to say he's been solid. He's been nasty in the run game and a true physical presence, which is exactly what the front office loved about him. I worry more about his pass protection (feet, balance) than anything, but so far, so good.
4. Tennessee did well to slow down the run of Minnesota early on, but how are they against the pass from what you've seen so far?
The pass defense was my main concern heading into the season. The secondary is a work in progress, but it's deeper than recent years. The problem last week turned out to be the pass rush. Tennessee wasn't able to generate any pressure on Shaun Hill, allowing him to convert on 3rd and long time and time again. With Derrick Morgan out, I'm expecting more of the same this weekend. Put it this way -- I'd start Matthew Stafford on your fantasy team this week.
5. This has been a fanbase with a rather strained relation with ownership of the team, and things came to a head when Mike Mularkey was hired as a head coach. It spurred a very heated reaction from fans online, many of whom felt that ownership isn't even trying to put together a winning team anymore. Music City Miracles ran a piece demanding the ownership sell the team in the aftermath of the hire. Are tensions still high? How are most fans feeling about the overall state of the Titans franchise?
Tensions boiled over when Mularkey was "hired" as the head coach. It came off as lazy and incompetent as it was controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk's first key move in the spotlight. However, the move to hire Jon Robinson as the GM in the weeks previous proved to ease the blow. Fans really got on board with the bold moves he made, feeling real improvement on the roster for the first time in a while. Now Amy has made herself more public, showing up at practices and sinking money into the team's facilities. It's far from perfect, but she's on her way to rebuilding that bridge. At the end of the day, winning cures all. The Titans have to find a way to put a winning product back on the field to truly revamp the franchise and repair what has become a somewhat disconnected fanbase.
BONUS: We recently got a Gus's Fried Chicken up here in Detroit. That's Memphis's best shot, give us a counter punch from Nashville.
It's Nashville, so we have to go with some hot chicken. The hot chicken scene has exploded down her recently and if you want it done right, you've got to go to the original source: Prince's Hot Chicken.