Grading the Titans’ performance in their 40-17 loss against the Steelers on Thursday night at Heinz Field:
Rushing offense - D
The Titans managed just 52 yards on 21 carries – their worst rushing performance since finishing with 30 rushing yards a 34-6 loss to the Texans on Dec. 27, 2015. Marcus Mariota running for a seven-yard touchdown is all that saves the unit from a failing grade. DeMarco Murray had a mere 10 yards on eight carries, his worst outing since joining the Titans before the start of last season and his fewest rushing yards on a minimum of eight carries since he had nine yards on eight touches in his disastrous season debut with the Eagles in 2015. Derrick Henry finished with a team-high 32 rushing yards on seven carries, with half that total coming on a single touch.
Passing offense - F
Mariota tossed a career-high four interceptions, including two horrific picks in the first half to Mike Hilton and former Titans cornerback Coty Sensabaugh, of all people, who started in place of injured Joe Haden. The first pick sailed over Rishard Matthews’ head. Corey Davis could have fought to break up the second, and didn’t, but it was a horrible throw the moment it left Mariota’s hand. Mariota threw two more picks in the fourth quarter, one on a tipped pass intended for Davis and another on a fourth-down pass intended for Delanie Walker. Mariota’s mistakes, which led to three Steelers field goals, overshadowed the longest touchdown of his career. Mariota connected with Rishard Matthews for a 75-yard score on the first play of the second half, trimming the Titans’ deficit to 16-14. Matthews finished with five catches for 113 yards and the score. Walker had a team-high six catches for 92 yards, but also dropped a wide open touchdown.
Rushing defense - A
The Titans continue to smother opponents’ ground attacks. Tennessee limited Le’Veon Bell, who entered the game as the NFL’s leading rusher, to a mere 46 yards on 12 carries. Bell was stopped just short of the goal line on a 7-yard run that was originally ruled a touchdown but overturned on review. It was the longest run the Titans allowed all night, outside of a 10-yard scramble by Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers collectively finished with 65 rushing yards on 21 touches.
Passing defense - D-
But of course, the majority of damage was done through the air. Roethlisberger threw four touchdowns, including three to Antonio Brown, who finished with 10 catches on 13 targets for 144 yards. Brown scored on the first drive of each half, grabbing a 41-yard touchdown in the first quarter and a 5-yard touchdown in the third. Brown snagged his final score one-handed, while pressing the ball against his helmet. “I don’t know how you defend that,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. Roethlisberger also tossed a 1-yard touchdown to tight end Jesse James. Roethlisberger led the Steelers to points on five consecutive possessions, including three straight touchdown drives. He completed 30 of 45 passes for 299 yards, the four scores and a 115.0 passer rating.
Special teams - D
Ryan Succop had a 48-yard field goal blocked by T.J. Watt. He hit from 44 yards to pull the Titans within 23-17 after Walker’s dropped touchdown in the third quarter. Adoree’ Jackson returned a punt 10 yards, and didn’t field another one that was downed inside the 5. He averaged 20.6 yards on five kick returns, including a long of 36 yards. The Titans only punted three times. Brown was limited to just 11.5 yards per return.
Coaching - D-
The Titans lost to a superior team on a short week in a difficult environment. But it shouldn’t have been this bad. The team was unfocused, beginning with Mariota, and allowed mistakes to snowball. That might fly at home against the Bengals, but not on the road against the Steelers. For the second game in a row, a star player dropped a wide open touchdown. Add Davis’ fumble Sunday against the Bengals, and that’s three scores they should have had, but didn’t. The defense was punched in the mouth on the Steelers’ first series, collected itself and forced a couple of field goals despite having to defend short fields after Mariota’s first two picks, and collapsed in the second half. We can quibble with play calling, but the Titans failed to remain competitive, in large part because of their own mistakes. That’s inexcusable.
Reach Jason Wolf at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @JasonWolf and on Instagram and Snapchat at TitansBeat.
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