If this were 2015, the Tennessee Titans’ work in one regard would be almost complete.
Tennessee, the Packers’ opponent Sunday, can run the ball. Only Dallas and Buffalo are doing it better.
But neither the Cowboys nor the Bills are as close to matching last season’s rushing output as are the Titans. No one is. Tennessee easily should surpass the yards it earned a year ago as fourth-place finishers (3-13) in the AFC South.
Since 2000, the earliest a team has exceeded its rushing total from the previous year has been Game 10 (this is Game 10 for the 4-5 Titans). Eight teams are on that short list, with the 2014 Cowboys having been the last.
The records of those eight were all over the map. The 2001 Chargers (5-11) and 2013 Raiders (4-12) never sniffed the playoffs. The 2004 Steelers (15-1) reached the AFC Championship Game and the 2000 Giants (12-4) lost to the Ravens in the Super Bowl.
Tennessee will need a strong showing Sunday (187 yards) to join those clubs. Having already exceeded that total twice, and with Green Bay’s run defense having softened, the possibility remains open.
Earlier this century, the Titans were among the most productive teams on the ground. They produced a minimum 2,100 yards each season from 2006 through 2009.
They were powered by Travis Henry (1,211 yards rushing) in 2006 and LenDale White (1,110) in 2007. Chris Johnson then gained 1,228 yards in 2008 before exploding for 2,006 the following year.
Johnson was released in April 2014. With his departure, the Titans failed to amass even 1,500 yards in either 2014 or 2015.
DOUGHERTY: Packers on playoff precipice
Enter DeMarco Murray. The former Cowboy and Eagle was acquired in a trade in March and the Titans are back on their feet.
With Murray on board, Tennessee has piled up 1,298 yards. That’s 87.4 percent of last season’s 1,485.
Two other teams are above 70 percent: the Raiders (78.9) and Chargers (70.7). But both Oakland (1,457 rushing yards in 2015) and San Diego (1,358) have smaller targets to hit.
After nine games a year ago, the Titans had 877 yards rushing. Antonio Andrews was pacing the team with 298.
Murray has nearly as many yards as the entire team did at this point in 2015. His 807 are second only to Ezekiel Elliott of Dallas, and Murray has surpassed 100 four times.
In addition, Marcus Mariota is a threat. His 235 yards rushing are the second most by a quarterback (Tyrod Taylor) this season.
Tennessee is a pounder at home and on the road. It averages 144 yards rushing a game at Nissan Stadium and 144.5 when out of town.
Always dangerous, the team tends to be most effective in Quarters 2-3. In those periods, the Titans have averaged 5.7 yards a carry and have scored eight of their 10 rushing touchdowns.
Similarly, the club is most productive on carries 11 through 20. Their 545 yards and eight scores are league highs.
So this is the challenge facing the Packers’ defense. It will be their stiffest test since the Cowboys gashed them for 191 yards last month.
Green Bay’s run defense got off to a record start this season. The 128 and 171 yards it allowed through three and four games, respectively, were all-time franchise lows.
The unit has cooled. It has given up 435 yards over the last four games which ranks 17th.
In Weeks 1-4, the Packers surrendered just two runs of 10 or more yards. Matt Asiata (12) had one in Minnesota and Bobby Rainey (14) grabbed one for the Giants at Lambeau Field.
Since, the team has permitted 13 by eight different players. Five went for more than 20.
Early in the season, the unit spent considerable time in the opposition’s backfield. Discounting kneel-downs, ball carriers were tackled for a loss on 22 occasions in the opening four games.
That number dropped to seven in Weeks 5-8. After having set back the Jaguars, Lions and Vikings at least six times each, Green Bay has not been able to do so more than twice in any game since the Giants (three).
To gauge the Packers’ chances this afternoon, take a look at their record when they yield 140 or more yards rushing. They’ve done so 39 times under coach Mike McCarthy and are 15-23-1 (.397).
Last week the Chargers limited Tennessee (80 yards rushing) by playing keep-away. They possessed the ball for 36 minutes, 29 seconds while amassing 208 yards rushing on 39 attempts.
It is unlikely the Packers can pull off something similar given the state of their backfield. If Green Bay gets trampled, the team easily could slip to 4-5 and be headed nowhere.
nflgsis.com, pro-football-reference.com, espn.com and nfl.com were used as sources for this article.
Overall: Tennessee leads 6-5
At Nissan Stadium: Titans lead 2-0
Packers: Aaron Rodgers (84-43 overall; 1-1 vs. Tennessee)
Titans: Marcus Mariota (7-14; 0-0 vs. Green Bay)
Through Week 9, teams closest to matching or surpassing their rushing output from 2015.
Pct. Team Record
87.41 Titans 4-5
78.93 Raiders 7-2
70.69 Chargers 4-5
69.95 Cowboys 7-1
66.31 Patriots 7-1
65.31 Dolphins 4-4