The Tennessee Titans pretty much knew they would be without starting tackles Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin this week against the Houston Texans.
What they didn't expect was to have got go another rung deeper on the depth chart when right tackle Dennis Kelly came down with a virus and missed Sunday's game also.
With J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus and the rest of the Texans defense staring down the barrel at the Titans, there were probably some eerie flashbacks to Will Svitek running through the minds in the Titans' organization. Svitek was the left tackle then Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt started and left on an island in a 2014 game against Watt, who predictably wreaked havoc against him
But the Titans managed to not only survive but win, playing two new tackles, one who was a guard for the Tampa Bay Bucs last season in Kevin Pamphile, and the other a long-time practice squad player seeing his first NFL game action in Tyler Marz.
Not surprisingly, Watt lined up over Marz much of the day, but unlike Svitek four years ago, Marz was not overrun and exposed by the Texans' star. In fact, the Titans allowed just one sack of Blaine Gabbert, and it came not from Watt or Mercilus, but from Duke Ejiofor. For Marz, who played at Wisconsin, heading their the year Watt left for the NFL in 2011, it was just a thrill to be able finally play in a game and to hold his own against the Texans' star.
“It feels great to be out there with all the guys, and to come away with a win is even better. I hope those other guys get better, but I appreciate the opportunity to be out there. It was just awesome,” Marz said of getting the start.
The Titans played it smart by keeping tight ends Luke Stocker, Jonnu Smith and Anthony Firkser in to block for much of the game. Other than two completions to Stocker for 15 yards, not a single Titans tight end was targeted all game.
“It really started with the run game. We wanted to attack those guys and keep them on their heels and in the passing game, we wanted to keep Blaine clean. For the most part, we were able to do that,” Pamphile said.
For Watt, whose Texans dropped to 0-2, it was clear that the Titans' game plan frustrated him.
“They sat there and they quick-throwed it. They'd throw a quick throw out to the side. They'd have both of their running backs chip, they'd have a tight end chip, they three-step, they can the ball,” Watt said. “I don't know when you wanted pressure. I don't know when there was a seven-yard drop back pass that you felt like we didn't get enough pressure. “They knew they had their guys out, so they had a game plan put together that they didn't need to protect against a pass rush like ours.”
The Titans lost running back David Fluellen to a groin injury on a special teams play. The Titans had several players out going into the game, but Fluellen was the only addition in game.
Titans receiver Rishard Matthews, who had stayed in the locker room last season during the national anthem, stood on the sideline with his teammates for the Star Spangled Banner on Sunday