Titans’ protection of Mariota faces test from Watt, Titans

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Marcus Mariota knows he needs to do a little something in appreciation of his offensive line after not allowing a single hit on the Tennessee quarterback in the Titans’ previous game.

Not one sack, not one hit when Mariota was passing.

”Man, I’ve got to find something for sure,” Mariota said Wednesday. ”Those guys have done an unbelievable job, and hopefully we’ll continue to do that throughout the year.”

The pristine quarterback protection came along with the Titans blocking for 195 yards rushing in last week’s 33-27 win over the Seattle Seahawks .

And it wasn’t a one-week blip either. The Titans (2-1) are tied for first in the NFL having allowed only two sacks through the first three games, and they also have the league’s second-best rushing attack behind only Kansas City.

Now they are facing their next test Sunday in a visit to Houston against J.J. Watt and the Texans (1-2). Watt has harassed Tennessee quarterbacks over the years with the three-time AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year, piling up 15+ sacks over 10 games against the Titans.

The Texans had so many sacks in November 2015 that Tennessee fired coach Ken Whisenhunt two days later .

That was left tackle Taylor Lewan’s second season in the NFL, and he reached his first Pro Bowl last season. His counterpart is Jack Conklin, the former Michigan State walk-on who became an All Pro as a rookie in 2016. Watt says both tackles have had very successful years and careers so far.

”It’s a good challenge,” Watt said on a conference call. ”They’re both very good players. You look forward to matchups like that, you look forward to guys who are having success, who are going to give you a challenge, who are going to be difficult to play against. So, I look forward to it. I’m really excited about it.”

Offensive line had been a revolving door for Tennessee because of injuries or poor play for a handful of years. The Titans used their top draft pick on offensive linemen for three of four years with Conklin the final piece at No. 8 overall last year . They also lured Ben Jones away from Houston as a free agent in March 2016 to anchor the line.

Together, the line ranked seventh in giving up just 28 sacks last season for their lowest total since 2011. The Titans also ranked third in the league in averaging 139.8 yards rushing per game. Since the start of last season, only Oakland (24) and Pittsburgh (27) have allowed fewer sacks than Tennessee (30).

Houston coach Bill O’Brien says the Titans have one of the better offensive lines the Texans will face this season.

”They’ve got first-round draft picks, they’ve got Ben Jones in the middle – we’re all real familiar with how good he is, how tough Ben is,” O’Brien said. ”I just think they’re one of the better offensive lines. I think they’re physical, they’re big, they can pull, they’re athletic. They communicate well together, they’ve played together now for a little while, most of them, and they’re very good.”

Watt still is looking for his first sack this season, and Mariota says he knows Watt will be motivated.

”But I trust our guys up front,” Mariota said. ”I believe in what they’re doing and I think it’s going to be a great challenge.”

NOTES: Titans coach Mike Mularkey said WR Corey Davis (hamstring) and S Johnathan Cyprien (hamstring) will not play Sunday. This will be the second straight game missed for Davis. TE Delanie Walker (hamstring) and LB Erik Walden (groin) did not practice, and Mularkey said they’re day to day.

For more NFL coverage: http://www.Hometeaminsider.com and . .

Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

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