Marcus Mariota, Titans looking to regain early-season momentum

The Titans need a big second half of the season from Marcus Mariota to make the playoffs. AP Photo/Adrian Kraus

The Tennessee Titans finished the first half of the season with a 4-4 record. Here's a look at how they have fared and what's ahead:

First-half rewind: Despite suffering nerve damage in his throwing hand in the season opener, quarterback Marcus Mariota showed glimpses of how well he can play in coordinator Matt LaFleur's offense -- especially when Tennessee broke loose for 28 points against Dallas in Week 9. However, before that game, the offense really struggled to find the end zone. Losing tight end Delanie Walker was a major blow to the passing game, but the Titans are still in contention, thanks to a defense that manages to always keep them in games. Grade: Average

What has to happen for the Titans to make the playoffs? Thanks to a pass from safety Kevin Byard on a fake punt, fellow safety Dane Cruikshank is tied for the team lead with one receiving touchdown. But Tennessee's receivers have only contributed two 100-yard receiving games. For the Titans to make the playoffs, the offense -- especially the wideouts -- must produce more explosive plays. It's also important to get running back Derrick Henry on track. And the defense must avoid yielding quick-strike touchdowns that demoralize the team's confidence.

MVP: Mariota said he is fully recovered from his Week 1 injury. As he continues to build chemistry with the receivers and gets more comfortable in the offense, the passing game will improve. He has made an effort to take games over with his legs, which has resulted in some key first downs in third-and-long situations. Look for the Titans to amp up running game, which should open things up for Mariota and the passing game.

Biggest surprise: Henry seemed to be an excellent fit in the zone rushing scheme. For whatever reason, he seems timid on the field and isn't lowering the boom on defenders. He is averaging 3.3 yards per carry and has scored two rushing touchdowns.

Hurdle to overcome: The lack of playmakers on offense has been an issue. LaFleur has to scheme up more ways to get the pass-catchers open and in situations that allow them to make plays. Opposing defenses are not afraid to stack the box and condense the field against the Titans, because they don't respect the vertical passing game.