Treylon Burks, Chig Okonkwo proving to be key for Titans offense; AFC South analysis

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Titans wide receiver Treylon Burks embarrassed the Packers’ Jaire Alexander on Thursday Night Football.

With 2:04 left, holding a 27-17 lead and needing a first down to officially end the game, the Titans called a deep shot, an aggressive decision. It worked though. Ryan Tannehill hit Burks, who took it 51 yards.

It wasn’t so much about the explosive, soul-crushing game, but what the first-round rookie showed. Here was the Titans’ best pick, lined up against one of the best cornerbacks in football in Alexander, imposing his will. He stacked Alexander and picked up about 18 yards, with the 2020 Pro Bowler trying to drag him down, before he could be tackled at the 5-yard line.

Burks emerged from the floor and gave Alexander the “too small” gesture.

In his second game back from injured reserve, the former Arkansas star had his coming-out party: seven receptions on eight targets for 111 yards. Burks showed he could be the receiver Tennessee (7-3) needs to replace AJ Brown’s production.

He has the upside to transform the Titans offense, which has picked up momentum in the passing game over the past two weeks. A unit that was one-dimensional (a Derrick Henry run-first offense) and had a talent-starved wide receiver room is much more of a playoff threat with Burks.

“He’s a great player,” quarterback Ryan Tannehill said Tuesday. “He’s been great to work with. He’s easy to work with. He’s got talent, obviously. He’s got size. He’s got strength. Great hands. He judges the ball well. He can run. (He) has everything you’re looking for.”

Another emerging weapon for Tennessee in the passing game? Fellow Rookie Chig Okonkwo. The fourth-round tight end has had a reception of more than 30 yards in each of the last three games. He’s been a walking explosive play for the Titans in recent weeks.

Okonkwo showed off his receiving skills in training camp and the preseason, and it seems to be coming together for him now in the games that count.

The task of the Titans? Find a way to get him the ball more. He has just seven targets since Week 9.

“We’d like to, yes,” coach Mike Vrabel said last week of getting Okonkwo more involved. “Trying to keep finding ways to get him the football.”

Even with a strong offense, the Titans will need to be able to produce timely plays through the air to find success in the playoffs.

Burks and Okonkwo, two rookies, look like players who can make that happen.

Other reflections on AFC Sud:

Rodney McLeod Jr. Colts show alma mater love amid tragedy

If you picked up the footwear during Sunday’s Colts-Eagles game, you may have noticed Rodney McLeod’s unique cleats.

They were a tribute.

The Colts’ starting safety wore Virginia-inspired cleats to honor the victims of the UVA shooting earlier this month that left three football players dead and two others, including a fourth football player, injured. McLeod, an undrafted free agent in 2012, played his college ball at Virginia.

The left cleat, which is black, bore the last names and numbers of the slain players: Lavel Davis (No. 1), Devin Chandler (15) and D’Sean Perry (41). On the right stain, which is white, was a quote: “Those we love don’t go away, they walk by our side every day, unseen, unheard, still loved, but always near, still missed and dearly loved.”

“Rest in peace young kings,” McLeod tweeted before the game.

Virginia canceled its final two games of the season in the wake of the shooting.

McLeod is one of two Colts players who played for the Cavaliers, the other being rookie tight end Jelani Woods, who has not spoken publicly about the tragedy.

A positive about the jeansseason? They have the draft to look forward to

A poor season for the Texans (1-8-1) hit a new low in Sunday’s 23-10 loss to the Commanders.

Houston had just five net yards in the half, the fewest net yards in a half in franchise history, according to The Associated Press. The Texans finished with a season-low 148 yards.

Star rookie running back Dameon Pierce, the cog of their offense, was limited to eight yards on 10 carries. Quarterback Davis Mills, who has continued to show he’s not the long-term answer, threw two interceptions, including a pick-six on the team’s second play since the scrimmage. A strong Commanders defensive front had nine quarterback hits on Mills, including five sacks. Everything about Houston’s offense was terrible.

STIFLE Commanders Davis Mills, Texans in dominant victory

STIFLE Commanders Davis Mills, Texans in dominant victory

The Washington Commanders forced Davis Mills into two interceptions in the win over the Houston Texans. The Texans were held to just 148 yards in the loss.

Despite their record and struggles to finish, the Texans have been competitive through three quarters in much of their games. But on Sunday, they dominated from start to finish, especially in the trenches.

“Right now, as a football team, there’s not a lot we’re doing well,” coach Lovie Smith said after the game. “We’re not a good football team now.”

Essentially, the Texans’ hopes of becoming a bullpen in the 2023 draft, where the Texans will have two high first-round picks to change the franchise’s fortunes for the future. Houston is currently tied for the No. 1 and No. 8 overall picks. The Texans received the last pick in the blockbuster trade that sent Deshaun Watson to the Browns.

Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for for three seasons (2018-20) before moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.

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