Coming into the season the Tennessee Titans were seen as one of the most talented teams in the NFL. The fact that the team has underachieved is the fault mostly of the coaching staff.
Disappointing Season Rests at Feet of Tennessee Titans Coaches
After a 2016 season with 26 touchdown passes, Marcus Mariota looked like a rising star. But this season, he has looked like anything but. He overthrows receivers consistently, fails to keep the chains moving and settles for field goals. Part of the blame can be placed on the sudden decline of DeMarco Murray, but that’s about all the blame that can be placed on the players.
Running, Receiving, and Play Calling Woes
The coaches have failed to use the talent on this roster. Coming into the season most people anticipated the “exotic smashmouth” to be potent once again. Instead, the rushing attack has slumped into the middle of the pack in the league. Part of it is due to the fact Murray has lost a step. He has never been the most consistent back, even back to his days playing for the Dallas Cowboys. His first two years he was up and down in addition to being somewhat injury prone. He broke the thousand yard barrier in 2013 before leading the league in rushing in 2014.
After a horrendous year for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2015 he rebounded during his first year in Tennessee. He’s currently 29, but this year he has looked like a 30 plus year old running back. He will pass the age of death for running backs this coming February, and fortunately for the Titans they can cut him this off-season without any cap penalties. There is no chance he will come back; at least not at his current salary.
Moreover, Derrick Henry has not been as effective as he could have been. He’s a big back with some speed but he’s not going to remind anyone of Chris Johnson. He needs to be used more between the tackles, not always try to get to the outside.
This season Henry has run for over 100 yards twice, and in both games it was largely because of a 70 plus yard run. He has averaged less than four yards a carry six times this year. While this may sound a bit counter-intuitive, he needs to be given the bulk of the carries in these last two games and in the playoffs (should the Titans get there). The Titans aren’t going anywhere hitching their wagon to Murray. Let the kid learn, but call plays that benefit his running style and that the line was made for–downhill, physical football.
It also goes without saying that Mariota is a crucial part of the running game. His average per carry has declined from the previous year each of the last two years, but he’s only running slightly less frequently than in 2016. Furthermore, with five touchdowns this season on the ground he has exceeded that of his first two seasons combined.
Adding to the miscues on personnel, the receivers brought in this off-season have barely been used. They were supposed to help Mariota take the next step but instead this season as seen him take a step backwards. He has thrown 12 touchdowns but is near the top of the league with 14 interceptions.
The passing game looks like it did last season with Delanie Walker and Rishard Matthews leading the way by a mile. They each have over 700 yards while Decker is third with a mere 472. Part of the problem has been the absence of Corey Davis, who has missed five games and thus only has 28 catches for 284 yards. That is not an indictment of Walker or Matthews in any way; but it represents a failure to diversify the offense.
The coaching staff is still calling plays like it is last season. As if they are just going to trot out Murray and have him dominate. That has not been the case this season. If you bring in all these extra weapons, use them. There’s no excuse not to. Davis’ best game was the opener against the Oakland Raiders in which he caught six passes for 69 yards. A top five pick used that little? Absolutely unacceptable. Eric Decker has been fine–he was brought in to help keep the chains moving and has produced 26 first downs this season on his 45 receptions.
The most egregious omission has been Taywan Taylor. The third round pick from Western Kentucky has blazing speed. Yet he has only managed to get 26 targets on the year, with 16 catches. He’s second on the team with over 14 yards per catch (trailing only Matthews) so not using him to stretch defenses is baffling and poor planning by offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie and head coach Mike Mularkey.
There is no doubt change needs to happen this off-season. Teams have caught up with the 2016 offense and the coaches have not adjusted at all. While there are many calling for Robiskie to be fired, firing him may not solve the problem if they retain Mularkey.
Mularkey has actually done a respectable job overall since taking over on a full time basis (17-13). However, the eight wins from this campaign have not been over competition that would scare anyone. A lot of fans were incredibly skeptical of the hire after seeing what he did for the Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars over three seasons of leading teams there. Many backed off after last season exceeded expectations, but this year has restored those doubts. It would be tough to fire a coach after getting to the playoffs for the first time since 2008 should the Titans make it, but it might be necessary for this team to take the next step. If they don’t make the playoffs, both are as good as gone.