AFC WILDCARD: TITANS DISAPPOINTING OFFENSE – MARIOTA OR MULARKEY?
The Tennessee Titans are in the playoffs for the first time in nine long seasons. A drought this franchise would never dreamed of having during the days of Steve McNair and Eddie George. That duo is responsible for the best seasons of the Titans’ lifespan in Nashville, including a Super Bowl appearance in 1999. The Titans have a new duo now with quite a bit of promise in Heisman Trophy winners Marcus Mariota and Derrick Henry. While, the duo has shown flashes of brilliance, the Titans’ 9-7 record in 2017 shows that consistency is definitely lacking, and it’s time to figure out why. There’s no better time than the present in the AFC Wildcard Playoff at the Kansas City Chiefs.
While, Henry and the running game could be the key to surviving and advancing against Alex Smith and the equally inconsistent Kansas City Chiefs, Mariota is the man with more to prove…..for now anyway. Henry’s sharing of touches with DeMarco Murray, especially early in the season, explain why his numbers may be less than would be expected from him. What’s the explanation for Mariota’s disappointing numbers?
Nagging injuries have been a problem for Mariota over the last couple of seasons, but that just doesn’t seem to be the only problem.
The Titans’ offense is always more of a Ground ‘N’ Pound type of offense, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need big plays from time to time. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t need at least the threat of the deep pass from time to time. Big plays are sorely lacking from a team that clearly made an effort in the past few offseasons to make them happen. In 2016, it was about the offensive line, and of course Henry. In 2017, drafting one of the better receivers available in Corey Davis and the free agency signing of Eric Decker showed the Titans were serious about putting more points on the scoreboard and giving Mariota more weapons to get the ball to.
The results, however, weren’t very good this season. The Titans finished 23rd overall in passing yards, and Mariota threw more interceptions (15) than touchdowns (13).
Head coach Mike Mularkey, attributes most of Mariota’s problems on injuries. However, if you closer at this team, it’s easy to determine that this offense clearly lacks something. Mariota, who’s in his third season out of Oregon, is still learning how to play QB from the pocket. Something he didn’t do at all in Chip Kelly’s offense at Oregon. Rarely do you see the Titans offense use any of the elements of the Ducks’ offense that made them so successful. Why is that important? Because, those same elements of Chip Kelly’s offense is obviously what made Mariota so successful.
So many NFL teams make the mistake of forcing a young QB to adapt to them instead of the team adapting to the player. We’ve seen this same story play itself out in Nashville before. Remember, Vince Young and all the promise he had after leading Texas to a national championship in 2005? The Titans drafted him and the rest is history. Head coach Jeff Fisher, at the time, made it clear that he really didn’t want Young to run his Ground ‘N’ Pound style offense. He made it even more painfully clear when the Titans actually hit the field. That marriage ended mercifully, and neither Young or Fisher has been right since. Well, unless you count the fact that Fisher continued to coach and make huge paychecks when the NFL game had clearly passed him by. Of course, Young was afforded no such fortune.
Despite what Mularkey says, the same appears to be happening here. The offense just isn’t dynamic…..at all. The Titans’ 3-yards and a cloud of dust style on first and second down, then waiting for Mariota to bail them out on 3rd and long isn’t cutting it. A lot of the blame falls on Mularkey and offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie. Play-calling has been less than stellar to say the least. However, there is no excuse for Mariota throwing some of the careless INT’s he’s thrown this season. Especially, not in his third season as a pro. The Titans must find the right formula going forward to get Mularkey more comfortable with his QB, and the QB more comfortable with the offense. Marcus Mariota is easily one of the more dynamic players we’ve seen play college football in a quite some time. Now, he has to show that at the NFL level.