Tennessee Titans Must Avoid Another Identity Crisis

NASHVILLE, TN- SEPTEMBER 10: Running back Demarco Murray
NASHVILLE, TN- SEPTEMBER 10: Running back Demarco Murray /

The Tennessee Titans must stick to what they’re good at early on.

In Mike Mularkey’s first year as the head coach of the Tennessee Titans, he made three things very clear.

First, that he demands a certain attitude and mentality from his players. He repeatedly preached ideals of toughness, physicality, coachability, and selflessness.

Secondly, that he is, to a certain degree, a fan of the little things. Mularkey is a big fan of quality special teams technique and he demands incredible precision from his receivers. With the Titans, he seemingly has found a perfect balance in his attention to detail after being labeled a drill sergeant during his tenures with the Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars.

Finally, Mularkey and his offensive staff are dedicated to a run-first approach on offense. The popular term “exotic smash-mouth” is one that he coined in an offseason press conference last year.

Thankfully, Mularkey’s commitment to running the football was not just in word, but in deed as well. In almost every game during his first year as head coach, the Titans made a point to run the ball early and often.

The approach, which many thought was old-fashioned and outdated, yielded one of the NFL’s most potent rushing attacks. DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry combined for 1,777 rushing yards, with the former earning a trip to the Pro Bowl. As a team, the Titans totaled the third-most rushing yards in the entire league.

Tennessee Titans
Tennessee Titans /

Tennessee Titans

As good as the Titans rushing attack was, however, their passing game was unable to benefit. More than anything, the lack of success resulted from a lack of attempts.

Despite having one of the more efficient passing games in the league, with an average yards per completion of 12.1 (seventh-best in the NFL), the Titans were near the bottom in terms of total yards, with only 3,541 (25th-best).

In an effort to improve these numbers, the Titans spent a good portion of the offseason trying trying to improve the weapons at the disposal of quarterback Marcus Mariota. The team added wide receiver Eric Decker in free agency. They also added WR Corey Davis, WR Taywan Taylor, and TE Jonnu Smith through the draft.

With the new weapons at the disposal of Mularkey and offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie, it makes sense for them to throw the ball more. They certainly did against the Oakland Raiders, as Mariota attempted 41 passes. His average per game last season was just over 31.

There is certainly nothing wrong with the Titans throwing the ball more in an attempt to get their shiny new passing game weapons involved. The problem comes when, in an effort to do so, they lose their run-first identity. That is exactly what happened for the Titans against Oakland.

The first play run by the Titans offense was a play-action pass that resulted in an incompletion. From that point forward, the offense was very pass-happy.

There was some success that came as a result of the increase in aerial attack, as Davis and Rishard Matthews both had quality games on the perimeter. However, the suffering that resulted from the approach far outweighed the benefits.

Because the Titans offense never committed to establishing a running attack against the Raiders, play-action was ineffective. Additionally, their refusal to run the ball in and near the red zone cost them numerous points on the scoreboard.

It might take some time for Mularkey and Robiskie to find the perfect way to establish a threatening passing attack while, at the same time, committing to a dominating run game.

Until they find that balance, their objective should be to keep their identity, even if it means limiting reps for Mariota’s new weapons.

(Full credit to Titans Tube for the use of the term “identity crisis” in regards to the Titans)