The emergence of Eric Decker could be huge for the Titans offense.
Back in mid-June, the Tennessee Titans made some headlines during a time of the NFL calendar that is known for being the most boring. They signed free agent receiver Eric Decker, formerly an AFC Champion with the Denver Broncos, to a one-year, $3.8M contract. He had recently been released by the New York Jets in an effort to save cap room.
Nearly everyone around the Titans thought the signing was a good decision, and they had no reason to doubt it. Decker had 1,000 yard receiving seasons with two different teams, soft hands, and a history of being one of the NFL’s most reliable and consistent route runners. He was also fully healthy for the first time in over a year.
As Training Camp kicked off in August, the excitement surrounding Decker did nothing but increase. Decker was a star in 1-on-1 and two-minute drills. Most notably, he fought off Carolina Panthers CB Captain Munnerlyn to make an impressive catch in a joint practice with Carolina.
But when actual football started being played, Decker became invisible. An ankle injury forced him to miss the last two weeks of Training Camp, and he sat out the Titans’ final three preseason games.
When the regular season began, the receiver who looked in the early stages of camp that he was in for a big year suddenly looked old. Decker was stiff when he ran routes, lacked any element of explosiveness, and struggled to get open as a result.
His ineffectiveness in the Titans’ first five games of the season played a big part in the offense’s lack of success. He managed only 16 catches for 138 yards in those games, a measly average of 8.6 yards per catch.
However, on Monday Night Football against the Indianapolis Colts, Decker resembled the type of player he was with the Broncos. He again looked deceptively fast, smooth, and incredibly smart.
All night long, it seemed that Decker was open. He made his breaks with ease, working all over the field both in the slot and on the outside. As a result, he finished the game with seven catches for 88 yards, by far his best game as a Titan.
Decker’s success against Indianapolis is the main reason that QB Marcus Mariota was able to play well from inside the pocket. He made it easy for the usually mobile Mariota to stay put with an injured hamstring. It was similar to the way in which he aided QB Peyton Manning during his time with the Broncos.
The Titans drafted WR Corey Davis to be the eventual focal point of their passing game, and his combination of size and speed should allow him to do that early on in his career. But a key for Davis to have success when he returns from injury following the Titans’ Week 8 bye could be more consistency from Decker.
If Decker keeps up the success he had against the Colts and continues to give defenses fits with intermediate routes, it really could open up a lot for Davis upon his return. A continuance of Decker’s impressive Monday Night game would also open up more holes for DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry.
Without Decker, the Titans offense might have really struggled to put up points against the Colts. If he’s able to keep his foot on the gas while Mariota and Davis return to full health, he could help the Titans offense take the next step and become one of the scariest in the NFL.