The final play in the Tennessee Titans’ loss to the Arizona Cardinals was bizarre and showed a lack of trust in the team’s wide receivers.
In just about any aspect of life, sports included, there is a distinct difference in acting in boldness and acting in desperation.
It was boldness that led Martin Luther King, Jr. to deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech, and to David fighting Goliath in the famous Bible story. Conversely, it is desperation that causes a student to cheat on an important test or a witness to lie during a trial.
For the Tennessee Titans, their most memorable decision during Sunday’s loss to the Arizona Cardinals very clearly came not out of boldness, but out of desperation. Making a defensive player the primary target on the most crucial play of the game is not bold. Rather, it reeks of desperation.
To make things worse, head coach Mike Mularkey admitted after the game that the play had not even been practiced in the week leading up to the game. Adoree’ Jackson was simply put on the field and told what route to run. Instead of strategy, this decision was more of a last-ditch effort.
As you might expect, the play was a colossal failure. Jackson ran his slant short of the line to gain on fourth down, the pass was incomplete, and Arizona won the game. But this instance of, as some call it, “coaching malpractice” was far from the Titans offense’s only shortcoming of the game.
Just a week after pounding the Houston Texans for nearly 200 yards on the ground, the Titans running game was absolutely putrid against the Cardinals. They averaged just 3.0 yards per carry as a team, and DeMarco Murray led the way with a laughable 34 yards.
The Titans passing game also continued to struggle. Marcus Mariota barely completed 50% of his passes, threw two interceptions, and found only five unique receivers. His passer rating was a pitiful 39.6. TE Delanie Walker led the team with five catches for only 42 yards.
Because of these struggles, the Titans were unable to win despite another dominating performance from Dick LeBeau’s defense. At 8-5, they are a half game behind the Jacksonville Jaguars for the AFC South lead. Many fans have called for the metaphorical heads of Mularkey and offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie.
There is, however, something to be learned from that debacle of a play call that was born out of desperation. Regardless of your feelings about the Titans’ offensive coaching staff, you can know that they have very little trust in their receiving weapons.
All offseason, the talk around the Titans was that the key to making a leap to the “next level” would be improving the weapons available to Marcus Mariota in the passing game. The team seemingly did just that. They signed WR Eric Decker as a free agent and drafted WR Corey Davis, WR Taywan Taylor, and TE Jonnu Smith.
With improved weapons around him, Mariota has regressed at an alarming rate. Since being named AFC Offensive Player of the Month last November, his production has taken a head-first plunge down a snowy hill. His brutal 10:14 TD:INT ratio this season sticks out like a sore thumb.
After another three hours of being unable to create separation, albeit against a talented secondary that boasts names like Tyrann Mathieu and Patrick Peterson, the Titans coaching staff seemed to have had enough. On 4th and 10 with the game on the line, it was a rookie cornerback, not one of the “new and improved” receivers, who the play was designed for.
What does that mean? Mike Mularkey and/or Terry Robiskie had more faith in a rookie defensive player to gain ten yards on a slant than in Corey Davis to win a 50/50 pass, Delanie Walker to find open space, Rishard Matthews to stretch the field deep, or Eric Decker to win on a breaking route.
Mularkey and his staff have said since their first game that any issue with the Titans’ passing game has not been a result of scheme, but of receivers not being precise enough. In case you were wondering if that was just an excuse to avoid being looked at negatively by fans and the media, it is now evident that that isn’t the case.
The Titans’ offensive coaching staff very clearly do not think that their receiving core is very good, and they proved it on Sunday by backing up their words with an action, albeit a very odd one. Whether you agree with their analysis or not, you know it is real.