Mike Mularkey’s Offense is Not the Tennessee Titans’ Problem

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 10: Offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie and head coach Mike Mularkey of the Tennessee Titans look on prior to the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium on December 10, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 10: Offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie and head coach Mike Mularkey of the Tennessee Titans look on prior to the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium on December 10, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

Contrary to the belief of those who think he should be fired, Mike Mularkey’s offensive system is not necessarily a bad one.

A popular practice with fans of disappointing NFL teams is to call for the head of the head coach and, occasionally, the general manager. They do this because it is an easy way to vent their frustrations, and it’s often pretty lazy.

Within the last few days, fans of the Tennessee Titans have fallen victim to this idea. Two weeks ago, the Titans sat at 8-4 with a seemingly easy remaining schedule and a clear path to a divisional championship. Now, at 8-6, their path to the playoffs is a lot murkier.

Following two disappointing losses to the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers, the Titans would need a Christmas miracle to win the AFC South. They still have a decent chance at earning a wild card spot, but that would probably require defeating either the red-hot Los Angeles Rams or Jacksonville Jaguars.

As such, Titans fans have begun their “Fire Mike Mularkey” campaign. There have been t-shirts made and plenty of vile posts on social media. They’ve even created a GoFundMe page to raise money for billboard space just outside of Nissan Stadium.

Many of these fans are under the belief that Mularkey’s offensive system is archaic. They think that the Titans are employing a system built for the 1980’s in 2017. This idea, however, is very clearly not true.

Tennessee Titans
Tennessee Titans /

Tennessee Titans

As Joe Rexrode of The Tennessean told the Titan Sized Podcast last week, “I personally do not think that this is like a 1978 system that can’t work in the NFL. I don’t buy that. I just don’t.”

In actuality, Mularkey’s offensive system has been proven to work in the NFL. There’s a reason that he was a head coach for two stints before joining the Titans. In the same way that folks today speak of Josh McDaniels, Hue Jackson, and Kyle Shanahan as offensive geniuses, people used to speak about Mularkey.

Arguably the most successful season Mularkey’s offense ever saw was in 2011 with the Atlanta Falcons. His quarterback was Matt Ryan, his receivers were Roddy White and rookie Julio Jones, his tight end was Tony Gonzalez, and his running back was Michael Turner.

In that season, Ryan passed for over 4,000 yards, White amassed nearly 1,300 receiving yards on a whopping 180 targets, and Turner averaged 4.5 YPC on the way to 1,340 rushing yards.

The unit’s best collective game of that season came against the Jacksonville Jaguars, a one-sided contest that the Falcons won 44-14. When I went back to watch the film from that game, it immediately became very clear that Mike Mularkey had designed the offense. The scheme deployed by the Falcons in that game is eerily similar to what the Titans run.

The window-dressing, motions, awkward formations, tight passing game, end-arounds, and three tight end sets that Titans fans seem to hate were all present. Twice in the game, Julio Jones lined up at fullback. Only for the Falcons, it worked well.

Jones blew by defenders on crossing patterns, future Hall of Famer Gonzalez played the exact same role as Delanie Walker (and did it just as well), and White tormented the Jacksonville secondary.

There were a lot of two-man routes, particularly on play action, that Ryan was able to make plays with because of good protection. When things broke down, Ryan’s security blanket was (you guessed it!) WR Harry Douglas.

Turner was also very effective running the football in the same plays that DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry have been putrid with this season.

It is very evident that Mularkey’s offense can be extraordinarily effective, even dominant, when it is accompanied by the right personnel. Unfortunately for the Titans, the offensive coaching staff has been trying to put a lot of square pegs in round holes to make this happen.

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The Titans have clearly tried to build a roster that would play to the strengths of Mularkey’s system, but it just has not happened yet. Corey Davis was drafted to be the heir to Roddy White, Taywan Taylor to Harry Douglas, and DeMarco Murray is a very similar runner to Michael Turner.

However, due to the inexperience of Taylor and Davis, and the regression of Murray’s game, the team has been forced to heavily rely on the likes of Rishard Matthews, Eric Decker, and Derrick Henry. Henry, though a very talented running back, is not ideal for what Mularkey likes to run.

The Titans offense also lacks the element of speed that Jones brought to Mularkey’s offense in Atlanta.

Is it the fault of the coaching staff that they have not aptly adjusted the offense to fit the strengths of the players they have? Yes. Is Terry Robiskie the best available option to call plays on gameday? Probably not. Should Mike Mularkey be fired? Who knows.

If you’re a Titans fan and you want them to fire Mike Mularkey, have that opinion because of his stubbornness. His system, unlike what many seem to think, is a good one that actually can accomplish what it sets out to.

With another quality draft and free agency class from Jon Robinson, and another year for Davis and Taylor to learn the nuances of playing receiver in the NFL, the Titans could become extremely effective in Mularkey’s offense.