Tennessee Titans Could Find an Answer to Offensive Woes in the Division
By Max Dambach
The Tennessee Titans have experienced a serious offensive regression in 2017, but Titans fans might not have to look far for a potential replacement in the coaching staff.
Throughout the entire 2017 NFL Regular Season, but especially over the last two weeks, the Tennessee Titans have not played like the sleeper playoff contenders many analysts pegged them as during the summer. The defense has improved with the additions of Adoree’ Jackson and Logan Ryan and the maturation of Kevin Byard to cement a secondary that routinely let down a strong front-seven last season and kept the team from reaching the playoffs. Defensive stalwarts like Jurrell Casey, Brian Orakpo, and Derrick Morgan have continued to excel in DC Dick Lebeau’s scheme, and Wesley Woodyard has elevated his play to an entirely new level this season.
This strong defensive play has Tennessee ranked at 13th overall on defense and third overall in run defense, which, as anyone could tell you based on Mike Mularkey’s first season as head coach, should be more than enough for the Titans’ high-powered “exotic smashmouth” offense to take over games with a roster that remained almost entirely intact, as well as a weak regular season schedule.
Unfortunately, the high-powered Titans offense of 2016 did not return to support its new and improved defense. Almost every aspect of the Titans offense has failed to meet expectations this season with the exception of RB Derrick Henry, who presents a different problem entirely. No. 5 overall selection Corey Davis missed the entirety of the offseason and half of the regular season, which has limited his impact since returning. The offensive line has not looked nearly as dominant this season outside of LT Taylor Lewan.
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Even the most proven playmakers on the Titans offense have struggled to make a large impact. Delanie Walker, Rishard Matthews, and Eric Decker, a trio that has combined for over 14,200 career yards, will not produce a single 1,000 yard receiver in 2017. RB DeMarco Murray seems to have lost the burst and decisiveness that propelled him to a 1,287 yard season last year. Perhaps, most alarmingly, one of the NFL’s most promising young quarterbacks in Marcus Mariota, after two seasons of above-average quarterback play, has experienced a significant drop-off in play as he struggles to generate yardage or avoid back-breaking turnovers.
Had just one or two of these facets of the offense taken this kind of step back, the blame would be placed squarely on those one or two facets of the offense rather than the coaching staff. We’ve seen regressions like this before amongst offensive players. The league is full of players who have had one great season, players that are past their prime, or players who experience down years, but rarely does an entire offense experience this kind of downturn over a single year, especially when the offense in question returns all of its key starters from the previous season.
In this kind of offensive slump, GM Jon Robinson must hold the Titans’ coaching staff accountable. There are many different perspectives floating around on what must be done to rectify the situation, from the camp that firmly believes Robinson should clean house and find an entirely new coaching staff, to those that believe Mularkey and OC Terry Robiskie, but not LeBeau, are to blame for this disappointing season, while yet another group believes that the only casualty this offseason should be Robiskie. Personally, I believe that the Titans should move forward with Mularkey and LeBeau, but not Robiskie.
LeBeau, as previously mentioned, has worked hard to improve an abysmal defense from years past to a solid if unspectacular level. Mularkey deserves credit for improving a Titans team that had hit rock bottom only two seasons ago into a fringe playoff contender, which affords him at least another year. His hard-nosed, physical brand of football also meshes well with Robinson’s vision for the team, which the locker room and the city of Nashville have both embraced.