Three New Year’s Resolutions for the Tennessee Titans
By Luke Worsham
The Tennessee Titans are in the playoffs, but there are some things they’ll need to clean up if they hope to advance past the first round.
With their exciting 15-10 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Tennessee Titans clinched their first playoff berth since 2008. On Saturday, they will travel to Arrowhead Stadium to take on the Kansas City Chiefs in the Wild Card round.
Though the Chiefs are sure to be heavily favored in the matchup, the Titans certainly have a chance to win and advance in the postseason. As we have all seen over the years, anything can happen in January. It’s why we sometimes call it “the second season.”
Each team has a clean slate once the playoffs start. Sure, seeding and home field advantage linger, but all bets are off when the Super Bowl is on the line.
If the Titans want to be competitive, however, there are some things they will need to clean up. Here are the three most important “New Year’s Resolutions” the Titans will likely be focusing on.
1. Run the football efficiently.
It has become clear over the course of the season that the Titans’ rushing attack isn’t anywhere near the elite status it achieved last year. Considering just how dominant the running game was in 2016, a drop-off or regression is understandable.
But what isn’t unacceptable is the fact that the Titans’ running game has been detrimental throughout the season. Whether you want to blame the play calling, the offensive line, or the backs, it’s been a rough season for the running game.
DeMarco Murray, a Pro Bowler last season, recorded stats on par with his dismal one-year stint with the Philadelphia Eagles. He amassed only 659 rushing yards with a 3.6 YPC average. Though Derrick Henry’s season-long average YPC was a respectable 4.2, he averaged less than 2.75 in six games.
Henry was disappointing in his first career start against the Jaguars, recording only 51 yards on 28 carries. He was tackled for a loss on seven of those carries.
The Titans don’t need their rushing attack to win games for them, but they need it to be serviceable. If the Titans hope to find any sort of offensive rhythm in January, they need to use their running game to convert short yardage situations, set up manageable third downs, and allow play action to be effective.
2. Generate consistent pressure.
Twice this season, the Titans defense tied the franchise record by recording eight sacks. In many other games, however, they failed to rack up QB takedowns.
The Titans defense, aside from Kevin Byard’s eight interceptions, has not had a very good statistical season against passing attacks. The yardage inflation is due, for the most part, to their elite run defense forcing teams to throw more than they would like to. As a result, the Titans face more passing attempts, and with that comes more yards.
By making teams one-dimensional, the Titans defense puts themselves in a very good position. To go along with that, they’ve shown that when they generate pressure, turnovers are created. What the mostly-stellar Titans defense has failed to do is generate pressure consistently.
Boasting a vastly improved secondary and two Pro Bowlers in their front seven, the Titans defense is one of the more talented units in the NFL. The few times in 2017 that they’ve been exposed have come as a result of a lack of pressure.
The AFC has some of the NFL’s most potent offenses and playmakers. In order to avoid being shredded by those teams and players, the Titans defense must make life miserable for opposing quarterbacks.
3. Play turnover-free football.
Just a year removed from playing at a Pro Bowl level, quarterback Marcus Mariota struggled mightily during the 2017 regular season. His 13:15 TD:INT ratio was a big reason why the Titans failed to have an even better season than they did.
If you are among the crowd who despises offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie’s play calling, you know that the Titans probably run too many two-man routes. When neither man has been open on those situations this season, Mariota has gotten antsy in the pocket.
He also has thrown some really bad interceptions off of his back foot, and he occasionally will fire a head-scratching ball right into the arms of a safety. At times, though, Mariota has shown that he still has the ability to carve up defenses and carry the Titans to victory.
The Titans don’t necessarily need Mariota to be a hero for playoff success, but they cannot afford to have him turning the ball over easily. When the competition level is high and the games are so close, interceptions at inopportune times can be devastating.
If Mariota can perform in the postseason the same way that he did in Week 17 against Jacksonville—a turnover-free game in which he ran for multiple crucial first downs and delivered the ball with accuracy—the Titans might just surprise some people this month.