Three Takeaways: Tennessee Titans beat Cowboys in Dallas

ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 05: The Tennessee Titans celebrate a fourth quarter touchdown by Marcus Mariota #8 against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on November 5, 2018 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 05: The Tennessee Titans celebrate a fourth quarter touchdown by Marcus Mariota #8 against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on November 5, 2018 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

The Tennessee Titans overcame a slow start to trounce the Dallas Cowboys in a crucial road victory on Monday Night Football.

Not many analysts gave the Tennessee Titans a chance of going into Jerry World and taking down the 3-4 Dallas Cowboys. Turnovers on the first two offensive possessions of the game cast a bad omen for the Two-Tone Blue, but a Kevin Byard end zone interception swung the game in the Titans favor and Tennessee controlled the game from thereon out.

Matt LaFleur called a fantastic game

Through the first seven games of the season, the Titans offense was one of the worst units in the league. A matchup against the league’s third-best defense on the road wasn’t supposed to exactly be a remedy, but it turned out to be LaFleur’s breakthrough. Fumbles on the first two possessions of the game for the Titans caused panic, as it seemed the offense was still stuck in the mud, like it had been in the first half of the year. But the offense caught fire and much of that was due to LaFleur’s game plan and play calling.

Over the final seven drives (excluding the one-play drive at the end of the first half), the Titans punted just once, scored four touchdowns, missed a field goal after a 14-play, 66-yard drive, and iced the game with under two minutes left. LaFleur’s plan called for plenty of misdirection, read-option looks, effective play-action and a commitment to Dion Lewis as the Titans’ lead back. All of that combined had the Titans in rhythm on offense for the entire game. Coming out of the bye week, LaFleur seems to have a much better feel for his own offense, and the Titans’ players do, too.

Marcus Mariota is the Titans’ franchise QB

Piggybacking on the points about the offense, Mariota was one of the main beneficiaries of a well-executed plan. He was also the main reason the plan worked so well. Mariota was crisp with his throws, moved within the pocket or outside of it when faced with pressure and used his legs as a trump card against one of the best defenses in the league. Mariota completed 21-of-29 passes for 240 yards (a stellar 8.3 y/a average) and two touchdowns. He added 32 yards and a touchdown on the ground.

Mariota finally looked fully healthy, and it showed on a brilliant seam throw to Darius Jennings. He was also more willing to throw the ball in tight windows and as soon as his receivers came out of their breaks, which shows that he is developing more confidence in his pass-catchers. A performance like this shouldn’t overshadow the poor performances Mariota has had in the past, but it does highlight what he’s capable of bringing to an offense when his supporting cast just does its job.

Malcolm Butler can’t keep starting

A big win like the one on Monday night usually shouldn’t be met with a negative, but the Titans have a serious problem on their hands at cornerback. Butler has been arguably the worst cornerback in the league in 2018, and he was genuinely embarrassed on Monday night. Amari Cooper was working him with breaking routes and Allen Hurns set him up and dusted him with a sluggo route. GM Jon Robinson gave Butler a massive contract in the offseason despite New England Patriots HC Bill Belichick benching the cornerback in the Super Bowl and willingly letting him go in free agency. Robinson has made a fair share of shrewd moves throughout his time in Tennessee, but the Butler signing is looking like a colossal failure.

There were clear signs that Butler wasn’t going to be able to replicate his New England form as he entered his age-28 season. Robinson ignored them and brought along yet another Patriot, and the entire defense is feeling the effects. Butler has given up seven touchdowns, while allowing 39 catches and 618 yards into his coverage, as well as a 141.8 passer rating when targeted. The rest of the Titans defense has given up four receiving touchdowns and three rushing touchdowns. So Butler is responsible for exactly half of the touchdowns the Titans have given up this season. It’s past time for the Titans to give LeShaun Sims a shot in Butler’s place; he can’t possibly be worse.