The 2018 season
Head coach: Mike Vrabel
Offensive coordinator: Matt LaFleur
Team record: 9-7
Total games missed: 2
Playoff appearance: No
Marcus Mariota passing stats: 2,528 YDS, 11 TD, 8 INT, 68.9 CMP%
Pinched ulnar nerve
Complete tear of plantar fascia
Sprained AC shoulder joint
In 2018, The Titans began a new era after blowing the coaching staff up following the divisional round loss to the New England Patriots in 2017. The Titans hired former Texans defensive coordinator, Mike Vrabel, to help the team take that next step that they clearly felt Mularkey couldn’t accomplish.
The team hired former Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator, Matt LaFleur, to help bring the Titans to a more modern offense than they had previously ran under Robiskie.
The offense as a whole was never allowed to fully gel, as they were constantly forced to make adjustments to their lineups and scheme from the very first week of the season. By the time the season ended, the Titans had lost 10 of their original 22 starters from training camp.
Marcus Mariota had the injury bug the worst. Mariota was consistently on the injury report for a variety of reasons (injuries listed above).
The ulnar nerve injury he suffered Week 1 to his throwing hand caused numbness in two to three of his fingers. He was forced to play five games with a custom glove just so he would be able to properly grip the ball.
Even with all these lingering injuries, Mariota put on some eye-opening performances throughout the year (vs. Eagles, Cowboys, Patriots, Texans, Jets), yet he was once again less than stellar overall statistically.
His numbers were severely hampered by the Week 1 nerve injury. During the five-game span in which Mariota was forced to wear the custom glove to help him grip the ball, Mariota only threw for three touchdowns, and he totaled less than 130 yards in three of those five games. The team went 2-3 during that stretch, and came in at a less than ideal 3-4 prior to their Week 8 bye.
It was starting to seem like Mariota was on track for his first losing season since 2015. However, following the bye week, Mariota ditched the glove and did something he hadn’t done since 2016: he began to look like Marcus Mariota again.
Mariota put two consecutive dominating performances together against two eventual playoff teams in the Cowboys and the Patriots in weeks nine and 10. Mariota was starting to look completely healthy again, a sight that Titans fans hadn’t seen since 2016.
Then he suffered a neck stinger and a cracked vertebra in the Week 11 game against the Indianapolis Colts. This injury eventually regressed to the point where numerous team and spinal doctors advised him to end his season prior to the Week 17 play-in game with the Colts.
This injury would prove to be devastating as the weeks would pass, but that did not stop Mariota from having a near-perfect game against the Texans the very next week. Mariota dropped 303 passing yards and 2 touchdowns on 22-of-23 passes (95.7%).
Mariota would then help the Titans win 5 of their last 6 games, which included a last-minute game winner to Davis against the Jets. As his Spine injury began to progressively get worse, his numbers began to regress as well.
In his final three games, he threw for less than 175 yards in each game. The season may have ended on a low note, but that stretch where Mariota was finally healthy again should give all Titans fans hope that their franchise quarterback is still in there.
Another bright spot to consider for 2019 is that Mariota finally had some help out wide in 2018. Davis finally started to emerge as a legitimate No. 1 option and his numbers spoke more about the inconsistent QB play than they did his own. Davis dominated when he was given an adequate amount of targets.
Davis put up a respectable 891 yards and four touchdowns on 64 catches. Keep in mind he played five games with a quarterback that couldn’t feel half of his throwing hand, and another four games with Blaine Gabbert at quarterback for at least half the game.
Unfortunately for Mariota and the Titans, Davis was essentially the only consistent passing option for the the team in 2018 after Walker broke his leg Week 1 against the Dolphins. Aside from Davis, no other pass-catcher accumulated more than 470 yards during the 2018 season.
If the Titans are going to take that next step offensively, they are definitely going to need more production in the passing game.
The ground attack, led by Henry, finished seventh in the NFL. The offensive line got back to the punishing run blocking ways that made them dominant in 2016, however they were unable to improve the pass protection.
In fact, Mariota’s 42 sacks in 2018 are the most of his entire career for a single season. The offensive line needs to cut that sack total in half if they want to legitimately contend in 2019.
The strength of the 2018 Titans was undoubtedly the defense. The Titans hired former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator, Dean Pees, to take over. His impact was felt immediately. The Titans defense finished in the top 10 in total defense and passing defense, while finishing top 3 in scoring defense after allowing an impressive 18.9 PPG.
If this Titans team can carry over the success they had defensively and in the run game, while also getting a full healthy season of Mariota, this Titans team can be dangerous.