With the Jets getting set to take on the Titans this week, I was able to ask Joseph Yun of Music City Miracles a few questions on Tennessee’s resident football franchise.
1. The Titans look to have a talented secondary, featuring Adoree Jackson, Kevin Byard, and two former Patriots familiar to Jets fans in Logan Ryan and Malcom Butler, among others. While 6th in overall scoring defense, the Titans rank only 18th in opposing passer rating and 16th in net yards allowed per pass attempt. How would you summarize the strengths and weaknesses of the Tennessee secondary, and would you say their performance this year has been disappointing, pleasing, or somewhere in between?
I would say that the secondary has been average due to Butler being the weak link in the chain. He hasn’t lived up to the expectations of his massive contract and may have the team having a serious case of buyer’s remorse. Butler isn’t the only one at fault of course but he’s been repeatedly picked on by opposing quarterbacks.
The other secondary members have been playing above average in their roles. Adoree Jackson is continuing to ascend up the ranks as a key contributor and Logan Ryan has been solid as usual. Butler is currently in concussion protocol this week so who knows if he’s available. His likely replacement, LeShaun Sims is more than capable as he’s played well over the past couple of years when called upon.
As for the safeties, while Kevin Byard hasn’t snagged as many picks this year, he’s still an impact player. We all feared for the strong safety spot when Johnathan Cyprien went down early with an ACL but lo and behold, Kenny Vaccaro has stepped in beautifully even for a guy who was signed during training camp.
2. How has Marcus Mariota come along? While his efficiency has improved off of a down 2017, the Titans have relied on him to throw only about 24 passes per game, while joining the Seahawks as the only two teams in the league with more rushing attempts than passing attempts. Can Mariota be more than a game manager for the Titans, or is reality setting in that he may not be the difference maker the team thought they were getting with the second overall selection in 2015?
Mariota is a serviceable QB that can win you a couple of games on his own but hasn’t taken that next level leap of stardom quite yet. He’s been injured a bunch throughout his career and that has stunted his development a bit along with horrendous coaching staffs. This current regime is supposedly the most creative he’s had offensively under Matt LaFleur so Titans fans are very willing to give him some time to learn the system that has launched Jared Goff’s career into orbit along with keeping Matt Ryan a MVP caliber QB. The only problem is the cheap years of his rookie deal have ended so he will be an expensive throw of the dice next year.
3. Despite a seemingly talented offensive front, a running quarterback, and an impressive duo of backs in Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis, the Titans rank 30th in yards per rushing attempt at 3.9, with both Henry and Lewis checking in below 4.0. Has the Tennessee ground game really been *that* inefficient, or are the numbers telling the wrong story?
Like the saying goes, the numbers don’t lie. Opposing defenses can line up and know what’s coming for the most part outside of the intermittent Wild Henry packages. Derrick Henry is probably the most mystifying back in the league as no one should stop him in the backfield but yet he continues to act like a scat back and bounce outside.
Dion Lewis has been a killer out of the backfield (when used that way) but his elusiveness is a detriment when trying to make something out of nothing on the interior. The offensive line is talented in name only. The play calling on offense have been horrifyingly disgusting as the thought process was correct but the execution wasn’t.
4. How is the offensive line doing in pass protection? This is a unit that became one of the league’s most revered over the past couple of years. Is it still a stud group?
The OL has been beyond poor, ranking in the top five in QB hits, sacks, and the like. If the Jets want to get pressure, you can do it on the interior as it has been abysmal in anything and everything. Particularly the center and left guard spots as the personnel in those spots are woefully inadequate and have been repeatedly beaten right into Mariota’s lap.
The right tackle, Jack Conklin hasn’t been right since tearing his ACL in the divisional playoff game against the Patriots. He’s been poor as well.
5. What is the longterm state of the franchise? The Titans are still in the thick of the 2018 playoff race, sitting one game out of the final wild card spot with four of their final five games at home, three of them against losing teams, and another against one of the teams they are chasing, the Colts. However, this is a team that is now on track to finish with a mediocre record of somewhere from 7 to 9 wins for the third straight year. Is there any reason to believe the Titans could compete in this year’s playoffs should they make it in, and in the future, how are they to escape this purgatory of mediocrity?
The long term is muddy and opaque as Mariota’s future. While we are improved talent wise from the doldrums of the past 3-5 years, it still has a bit of retooling to do to truly compete with the best of the best. Frankly, reaching the playoffs would be a miracle at this point.
This current iteration is the most Jekyll and Hyde team we’ve seen in awhile. Capable of beating the juggernaut teams like the Eagles and Pats but losing to the lower tier teams like the Bills just as well. There is some faith that it can compete should a playoff game occur but it’s not looking good. Like they say, all you have to do is get in the dance to win it.
To escape the churn of mediocrity, the team has to seriously rebuild its offensive line and hope that Mariota can develop on a star career track even further. A receiver or two to complement Corey Davis would help as well.