As you all probably have not noticed, I haven't been posting as much. There isn't much of a story here beyond the fact that life is busier now. Of course, it's not too busy to watch football. After all, that's not really a life worth living, now is it? But, I just haven't had the time to lay out my thoughts into anything resembling a coherent thought. Now, don't get your hopes up. As there likely isn't any coherency coming in this post anyways, but I can at least share some random musings I've had recently.
The Loss of Chance Warmack May End Up Being An Addition By Subtraction
Chance has not played well this year. Really, a few short spans aside, his tenure here in Tennessee has left a lot to be desired. For most fans, what you're looking for out of an interior lineman is basically to never hear their name. Which, for the most part this season, has been the case for Spain and Jones.
(Note. New formatting with the GIFs. You can play and rewind these, which allows for better study. Also, you can click on the image to start and stop it.)
Here's a clip of Warmack from the Titans first drive against the Lions. It's 2nd and 3. Originally, from the broadcast view, I thought this was a blown trap play. From the endzone view, I'm not sure it is. Based on this view, it seems clear that Warmack just gets beat. The defender crosses his face as Warmack is looking to block him down inside. I wouldn't call this a drive killer, as the Titans had 3rd and manageable on the following play. However, Mularkey's offense is built around sustaining drives, and making the "lay ups", so to speak.
Later, in the 2nd quarter, the Titans are putting together a nice drive. They face 3rd and 10 from the DET 26. Warmack gets absolutely whipped on this play. It's a mental error.
Titans are using a pretty standard half slide protection. Lewan, Spain, and Jones will use zone rules to block here. They will basically pick up defenders as they arrive. Murray, Conklin, and Warmack are using BOB rules. BOB stands for back on backer, or big on big. It's exactly what it sounds like. The big linemen block the big linemen, and the back blocks the linebacker. These rules help account for the extra 5th rusher.
Murray clearly understands the protection here, as he's ready to block the LB from the get go. Warmack, can't decide who he wants to block, and in the process lets both rushers by him. Conklin is left to block both the end and the 3 tech. The result is a drive killer, and a loss of points as the Titans are forced to punt.
It remains to be seen who the starter will be now that Warmack is out, but I don't expect much of a drop off. If anything, this could end up being a net positive for the team.
Field Position Matters
The Titans currently rank 31st in average drive starting position in the NFL (per FO). That's brutal, and it warps the perception of the good things happening on offense. Asking an offense to go 80 yards for points every drive is not sustainable. The team would be wise to institute a rule that eliminates any ambiguity on kick off returns - if you catch the ball in the endzone, kneel it.
Kevin Dodd Looks Like a Monster
In pass rush situations, Dodd showed power all game. He dismisses Reiff as if he's a middle schooler - throwing him aside with one hand.
And, here Dodd quickly steps down and shoots the C gap to stop the running play in the backfield. Teams will quickly learn that putting just a TE on Dodd presents a problem.
Last year, the defense really started to crater after Morgan went down. Given Morgan's longstanding injury issues, this should allow the team to rotate both players and keep them fresh. I can't recall the last time that we've been two deep at an edge rushing position.
Mike Mularkey Isn't Who You Thought He Was
Well, I don't know who you thought he was, but he definitely isn't running a plodding version of a 1980's offense. Shortly after his hiring, the term "exotic smashmouth" took on a life of it's own. Seemingly league wide the offense was mocked. And, interestingly, it became accepted as fact that the Titans would be running an archaic offense without any consideration given to past offenses he'd actually run. Of course, Mularkey didn't help things with his continuing rhetoric about wanting to be physical and run the ball (which, I'd point out is not mutually exclusive from a "modern offense".) Nonetheless, what the Titans have actually put on the field resembles what Mularkey has run in past spots - a balanced offense that likes to run downhill on early downs, and spread the field on later downs.
A handful of statistics:
- The Titans are passing the ball on 63% of offensive plays. That's 11th in the league.
- But, Superhorn, this is because the Titans have played from behind. Nope. 35 of the 74 passes have come in the first half.
- Also, the Titans are running the majority of their plays from the shotgun (57%). 41 of the Titans 72 shotgun plays have come in the first half.
- Titans are 9th in rushing yards per attempt at 4.4 YPC.
- Titans are 6th in red zone scoring percentage.
- Titans pass on first down 36% of the time (11th in league).
- Titans lead the league in 4th quarter passing touchdowns with 3.
Marcus Mariota is Hope Incarnate
First play of the 4Q. Seam ball to Delanie. Marcus, as he's done so well his entire career, holds the safety with his eyes and then rips the seam ball. Here's an endzone shot for good measure.
If you follow me on Twitter, post-Minnesota interception I've been critical of Mariota. Perhaps critical is the wrong word, but I've thought he looked different. Timid. While this is true, it's definitely less pronounced than I originally thought. It's clear, however, that he's taking into serious consideration the importance of not turning the ball over. And, I think that's a good thing. For all the positives with Mariota, he can get careless with the football when he turns into a runner, or when he's extending a play. There's no play more evident of this than the INT against Minnesota. Douglas looked open, but the risk was so far out weighed by the reward that he needed to just eat the play.
He's learning, though. And, not just in those tendencies, but it's abundantly clear that Mariota has total control of the offense. Not only does he understand everyone's assignments, but he's also earned the trust of his coach. Mularkey has allowed Mariota to go no huddle, and put his foot on the gas as a change up for the offense.
By the time the 4th quarter rolled around, Mariota was dealing. Even on the drive that ended in a punt, Mariota put the 3rd down ball right where it needed to be, but Tajae Sharpe dropped it. On the final drive against DET, Marcus was a perfect 9/9 for 74 yards and a TD.
Mularkey had this to say about Mariota after the game:
"All I know, ballsy. It didn’t surprise me, the throw. The guy is a gamer. He’ll give us a chance every game we play in. "
This would also be a good time to point out that Mariota's 4th quarter QB rating this year is 131.8.
Now, the hope is that we no longer need late game heroics. And, the opportunity is there. This team just needs to seize it.
A handful of loose ends that I didn't cover:
- This defense has been solid. They've given up one touchdown in 8 quarters. That leads the league alongside Seattle.
- The release of McCluster makes total sense now. There's no need for a change up. Demarco Murray has been a rock star in the passing game, including this clinic he put on against the Detroit backup linebacker.
- Oakland is a total disaster on defense. They're giving up 34.5 points per game (31st in the NFL), 4 TDs to opposing offenses per game (last in NFL), 517 yards per game (last in NFL...next closest team is 451 yards), 8.0 yards per play (last in NFL), and 10.6 yards per passing attemps (last in the NFL).
- I believe this team will continue to evolve, and Mariota will continue to be given more and more control as the season goes on.
All over the place with this post, so, thanks for bearing with me. I'm excited about this team. Defense looks solid, and I think the O will only continue to get better. Independent of all of this, the Titans found a way to win despite a two score deficit in the 4th quarter against the Lions. I think many of the past squads would have rolled over, but this team found a way to win. While it would be wise to not make 4th quarter comebacks a pre req for wins, having a player like Mariota sets the tone for the entire team. If you can give him a fighting chance, a win is always possible.