The Titans found another way to lose Sunday, in a game that could have provided them immense leverage in the AFC wild card race. The offense, led by Marcus Mariota, was better, yet lingering bad habits continued. The defense displayed its familiar “bend don’t break” style, but were consequently punished by the goulden leg of Robbie Gould.
Here are some takeaways and musings:
Mariota Bounces Back (Mostly)
Mariota finished the day 23/33 (69.7%) passing with 2 TDs, 0 INTs, and a passer rating of 110.8. While the team’s list of offseason question marks continues to grow, I thought Mariota’s overall performance was good enough to silence any doubts about his viability as a franchise quarterback.
Unfortunately, however, his timing with Corey Davis remains relatively out of sync, apparent on a deep shot on the Titans’ final drive which could’ve propelled the team towards a touchdown instead of a field goal. On longer throws, it seems Marcus can’t quite get a bead on where Davis needs the ball to be placed to be able to make a play. We really have to hope that those two can get on the same page this offseason.
One minor event that stuck out to me in a major way occurred on the Titans’ first drive of the second half. On a first down with 14:04 remaining, the offense faked a WR screen to Eric Decker, hoping to get a nibble from the 49ers’ secondary, then tried to force single deep coverage on Davis down the right sideline by using Rishard Matthews as a decoy up the seam (Got all that?). Mariota, as if there was no other option, stared Davis down the entire way and fired the pass despite outstanding man coverage by CB Ahkello Witherspoon. Fortunately for us, K’Waun Williams, who was covering Matthews, saw Mariota locking on and made a break on the ball, resulting in (what looked like) a deflection—otherwise, it appeared Witherspoon would’ve had a shot at an interception. It reminded me of a solid handful of other plays throughout Mariota’s Titan tenure in which the defense sniffed out a route down the right sideline, which was supposed to “sneak” open. Whether it’s a result of insistent play design or a lack of vision on Mariota’s part, the offensive braintrust needs to figure out what’s going wrong with these calls (or stop using them); they aren’t fooling anyone.
LeBeau’s Blitzes Backfire
I wrote in my matchup preview earlier this week that I had hoped Dick LeBeau would opt to backoff his recent heavy blitz usage. The 49ers’ offense is clearly predicated on getting the ball out quickly, and Jimmy Garoppolo only enhances their ability to do so with his snap, compact release.
While there were times today that blitzing caused a sack (3 total) or incompletion, it mostly occurred in Titans’ territory, with our coverage benefitting from a more compact field. When the 49ers were at or behind midfield, extra rushers just made life easier for them. This was at its most apparent on their game-winning march (sprint?), when they reached field goal range less than twenty seconds after the Titans scored. We can only speculate, but I have to wonder whether we could’ve avoided one or two of Robbie Gould’s six field goals by simply dropping seven into coverage more often at the starts of their drives.
I also have to wonder why Mike Mularkey/Terry Robiskie decided to settle for three on the Titans’ last possession, knowing that we were doing a much better job preventing touchdowns than field goals. We gave up on a chance to play to our defense’s strengths by not trying harder to push the lead to five.
Walker’s Blunders Bemuse
Delanie Walker is my favorite current Titan (Mariota’s year has made that “decision” easier). He is the only dominant player on our roster, and he plays with a swagger and attitude I wish more members of our team had. I was genuinely sad to see him err significantly twice in front of his former home crowd. While he did play a large role in our comeback later in the game, those early gaffes set us squarely behind the eight ball.
I’ll never blame him for losses—he does too much for this offense—but this isn’t the first game this season in which Walker has been, in spurts, wildly up and down. The downside to having only one great player on offense is that when DW reveals that he is, in fact, human, we appear to suffer more harshly than more balanced teams. We must see an improvement in reliability and dynamism from other members of our “O” (perhaps we can exclude Rishard Matthews) going into next year, so that the team doesn’t need Delanie to do as much, and he doesn’t feel like he has to.