I have been slow to jump on the “Fire Mularkey” bandwagon. He has done a lot of good things for this franchise. Mularkey changed the culture in the locker room from one that just accepted losing to one that gets “pissed off” when they lose. That sounds like a really simple thing, but it wasn’t here. The losing mentality had been around for a decade and was pretty entrenched.
Mularkey has also posted a pretty good record. Winning games in the NFL is hard, and Mularkey will have won more than he lost, regardless of how this season ends, as the official head coach of the team. Again, that sounds like a really low bar, but we are talking about a franchise that only finished above .500 three times in the 12 seasons before Mularkey took over. There is something to be said for stabilizing the team.
HOWEVA, Mularkey is never going to lead this team to anything more than a 10-win season. His style of offensive football just isn’t set up that way. We are constantly talking about one play here or there that would have changed the outcome if it had gone a different way. You know who isn’t talking about that? The Jacksonville Jaguars. They are out here beating teams brains in without their top 2 receivers out and Blake freaking Bortles at quarterback.
Now I know you are saying, “But Jacksonville’s defense is really good..” There is no doubt about that, but go look at the numbers that Bortles is posting. He has thrown for over 250 yards 6 times this season, and that is with a defense that is constantly scoring or setting up short fields for the offense. Marcus has done it just 4 times this season without that. Bortles has 19 touchdowns on the year. Mariota has just 12.
Every week you have millions of people* on Titans Twitter talking about how Terry Robiskie should be fired. Well you know who hired him? Mike Mularkey. Do you know who’s offense Robiskie is running? Mike Mularkey’s. You know who is going to hire another coordinator to run the same offense if Robiskie is fired in the offseason? That’s right, Mike Mularkey.
And 2017 is the year of quarterbacks moving from terrible offensive schemes to good offensive schemes and flourishing. Last year everyone though Jared Goff was a bust. The Rams fired Jeff Fisher, hired Sean McVay, and now Goff looks like he has a real shot to be a franchise quarterback.
Case Keenum was also left for dead after spending last year in Fisher’s Mularkey-esque offense (and I am making that comparison by offensive philosophy not necessarily actual play calls). He moves to Minnesota and sets the world on fire.
The same can be said about the career of Nick Foles, who threw 4 touchdowns in his first start for the Eagles yesterday. We have spent the whole season making excuses for this offense because they didn’t get time together in training camp, or they have a bunch of new pass catchers, but Foles comes in and throws 4 TDs in his first game as the starter (And wins me money on FanDuel. Thanks, Nick.).
Some of the struggles Marcus Mariota has had this season are absolutely on him. That is impossible to argue, but it is also stupid not to not acknowledge how much more comfortable he looked yesterday when they went to a more up-temp approach to the offense. He stood in the pocket, went through his reads, and ripped off a bunch of big time throws. That begs the question, “Why won’t they do that more?”
Well the answer is because that isn’t Mularkey’s style of offense. He would rather let the game stay close for 3 1⁄2 quarters and pray for a Derrick Henry 75-yard run in the 4th quarter. That isn’t how the game is played anymore, but Mularkey just isn’t going to do anything different. Ever.
And back to Mularley’s record for just a minute, what do you think his record is this season if they face Andrew Luck twice instead of Jacoby Brissett? What if they face DeShaun Watson again in the second Texans game instead of Tom Savage? Of course we can’t say for sure, but my guess is they would have already been eliminated from playoff contention.
Mularkey has done a really good job of changing the culture in the locker room, but his ceiling is a 10 wins, and that only happens if every single thing breaks right for this team in pretty much every single game. How often is that going to happen? Honestly, this season is probably the most that is going to happen ever when you take into account health of his team and the injuries to other teams, and it is going to take a miracle to get to 10 wins this year.
When the season is over, it will be time for Jon Robinson to thank Mike Mularkey for the service he has done here and move on to a new coach who will come in and give us an offense from this century, an offense that plays to the strengths of it’s franchise quarterback and an offense that actually has a chance to bring a Lombardi Trophy to Nashville.