The Titans played better than anyone expected today. Below, I’ll discuss what that means for them going forward, but I want to start by acknowledging that they proved they won’t die quietly this season.
When it came down to it, the Titans simply left a few more plays on the field than the Rams did. Tennessee’s patchwork secondary and linebackers somewhat contained LA’s wide receivers, but had no answer for RB Todd Gurley when he caught the ball. Ben Jones, Quinton Spain and Josh Kline stepped up in a major way and prevented Aaron Donald from completely disrupting the Titans’ passing attack. Unfortunately, Tennessee’s last two offensive drives, which had the potential to win them the game, stalled out once they crossed midfield.
Here are some other thoughts on the Titans’ performance:
Playoff Scenarios Persist
Though the Titans lost the game, they ultimately didn’t lose ground in the playoff chase. Next week’s matchup against Jacksonville won’t decide the AFC South title, as was originally hoped, but it can decide whether or not the Titans make the postseason—if they win, they will. If that scenario plays out, and the Bengals beat the Ravens (in Baltimore), Tennessee would actually earn the #5 seed.
If the Titans lose next Sunday, they would need the results of two other games to work in their favor; both the Bills (at Miami) and the Chargers (vs. Oakland) would need to lose for the Titans to claim the second wild card (#6) seed.
Davis Finally Delivers
Corey Davis hauled in 6 of 9 targets for 91 yards, for an average of of 15.7 yards per reception. He showed off strong hands a couple of times, and looked more confident running after the catch. It was exciting to watch.
Marcus Mariota and Davis still need to work on the timing of fly routes, specifically, as Davis once again had a step against man coverage on one late in third quarter (if I remember correctly), but watched the ball sail over his head, out of reach.
If Davis’ performance was what we can come to expect from him next season and beyond, then the Titans’ fifth overall pick will have been spent well.
Clock Management Confounds
At midfield, with possession of the football, and only a few seconds remaining before the two-minute warning, Mike Mularkey curiously elected to use the Titans’ first second-half timeout. The subsequent “extra” play call was a deep shot to Corey Davis, which had a low probability of succeeding given the Rams’ coverage look. Mularkey’s decision combined with the outcome of the play saved the Titans only five seconds in a situation where time was not of significant concern. An additional timeout could have proved highly beneficial for Tennessee during the Rams’ final “drive”.
The Titans’ second to last drive also suffered due to poor situational management. After Corey Davis had been ruled in bounds on a sideline catch (for a first down), the Titans raced to get the next play off, because there was a chance the Rams would have challenged whether Davis gained control of the ball while still in bounds. Marcus Mariota hiked the ball and and quickly fired an off target pass to Eric Decker at the line of scrimmage. On second down, the Titans handed the ball off to DeMarco Murray on an inside zone run, gaining only a couple yards. All of a sudden, it was third and long. The Titans should have ran the inside zone play first, and then regrouped. Instead, they stalled a drive that looked to be gaining momentum.
Despite these two failures, I disagree with those who are placing blame for this loss entirely on the coaching staff. The Titans had a strong game plan and appeared well prepared—both direct results of coaching. Over the last two weeks, Mularkey and Terry Robiskie have been making positive adjustments to the offense. To be clear, I am not advocating for any particular outcome, but if this staff remains in place next season, they at least appear to be trending in a better direction with play calling.