It wasn’t all that long ago that the Titans were mocked for bringing in the twice failed Mike Mularkey to lead their stagnant franchise. Things only got worse when then 61 year old Terry Robiskie was hired to coordinate the offense. The exotic smashmouth jokes flew, but not for long.
The most unlikely pairing — Mularkey, Robiskie, a brand new offensive line, a written-off DeMarco Murray and Marcus Mariota — had created an offense that worked. It not only worked, it was one of the better ones in the league.
They were doing things differently than the rest of the league, utilizing fullbacks, multiple tight end sets and backup tackles. The NFL zigged and they zagged. There were some bumps in the road, but by the middle of the season they had hit their stride.
The good coaches match their scheme to their roster, which is exactly what happened last season. Which brings me to this — I think the Titans offense will look significantly different in 2017.
Why, you ask? Nothing changed at the top. The head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterback remain in place, but the personnel moves on the perimeter would suggest we may see something different this season.
First and foremost, Anthony Fasano is gone. He’s a Miami Dolphin. The average fan doesn’t care about this loss, but anyone that pays attention knows just how much Fasano was used in the power rushing attack last season. He was labelled the backup tight end, but he was a staple of the Titans run game. How will they replace Fasano?
Phillip Supernaw is certainly an option. He played behind Fasano last year and and special teams, but is he really ready to take on such a big role? I would be surprised if he was. Jonnu Smith was a day two selection for Jon Robinson, but again — I’d be surprised if the Titans just tossed him into such a large role with all this responsibility.
That leads me to my next point. Look at what the Titans have added at receiver. Corey Davis, Taywan Taylor and Eric Decker are now in the fold, joining Rishard Matthews and Tajae Sharpe. Now instead of Harry Douglas, Kendall Wright or even Andre Johnson, the Titans offer Davis, Taylor and Decker. That’s a significant upgrade. Those guys aren’t going to ride the bench.
Connect these dots here. The Titans suddenly have mouths to feed. The Titans suddenly are inexperienced at tight end outside of Delanie Walker.
What does that mean?
I think that means a significant uptick in three and four receiver sets. The Titans could be in for an offensive scheme change, but I believe the premise of the unit will be the same. Terry Robiskie now has all of these receiver to use, but he still has on of the best running games in the NFL.
How do you marry the two together? You spread ‘em out and run up between the tackles. Everyone knows what is coming when you play Tennessee — you’re going to get a steady diet of DeMarco Murray, then Marcus Mariota is going to hit you with the pass when you don’t expect it. That was the formula that created so many big plays out of heavy sets last season.
In 2017, that could differ. Mariota is one of the most decisive, surgical quarterbacks in the league today. His ability to work a defense over with his eyes is special. His ability to read the entire field is special. Why not put it to use?
Spreading the field with four wide does a couple of things. It puts stress on the defense to cover each man — especially with a guy like Mariota under center. It also clears out the box and leaves the defense vulnerable to the run. You can’t rule out some read option or RPO looks out of this either.
Imagine having to worry about Marcus Mariota first and foremost standing in the backfield with DeMarco Murray. Toss in Davis and Decker on the left side, Matthews and Walker (or Taylor) on the other. That’s stressful. That’s my hope for the Titans offense this season.
Mularkey and Robiskie won’t totally abandon the heavy sets — they shouldn’t. But I do think we see significant movement towards more of a spread attack. Why else would they have brought in all these new receivers? I could be dead wrong, but this is my gut feeling for now. We’ll find out in just a few short weeks.