Woof. That was not an easy watch on Sunday. I understand some of the frustration from the fan base after that game, but this is still the preseason. The time to panic will be Week 1 if the Titans come out as flat and mistake prone as they did against the Bears. Until then, I’m not backing off my optimism for this team based on glorified scrimmages.
I did feel like this game told us a lot about the Titans plans at certain positions and where guys may be in the pecking order though. Some of those would count as pretty significant surprises. Here is a list of my 10 biggest takeaways from Sunday’s loss to the Bears
SPOILER ALERT: “Cut Mariota” is not one of them.
1 - Taywan Taylor is going to get plenty of the “exotic” touches in this offense.
We saw Taylor featured prominently on the opening drive of the game with the first team offense and he stayed busy throughout the game. He ran reverses, he lined up in the backfield, he made a huge catch, and I’m pretty sure he was even going to throw a pass on that weird play where he and Henry messed up an exchange. Part of the reason Taylor has gotten so much work in the preseason is that the top 3 receivers have missed a combined 6 games so far, but I still think we will see this stuff for Taylor in the regular season. He is more elusive than any wide receiver the Titans have had in years and brings a much needed speed and RAC element to the offense that could be a big difference maker. That catch and run on 3rd and 31 was an outstanding individual effort.
I loved some of the play designs that we rolled out in this game. They weren’t executed particularly well and that needs to be addressed, but I’m excited about some of the looks we are seeing early.
2 - Eric Weems made a cameo with the first team offense, and I think that’s a hint.
Weems was lined up in the backfield with Murray and Mariota on one play during the first drive of the game. The play ended up being an off tackle run left for Murray where they were using Weems as a lead blocker. I have been on #TeamWeems for a while now — and I’m not trying to overreact to one play in a preseason game — buuuuut that sure seems like them preparing to find something for Weems to do outside of special teams. I think he’s going to make the team. Otherwise it makes no sense to trot him out there with the first team offense on the very first drive of the game. I don’t think we will see a lot of Weems on offense, but if you’re going to keep a guy on the team and make him active on gamedays you might as well figure out a way to use him on offense or defense. That’s what I think this was.
I also felt like Weems looked a lot more dangerous on kick returns in this game. He seems likely to be the primary kick returner with Jackson handling punts — assuming he stops catching punts at the 3.
3 - DaQuan Jones got the start at NT with Austin Johnson starting next to him at DE.
It is hard not to feel like the coaching staff is a little underwhelmed by what they’ve seen from Sylvester Williams so far. In three preseason games, we’ve seen three different starters at nose tackle with Antwaun Woods, Williams, and now DaQuan Jones all taking turns as the starter.
Mularkey was asked about Jones starting at the nose after the game and basically said that they are trying out different combinations to see which ones work best. That’s what the preseason is for, but it doesn’t inspire much confidence in Williams. The team paid him $17.5M ($9.5M guaranteed) over 3 years to come play nose tackle here this offseason and now they appear to be trying every way they can imagine to keep him on the bench. Both Jones and Johnson can play nose tackle even though I believe the team prefers both of them at defensive end. I wasn’t crazy about this signing when it happened. I was hoping they would make a big play for the Ravens’ Brandon Williams at nose — and they reportedly did — but he chose to remain in Baltimore. You never want to overspend on a player, but you can be sure we wouldn’t be having this conversation if the Titans had signed Brandon Williams instead.
It is entirely possible that Sylvester Williams starts Week 1 against the Raiders, but at this point I wouldn’t be shocked if it was Woods or Jones in there instead. If you want to look at the positive side of this situation, it is that Austin Johnson continues to push for more playing time. I know the team likes Jones a good bit and there is a chance that this move was more about getting Johnson off the bench than getting Williams on it.
4 - Tyler Marz continues to be the first offensive lineman off the bench.
When Quinton Spain got ejected in the first quarter it was Marz, not Kelly or Lelito, that once again got the call to come in at left guard. From my review it looked like he played really well in there too. There was one blitz that he appeared to miss towards the end of the 2nd quarter, but Derrick Henry picked up the rusher. He got good push in the running game and generally looked like he belonged.
The offensive line as a whole didn’t play great Sunday. Lewan picked up a couple bad penalties — they were pretty questionable calls to be fair — and Conklin had a rare bad play where he got beat for a sack, but we know those guys are going to be fine. The guy I’m still worried about is Josh Kline. Listen, I know that Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman are loads to deal with inside, but he’s got to be better than this.
Kline was beaten badly a few times by the Bears. I wonder if we see any more rotation in the starting offensive line group against Kansas City.
5 - Wesley Woodyard was everywhere.
With apologies to Brett Kern, Woodyard was the Titans’ best player on Sunday. He picked up a sack, two QB hits, and two tackles for loss and was generally around the football on almost every snap when the first team defense was out there. Woodyard looks better than ever heading in to 2017 and that offseason contract extension suddenly makes a lot more sense.
Jayon Brown and Avery Williamson also played very well again Sunday. The Titans seem to be in good shape at inside linebacker both now and in the future.
6 - Jonnu Smith appears to already be TE2.
I wasn’t sure whether Smith would overtake Supernaw immediately, but it appears to have already happened. Smith was out there with the first team offense almost exclusively and I think that will be the case when the season kicks off. He didn’t end up catching any passes on Sunday, but he did a good job blocking and seems to have already earned Mularkey’s trust.
7 - Adoree Jackson got off to a bad start and then tried too hard to make up for it.
Jackson got the start over LeShaun Sims across from Logan Ryan, but it probably didn’t go the way he envisioned. The Bears went after the rookie corner immediately and had a lot of success doing it. I didn’t think Jackson was playing awful, but the results certainly weren’t going his way. He had great coverage on a Cameron Meredith on one crossing route, but got beat by a great throw and a better catch. Not much else you could have asked him to do there. His pass interference penalty in the endzone was a classic case of not getting your head around quick enough. That’s something that should come with experience, and that’s what this game was good for.
Unfortunately, his game went from bad to worse when he fielded a punt at his own 3 yard line and got dropped right there. Mike Mularkey was clearly not amused and said after the game that “that will never happen again”. The film review is going to be rough for Adoree this week. He did get better as the game wore on though so it is not all bad.
8 - Keep an eye on Jimmy Staten.
Staten is a guy who seems to be on the rise. He got some snaps on defense as early as the 2nd quarter and appears to be ahead of Angelo Blackson right now. I won’t make another 53-man roster projection until my final one on Friday following Thursday night’s game with the Chiefs, but if I did, I would probably have Staten above Blackson at defensive end.
9 - Erik Walden seems to be first man in at EDGE.
Walden got in the game pretty early in this one with the first team defense and it seems that we are going to see some pass rush packages that feature Derrick Morgan, Brian Orakpo, and Erik Walden all on the field together. I was expecting Dodd to be that guy, but Walden is pretty clearly ahead of him at this point. I will be interested to see where Wallace fits in with this group when he gets back healthy.
That being said, I thought Dodd played pretty well in this game. He didn’t have any big flash plays, but he did get pressure in the face of Glennon towards the end of the 2nd quarter which forced an errant pass and also flushed Trubisky out of the pocket on a pass in the 4th quarter. He seems to be improving even if it isn’t happening as fast as we all would like.
10 - Get well soon Beau.
You can go entire seasons without mentioning the long snapper’s name, and that usually means he is doing his job well. Sunday we got to learn Ryan DiSalvo’s name when he got beat on his block that led to a blocked punt and safety. His poor block may not have been noticed if the snap hadn’t also been too high, forcing Brett Kern to jump to catch it. Let’s get Trev’s boy Brinkley back healthy soon please.