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Next Step for Young Titans: Finding Consistency

The Titans have to consistently play up to their potential to become legitimate AFC contenders.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Tennessee Titans Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Tennessee Titans Week 2 match-up with the Jacksonville Jaguars was a microcosm of the young team’s consistency issues.

Titans Week 2 1st Half

Plays Yards Outcome
Plays Yards Outcome
3 3 Punt
11 53 Field Goal
3 1 Punt
3 4 Punt
3 15 Interception
10 38 Field Goal
Drive summaries for the Titans’ first half possessions of Week 2.

The Titans struggled to move the ball in the first half against the Jaguars’ stout defense, scoring no touchdowns and converting just two of six drives into points.

Coming off of a game in which they allowed 7 total points and just 2.9 yards per play (in addition to racking up 10 sacks), the Jaguars’ defense was expected to be tough.

But things changed for the Titans in the second half.

Titans Week 2 2nd Half

Plays Yards Outcome
Plays Yards Outcome
10 31 Field Goal
2 34 Touchdown
3 49 Touchdown
8 86 Touchdown
6 25 Touchdown
5 16 End of game
Drive summaries for the Titans’ second half possessions of Week 2.

The offense was much more effective, scoring on five straight possessions, including four straight touchdowns. That streak might’ve continued had the game not ended.

So what changed for the Titans?

Aside from Derrick Henry taking over the majority of backfield reps, the Titans offense didn’t change dramatically. The schemes and play designs were mostly the same as the first half. The big difference was execution.

Mariota started connecting with his receivers, as he completed 5 of 8 passes with a touchdown in the second half. Two of those incompletions were throwaways (compared to 10 of 19 with an interception in the first half).

Derrick Henry got the running game fully established, with seven carries on the Titans third touchdown drive, including six straight to open the possession. The Titans had been unable to run the ball consistently because of their inability to pick up first downs in the first half.

These contrasting levels of execution have shown up for the Titans since Mike Mularkey first took over as head coach mid-way through the 2015 season. The Titans surprised many by taking down the New Orleans Saints on the road in Mularkey’s first game as interim head coach. But just a few weeks later, the team (excepting Jurrell Casey) appeared to give up and completely quit in a blow-out loss to the New York Jets. The inconsistencies continued in 2016, with numerous slow starts hindering the Titans’ chances in many games last year while others were blowout wins before halftime.

Jack Conklin, an All-Pro tackle in 2016, committed three penalties against the Jaguars. Taylor Lewan is one of the best left tackles in the game. He led the Titans in penalties in 2016 and committed another illegal use of hands on Sunday.

These inconsistency issues are not abnormal for a young, developing football team. But they cannot linger any longer.

The Oakland Raiders are a good model for the ascending Titans’ path to greatness. In 2015, Oakland finished 7-9 with many inconsistent performances throughout the year, scoring 14 points or less and 30 points or more four times apiece that season.

In 2016, the Raiders improved to a 12-4 record (12-3 before star quarterback Derek Carr was injured). They cleaned up lots of little mistakes and became much more consistent, particularly in big moments when it mattered most. The Raiders came up with huge, clutch plays in the fourth quarter on their way to securing those 12 wins.

In order for the Titans to take the next step, their 2017 season needs to resemble the improvement the Raiders saw in 2016. Not necessarily in the win column (although that would be nice), but in overall play and execution.

Taylor Lewan, in just his fourth season, is the oldest of a very young, very talented core of players for this Titans team. Marcus Mariota, Derrick Henry, Quinton Spain, and Jack Conklin are starters and major contributors to the offense, all in their third season or younger. Throw in rookies Corey Davis, Taywan Taylor, and Jonnu Smith, all of whom should grow into large roles, and the youth on the team is quite apparent.

On the defensive side, Avery Williamson, Kevin Byard, LeShaun Sims, Austin Johnson, DaQuan Jones, Adoree’ Jackson, and Jayon Brown are all starters or major contributors in their 4th season or younger.

The team will continue to rely on veterans like Delanie Walker, DeMarco Murray, Rishard Matthews, Jurrell Casey, Logan Ryan, Orakpo and Morgan, and Wesley Woodyard to provide leadership and stability for the young core. Those vets have to guide the way while the young players learn what it means to play at a high level without the miscues and mistakes.

It’s time now for the Titans to take that next step and become a (more) consistent football team. We all saw what they were capable of when they’re executing in all phases of the game.

They aren’t going to score on 5 consecutive possessions every week, but as the new pieces start to find their place on both offense and defense, the team should be able to execute with fewer and fewer errors.

The team’s ascension into the upper echelon of the league will be delayed as long as it takes for the players to find that consistent rhythm.