15 play 91-yard touchdown drive.
6 play 62-yard touchdown drive.
11 play 80-yard touchdown drive.
7 play 39-drive ending in victory formation.
Those are the results of the Titans four second half drives in their thrilling 22-21 comeback win over the Chiefs on Saturday. That totals out to 272 yards of offense in two quarters. The Titans failed to reach 272 yards of offense for the entire game in 6 of their 16 regular season contests.
The change in offensive performance coincided with a change in approach from the Titans. They spent the majority of the third and fourth quarters in shotgun formations with 11-personnel, often in no-huddle with Mariota making calls and checks at the line. The playcalling also took a distinct turn — perhaps because Mariota appeared to be making many of the calls — featuring more read option run calls and more short-to-intermediate throws towards the middle of the field.
We have talked a lot about the value of Mariota’s run threat in this offense over the course of the year. This game is a prime example of how important that threat can be. The Titans killed the Chiefs with a seemingly constant barrage of power read option runs out of spread formations which left Derrick Henry with massive alleys to run through — and while we’re here its time to bury the notion that Henry can’t be effective running out of shotgun sets. Mariota kept just enough of the read plays to keep the backside edge defenders honest and slow the reaction time of the linebackers. Mariota was very effective at reading pre-snap looks and attacking spots where the Titans had the numbers advantage — including picking on an unbalanced front for Henry’s 35-yard touchdown run. I will be highlighting some of these in my All-22 breakdown this week. Mariota’s blend of quick decision making and speed combined with Henry’s uncommon blend of power and speed gives the Titans a truly unique backfield to defend for opposing teams.
When the Titans passed you saw a much higher volume of throws that seem to be in Mariota’s comfort zone. We saw some quick slants to Corey Davis giving him the chance to work after the catch and lots of passes to Delanie Walker and Jonnu Smith in the middle of the field. When Mariota couldn’t find a target he liked he found ways to make plays with his legs, showing the fearless and determined running style that showed up in Week 17 against Jacksonville. Its clear that Mariota feels healthier these last couple weeks.
The ”no-look” throws were back as Mariota expertly manipulated the Chiefs’ safeties with his eyes rather than dropping his eyes to the pass rush. I’m sure he would tell you that he would like a couple throws back over the course of this game — the miss to a wide open Davis on the final touchdown drive could have been devastating if he didn’t follow it up with the touchdown strike to Decker the next play — but Mariota just looked more comfortable in the spread out attack.
The offense has to evolve moving forward if the Titans want to win in New England, return to the playoffs next season, or take the next step to becoming a perennial Super Bowl contender. We’ve seen what it needs to look like: power spread rushing attack mixed with west coast passing concepts. We’ve seen the level of control Marcus Mariota needs to be given. The only thing we’ve yet to see is whether Mike Mularkey is willing to let the offense become what it needs to be instead of what he wants it to be.
I believe in Mularkey as a leader of men and think he can succeed as a “CEO-type” head coach who delegates the offensive and defensive design to his coordinators. Being a successful head coach does not require you to be a offensive guru, nor does being an offensive guru guarantee you success as a head coach. However, Mularkey does need to hire an offensive coach who is a master of these concepts to help grow what is now a package of the current offense in to a full blown scheme. That coach is not currently on the staff in my opinion.
However, that’s a conversation for another day, hopefully many weeks from now. For now, I’m excited to see if they can build on the blistering second half that gave us an unforgettable comeback in Arrowhead.