Welcome to the 2018 Midseason MCMmy’s! It’s been a strange first half of the season, but the Titans are 4-4 and have a chance to make a second half run for a playoff spot. However, before we move “on to New England”, let’s take some time to appreciate the best and worst from the Titans first 8 games of 2018. These awards were made up and selected by a committee of one using a very painstaking and laborious process to guarantee 100% accuracy so please take any (wrong) objections to the comments section below.
...and the MCMmy goes to... Dion Lewis!
Lewis was a bit of a surprise signing in free agency this spring. After DeMarco Murray was released, many expected the Titans to add a running back to complement Derrick Henry, but few expected them to go sign one of the top backs on the free agent market. Lewis has accumulated 92 carries, 339 yards, and one touchdown on the ground while adding 33 receptions, 259 yards, and another touchdown through the air over the first half of the season.
Lewis has done all that while splitting carries pretty evenly with Derrick Henry, but that likely won’t be the case in the second half of the year. Lewis has seemingly grabbed hold of the Titans backfield coming out of their Week 8 bye. If he stays healthy, he should have a pretty decent shot at reaching the 1,000 yard mark on the season.
Lewis has been as good as advertised. He ranks 7th among 26 backs with at least 90 carries in PFF’s Elusiveness Rating which measures how often backs break tackles per touch and how many yards they generate after breaking those tackles.
Also considered was rookie linebacker Harold Landry and veteran safety Kenny Vaccaro. Landry has been the Titans best pass rusher for most of the season and should continue to see his opportunities rise over the second half of the season. Vaccaro’s performance at safety next to Kevin Byard has been outstanding after being picked up late in camp when Johnathan Cyprien went down with a torn ACL. Both those guys have been very good, but Lewis is currently the most consistent weapon on the Titans offense so he gets the nod here.
...and the MCMmy goes to... Malcolm Butler!
Butler’s struggles have been discussed as nauseam at this point, but here are the relevant stats.
Per @PFF: #Titans CB Malcolm Butler allowed eight completions on 11 targets for 108 yards and two touchdowns. He's allowed 39 catches for 618 yards and seven touchdowns this season. All three marks are league-highs among cornerbacks.— Paul Kuharsky (@PaulKuharskyNFL) November 6, 2018
Obviously, that’s not the kind of production that the Titans thought they were buying when they paid big bucks for him this offseason. I would argue that Butler’s lowlights are overshadowing what has, at times, been some strong runs of play from the former Patriot. The problem is that the bad moments have been really really really bad. Butler has been the worst player in the Titans secondary and there isn’t a close second. That’s not nearly good enough from a guy who is making CB1 money.
There really wasn’t a close second in this award category either. Most of the Titans additions have been good. Bennie Logan hasn’t played a ton of snaps, but when he’s been on the field he’s mostly been a positive. Rashaan Evans might have been in the conversation a few weeks ago, but the 2018 first round pick has really started to flash in a good way over the past month.
Best Performance in a Supporting Role
...and the MCMmy goes to... Jayon Brown!
Brown has been exceeding expectations ever since his very first OTA period after being selected in the fifth round of the 2017 draft. That has continued into his second season as a pro. He currently leads the Titans in tackles (51), tackles for loss (7), QB hits (5), and sacks (4).
In fact, you could argue that he doesn’t belong in a “supporting role” category at all. He’s played 84% of the Titans defensive snaps this year and his production and knack for making big plays will go a long way towards making sure his role remains large even as the inside linebacker room gets healthier. Brown certainly should be viewed as a long term piece for the Titans defense at this point. It’s not hard to envision a starting linebacker duo of Brown and Evans in 2019 and beyond.
Other players I considered for this award include Quinton Spain and DaQuan Jones. I could put together a pretty convincing argument that Spain has been the Titans best offensive lineman through 8 games. He was outstanding again in his return from injury in Dallas Monday night and if I was Jon Robinson I would be trying to get a long term extension worked out with him before free agency hits in March. Jones is one of the most underrated Titans on the team. He’s not the disruptive penetrator that Jurrell Casey is, but Jones is the guy who is asked to stay home and two-gap to free up No. 99 to wreak havoc in the backfield and he does a great job in that role.
Best Offensive Play
...and the MCMmy goes to... Corey Davis’ overtime game winning catch against the Eagles!
I mean surely you weren’t expecting anything else.
Not only was this the team’s best play so far in 2018, but given the context and game situation, it’s probably among the top five plays in the history of Nissan Stadium. If Corey Davis goes on to realize his vast potential in a Titans uniform, that game against the Eagles will forever be remembered as the day we first saw what he could become.
Frankly, I didn’t spend a lot of time considering other options, but Dion Lewis’ 36-yard rumble against the Chargers stands out as well.
Best Defensive Play
...and the MCMmy goes to... Harold Landry’s strip sack of Carson Wentz!
You could make the argument for several plays here, but none got me more excited than this one.
Landry doesn’t have huge sack numbers yet, but he’s been extremely impressive through the first 8 games of his rookie season. This strip sack of Wentz helped jumpstart the Titans second half comeback in that contest and also showed off what makes Landry so special as a prospect. The speed and bend on this rush is otherworldly.
Other plays that I considered here include Malcolm Butler’s goalline interception against the Dolphins, Kevin Byard’s goalline interception against the Cowboys, and both of Adoree’ Jackson’s spectacular picks, but I think Landry’s strip sack tops all of those.
Offensive Player of the Half-Year
...and the MCMmy goes to... Marcus Mariota!
It was honestly tough to choose anyone for this award. The Titans offense has been mostly horrible in 2018 and virtually any collection of stats can help confirm what your eyes already told you. However, someone must win this award and I think Mariota is the best of several bad options.
Mariota’s stats are pretty pedestrian overall with a few bright spots mixed in. He’s gone 120 of 179 for 1,270, 5 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions with a 7.1 yards per attempt average. His completion percentage is currently sitting at 67.0% for the year which would be a career best by almost 5 percentage points. On the ground he’s also on pace for career highs in attempts and yards despite missing roughly 2 games due to injury. Mariota has already logged 41 carries for 217 yards and 2 rushing touchdowns.
Mariota has been far from perfect himself. Turnovers haven’t really been a huge problem — two of his five interceptions came after he bravely-but-foolishly tried to re-enter the Dolphins game with no feeling in his throwing hand — but Mariota has struggled to create explosive plays in the passing game and struggled to convert in the red zone in the first half of the season. Both of those issues reflect a lack of aggressiveness that sometimes creeps in to his game. That could also be influenced by the nerve issue or his confidence level in his receivers so it’s not all on him, but ultimately he’s the guy deciding to pull the trigger or not.
However, both of those factors appeared to be much improved coming off their bye week. Against Dallas, the Titans were 4 of 5 converting red zone opportunities to touchdowns and they had 6 pass plays that went for 15 or more yards during the game. Heading into that game, the Titans ranked 29th in the league in red zone conversions with just 43.75% of their red zone appearances ending in touchdowns and they ranked 30th in explosive pass plays with just 9 all season. Those are the two key metrics that the Titans need to continue to find ways to improve on offense.
Mariota’s performance has been up and down this season, but that goes for virtually everyone on this offense. Other players that I think you could make a case for here include Quinton Spain, Dion Lewis, and Corey Davis.
Defensive Player of the Half-Year
...and the MCMmy goes to... Logan Ryan!
There are lots of qualified candidates for this award, but Ryan stands out for a few reasons. For one, he’s third on the team in tackles with 41. Tackles are generally an overrated stat, but that shows how much time he’s spent around the ball. Tennessee has used him as a pseudo-nickel linebacker at times in an attempt to get the best coverage personnel in the game and Ryan’s toughness and ability to make tackles around the line of scrimmage allow them that flexibility. He’s also been excellent as a blitzer from his typical slot corner spot, picking up a sack, a QB hit, and a hurry on 15 blitzes according to PFF.
However, the biggest contribution he’s making is in pass coverage where teams are seemingly terrified to throw in his vicinity. On 273 coverage snaps this season Ryan has been targeted just 29 times, allowing 19 catches for 242 yards and one touchdown. His targets per coverage snap rate is 8th lowest in the NFL among corners with at least 120 coverage snaps. His two pass breakups in the end zone against the Chargers were crucial to keeping the Titans in that game.
Ryan is an incredibly smart cornerback, always anticipating the offense’s next move and communicating with his teammates to set the team up for success. He’s been phenomenal in 2018.
There’s a laundry list of players that I considered here. Jayon Brown has a case based on his exploits that I described above. Wesley Woodyard is quietly having another great season at inside linebacker. Kevin Byard is the emotional leader of the defense and a true do-it-all safety having another great year. Adoree’ Jackson has a pair of spectacular interceptions and has been consistently outstanding in coverage as well. Any of those guys could have a strong argument, but I felt like Ryan was narrowly the best of the bunch in the first half.
First Half MVP
...and the MCMmy goes to... Jurrell Casey!
If you thought I forgot about the big man in the middle during the section above, I didn’t. I was just saving him for this section. As good as the rest of the defense has been in 2018, nobody has been better than Jurrell Casey. He has 3.5 sacks, 6 tackles for loss, 6 QB hits, and a team-leading 19 hurries on the season. Casey has been borderline unblockable at times.
He and the Packers Kenny Clark are the only interior defensive linemen to rank among the top 10 at their position in both Pass Rush Productivity and Run Stop Percentage through the first half of the season per PFF. Here are two of my favorite Casey plays from 2018 (two because I couldn’t pick just one).
There are arguments that could be made for other guys like Kevin Byard, Jayon Brown, and Logan Ryan certainly, but Casey is the best player on the best scoring defense in the NFL right now and that makes him my first half MVP for the Titans.