This is a friendly reminder that the final scores of preseason games mean absolutely nothing.
While the Titans lost 30-14 to the Buccaneers last night, there was still a lot of positives to take away from the game. Most importantly, I felt offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur made a commitment to distance himself from the Mike Mularkey coached offenses of old with his play calling with the first team offense.
Three plays, in particular, stood out from Saturday night.
Now if you recall from last year’s Titans offense, DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry had a combined 402 receiving yards out of the backfield, the lowest number for any team last year. Murray did not have much left in the tank, and Henry has proved very little as a receiving back up to this point.
That’s why the signing of Dion Lewis was huge for the Titans. Lewis is more versatile than Henry and has a more explosive skill set to boot. With the extra cushion of Lewis on the above play, Marcus Mariota is faced with a more quarterback friendly environment. The player and personnel moves the Titans made last year gives off the vibe of a faster, more yards-after-the-catch based offense.
Nothing special happens on this play, it’s just competent play calling. But that’s all Mariota needs to thrive. He’s a quarterback that helped carry the Mularkey coached teams of 2016 and 2017, and his ability to quickly progress through his reads makes for a potential perfect match in LaFleur’s offense.
Because of Mariota’s ability to cycle through his reads at the blink of an eye, his pass to Lewis arrives just in time. Lewis has plenty of space in front of him and dashes for the first down.
Lewis is again the focal point on this play. LaFleur spreads out his receivers out with Lewis next to Mariota in the shotgun. Lewis burns the linebacker on his route, then makes two cuts and bursts out to the open field. He fumbles the ball, but it goes out of bounds, so no harm is done.
LaFleur will likely feature Derrick Henry as the lead back, but Lewis is the more complete player. He changes how defenses will scheme the Titans as he offers another dimension to both the running and passing attacks.
This play illustrates how different from Mularkey’s play calling LaFleur will likely be. Mularkey’s offense did feature screens, but to slower guys like Eric Decker, and the results were pretty terrible.
Instead, LaFleur fits a round peg into a circular hole and puts Taywan Taylor as the screen receiver. Taylor is not a receiver that can make contested catches downfield, but he’s a player that if schemed correctly, can gobble up yards after the catch with his underneath athleticism.
The right side of the offensive line clears out space for Taylor while Nick Williams makes an excellent block to put the wide receiver in the clear. Taylor’s speed does the rest as he bolts to the end zone for the 47-yard touchdown.
The result is a play call that’s so good, LeBron James of all people commended Taylor on the touchdown.
Are these three play calls an indicator for how good Matt LaFleur will be in the regular season? We’ll see, but at the very least he’s making an effort to isolate himself from the limited play calling and personnel choices of the past. That should be enough for Marcus Mariota and the Titans offense to find new life in the upcoming season.