The 2018 Titans are entering Week 2 at 0-1, and nothing can change this fact. Injuries to Marcus Mariota, Delanie Walker, Adoree Jackson and Taylor Lewan certainly affected the final outcome of the 27-20 road loss to the Dolphins, and that’s not even mentioning the injuries to Rishard Matthews, Rashaan Evans and Harold Landry. And that’s not going to make fans happy.
However, there were a few bright spots from the Week 1 game, including new offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur. LaFleur was brought in to bring life to a passing game that had been entirely predictable under the previous Mike Mularkey/Terry Robiskie regime, and despite the loss, I think the design of this offense will be better than the one that preceded it.
So to illustrate why I think LaFleur is putting the Titans offense in the right direction, let’s take a look at a few of his play calls from Sunday.
Under Mike Mularkey the Titans’ receivers ran isolated routes that attacked the same level of the field, so the receivers often failed to create separation and Marcus Mariota more often than not was required to be perfect.
From the start of this game, however, things were different. Mularkey wasn't offering this route combination here; Tajae Sharpe’s route is designed to clear up space for Delanie Walker, successfully I might add. Mariota sees this and has an easy throw to Walker, who takes the pass and converts a first down.
Now, as some of you know, I spend a lot of time covering Marcus Mariota’s ability to manipulate defenders with his eyes. It’s a special talent that went under the radar during his first three seasons, but with LaFleur’s scheme spreading the field, Mariota appears to have found a perfect match.
Again, LaFleur has his receivers attacking different levels of the field, and it looks like another easy pass to Corey Davis for the first down conversion.
Upon closer inspection, however, we can see that Mariota cleared the way for the open middle of the field with his eyes.
Dolphins linebacker Raekwon McMillan (no, not the guy from Wu-Tang Clan) is looking at Mariota the entire time, which is exactly what the quarterback wants him to do. As Mariota’s about to release the ball, McMillan goes to what he thinks is the destination of the pass, when in actuality Mariota is clearing space for Corey Davis to convert another first down. A brilliant play with the help of LaFleur.
Another staple of the Kyle Shanahan offense that LaFleur took with him is the quick screen pass, which was most notably used by Shanahan and LaFleur with the 2016 Atlanta Falcons. If executed correctly, it can catch the front seven off guard and lead to lots of open space for the receiver.
On this play, LaFleur’s design makes the play look like a run to the right or a play action fake. But the play as it turns out is a quick screen pass to Corey Davis, who takes the pass from Mariota and has a lot of open space ahead of him. Davis gets blockers ahead and converts the first down on an impressive play call.
Finally, let’s take a look at yet another Kyle Shanahan staple: The tight end throwback.
The tight end throwback is designed to have the quarterback deploy a play action fake on a zone blocking scheme, allowing the quarterback to rollout to the opposite area of the zone blocking, as shown here. The receiver on this play, tight end Luke Stocker, sells his block incredibly well, and races completely uncovered.
Now, this should be a touchdown with a better throw, but Mariota under throws Stocker. Nevertheless, it’s a big completion that shows off how effective LaFleur’s play calling can become.
Simply put, anyone suggesting that Matt LaFleur is a downgrade from Mike Mularkey and Terry Robiskie is living in a distorted reality. This offense is tailor made to fit Mariota’s quick style of passing and ability to move defenders with his eyes, and like Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay’s offenses it’s helped put less pressure on the receivers to create separation. This is a more versatile offense that is actually consistent with the decade of football we watch.
With that in mind, Titans fans need to consider this: Be patient with Matt LaFleur, because he’s going to be good for the Titans.