As Titans fans, we are very familiar with bad offensive football and this... well... this might be the worst I’ve seen it. The offensive line was terrible. The quarterbacks were terrible. The playcaller was terrible. This is what mass malfunction looks like.
Anyways, let’s get on with winners and losers from this game so I can move on to thinking about literally anything else.
Marcus Mariota: Loser
Mariota had one of his worst games as a pro, going 7 for 18 for 63 yards with 2 interceptions and 3 sacks to go with it. The turnover free streak is over, but that’s not the real reason Mariota was benched. The real reason is the fact that the Titans offense looked completely incapable of moving the football for the first half and first two drives of the second half. In eight possessions — not including the kneel down at the end of the first half — the Mariota led the offense to just 97 yards of total offense.
Mariota, as usual, was far from the only issue, but he was certainly a problem while he was in the game. He skipped passes to open receivers, airmailed some others, held the ball too long in the pocket, and threw late over the middle twice for the two interceptions. Mariota was all over the place and didn’t look confident at all and certainly played poorly enough to warrant the benching.
Now the question of whether we just saw Mariota’s final snaps in a Titans uniform. The contract situation certainly seems to be trending towards the team moving on after this year — you don’t generally bench a guy in a contract season and then end up giving him a ton of money a few months later — and while Tannehill didn’t exactly light the world on fire after coming in, the offense did move considerably better. It’s certainly possible — maybe even probable — that Tannehill starts next week against the Chargers.
Ryan Tannehill: Winner (kinda)
Tannehill got his opportunity so that makes him a winner to some degree. He put up some decent numbers too, going 13 of 16 for 144 yards and an interception, though those were ultimately hollow stats as the Titans didn’t manage to punch in either trip to the red zone after Tannehill entered the game. As sad as this is to say... at least they made it to the red zone with him.
Tannehill made some of the same mistakes Mariota did. He held the ball too long and took some bad sacks, including a 4th down sack that just can’t happen. That’s where the “kinda” comes in. Tannehill needs to play better than he did today, but he showed enough hope that you could at least talk yourself into that possibility if he’s given a full week of starter’s reps. Again, we will see.
The Offensive Line: Losers
This group continues to be awful. Seven more sacks brings the season tally to 29 on the year. That puts them on pace to give up 77 sacks on the season. The current NFL record was set by the 2002 Texans — their first year as a franchise — with 76 sacks. The quarterbacks don’t help this group... at all... and I strongly believe that sacks are largely a quarterback stat, BUT... you don’t get to 29 sacks without some really bad offensive line play.
This group also picked up where they left off with false starts, picking up another three today after getting called for four last week. The Titans were flagged for thirteen false starts in all of 2018.
Derrick Henry never had any running room, rushing 15 times for just 28 yards. It was, quite simply, one of the worst offensive line performances you’ll ever see. This group is too talented to be this bad. I don’t know how Keith Carter keeps his job at this point.
Kevin Byard: Winner
Byard got his 15th career interception in just his 54th career game. It was his 4th pick off Joe Flacco in just his 3rd career game against the veteran QB. Byard is now tied for the league lead in interceptions since he entered the league in 2016. He’s an incredible talent and I’m glad the Titans at least got one thing right when they locked him up for the next five years before the season.
Arthur Smith: Loser
If one thing is clear in this entire jumbled mess of a season for the Titans offense, it’s that at least some of the blame — if not most of it — belongs on the offensive coordinator. The playcalling is unimaginative, predictable, and fails to put his players in a position to succeed. The Dion Lewis swing pass on 3rd and 4 early in the game is a perfect example. How did Smith see that working out, exactly?
The offense has gotten significantly worse despite appearing to have more talent available to work with. That’s a big red finger pointing directly at coaching. He’s not getting a lot of help from his players at times so pinning it ALL on Smith is unfair, but he’s been an unmitigated disaster as a coordinator to this point. This might seem knee jerk after just six games, but I think Vrabel has to seriously consider making a move to tight ends coach Todd Downing soon. Downing has more playcalling experience than Smith — even if his one year as Raiders OC in 2017 produced Derek Carr’s worst non-rookie season as a pro — and we can clearly see that what Smith is doing isn’t working.
Rashaan Evans: Winner
Evans and Byard and the Titans defense deserve so much more than what their teammates have given them. Through six games this group is still yet to allow more than 20 points in a single game. They’ve also produced turnovers and sacks at a good rate and generally look the part of a rock solid top ten NFL defense.
Evans led the team with 10 tackles in this game and looked like he was legitimately shot out of a cannon a couple times as he fired into the Broncos backfield to make tackles.
Titans Playoff Hopes: Loser
I was feeling pretty pessimistic about this team’s chances of rallying from the 2-3 hole they dug themselves heading into this game, but I think we can pretty much bury the playoff hopes after this stinker. Not only are the Titans 2-4 overall — only 9% of all teams that have started 2-4 have made the playoffs since the NFL went to the current format in 1990 — but they’re also 0-2 in the division and 1-4 in the conference. Tiebreakers are not going to be this team’s friend when we get to the end of the season, even if there is a miracle comeback in store (I’m not holding my breath).
Look, I get it... it’s still too early to start talking about the draft, even at 2-4, but considering the magnitude of the decisions facing this franchise at the end of 2019, you’re going to have to excuse some talk about the future here. With the odds of the Titans re-signing Mariota seemingly hitting an all-time low today, talk of the next quarterback is sure to crank up this week.
Logan Woodside is the only QB currently under team control into 2020 so there will be at least one veteran passer signed to a contract between now and next April. If Mariota’s time is indeed done here, that veteran could be Tannehill — if he performs well enough moving forward — or it could be an outside option like Teddy Bridgewater or Andy Dalton that could serve as a bridge (no pun intended) or backup to a rookie draft pick. There are a few older high profile vets that are technically scheduled to be free agents — Philip Rivers, Drew Brees, and Tom Brady — but those guys all seem more likely either re-sign or retire than to play anywhere else next year.
The big question though, will be who the Titans target in the draft. This appears to be shaping up as a really strong quarterback class (assuming some of the eligible underclassmen come out as expected) with Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, LSU’s Joe Burrow, Oregon’s Justin Herbert, Georgia’s Jake Fromm, Utah State’s Jordan Love, Washington’s Jacob Eason, and Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts as some of the top available options. I’m particularly fond of Tagovailoa and Burrow personally. It would probably be a good idea to start paying attention to some of those players on Saturdays for the rest of the fall.
The Titans have been somewhere between terrible and mediocre on offense every single year for the past 15 seasons. Since 2003, this franchise has failed to rank higher than 14th in points scored once. I’m sick of watching bad offensive football and I’m ready to have some hope for change... whatever it takes. If that means Vrabel stays, but the Titans overhaul the offensive coaching staff and draft a new quarterback, great. If it means Vrabel is gone and the team moves on to head coach number five since 2013, so be it. Whatever it takes to fix this offense.