For three straight years the Tennessee Titans have been a good team. Good, but not great. The 9-7 records are somewhat of an accomplishment, but also now indicates the team still remains stuck in the “almost there” category.
Mike Mularkey’s Titans were usually competitive and well-prepared. It was obvious to many though that the Mularkey teams always had a limit. There was always one thing that prevented them from truly threatening good teams: they lacked offensive firepower. Built around a strong run game and limited pass game, the Titans simply couldn’t keep up when facing great offenses.
In came Mike Vrabel and new offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur. Finally, this was a chance for the offense to progress. More receivers, more spacing, more passing. There were positive signs and encouraging decisions. Marcus Mariota’s completion percentage jumped up 62% to 68.9%. The Titans’ use of 11 personnel went up from 35% in 2017 to 58% in 2018. Unfortunately, the 2018 Titans offense ran into different complications. Significant injuries and a terrible offensive line would cap their potential and again hold the team back.
It is no secret what the Titans need in order to make the leap to Super Bowl contender. Whether you are a fan of standard statistics, newer analytics, or simply want to use the ‘eye test,’ all will point you in the same direction: the Titans need a great offense to become a great team.
In general, offense is more important than defense. There are several studies linking the correlation between offensive output and wins, but Football Outsiders’ “Basics” always provide a good foundation:
The total quality of an NFL team is four parts offense, three parts defense, and one part special teams.
There are three units on a football team, but they are not of equal importance. Our DVOA ratings provide good evidence for this. For a long time, the saying from Football Outsiders was that the total quality of an NFL team is three parts offense, three parts defense, and one part special teams. Further recent research suggests that offense is even more important than we originally believed. Recent work by Chase Stuart, Neil Paine, and Brian Burke suggests a split between offense and defense of roughly 58-42, without considering special teams. Our research suggests that special teams contributes about 13 percent to total performance; if you measure the remaining 87 percent with a 58-42 ratio, you get roughly 4:3:1. When we compare the range of offense, defense, and special teams DVOA ratings, we get the same results, with the best and worst offenses roughly 130 percent stronger than the best and worst defenses, and roughly four times stronger than the best and worst special teams.
The Titans have already had a strong start to fixing their offensive problems. Free agent acquisitions Rodger Saffold and Adam Humphries will both help fix a few major flaws from last season.
But they aren’t enough.
The Titans need to attack the draft with a mindset of creating a strong offense. That doesn’t mean you have to go offense in the first round - they currently hold six total picks - but it should nudge them in that direction depending on the draft board. Defensive exceptions exist certainly, for instance if Ed Oliver falls to 19. Maybe they’re jumping for joy if Brian Burns is still available. Those are just a few of the tremendous defensive prospects the team won’t overlook just because they play defense. More likely though, those prospects are off the board within the first 10-15 selections.
My personal preference (again, estimating what players should be available at 19) would be to choose an interior OL at 19. Garrett Bradbury and Chris Lindstrom are both strong fits for the Titans’ offensive scheme. Wide receiver and tight end should also be possibilities, but thanks to Mike’s great work here the receiver options look like they’ll remain strong into the middle rounds. N’Keal Harry, JJ Arcega-Whiteside or Marquise Brown would be my top targets at 51 but there should still be a few excellent choices even if receivers start flying off the board early in the second round (which does seem very possible).
A good interior OL and WR in the first two rounds would certainly provide freedom the rest of the way. There are obviously too many different permutations to list here though, and several of them even include a defensive player in the first round. Overall though, the Titans should set their sights on creating an explosive offense and attack the draft to achieve that goal.