Tennessee Titans; Flattering to Deceive?

Phil Kennett

Who has a better chance of reaching the playoffs, the Tennessee Titans or Jacksonville Jaguars?

The Tennessee Titans currently sit top of the AFC South and will be aiming to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2008. They currently have a 7-4 record, the same as the Jaguars, and are in a position to make it into the playoffs but are they simply flattering to deceive in a poor quality division?

Looking at their schedule, the Titans have a relatively easy run-in with a home game against the Texans up next before 2 road fixtures in a row sees them take on the Cardinals and 49ers. They finish the season with 2 home games against the Rams and the Jags and you can see that final Jags game being a ‘winner takes all’ on New Year’s Eve. Realistically, the Titans could win 4 of these final 5 matches but on the other hand it would not be surprising to see them slip to 8-8. You just don’t know which Titans team is going to turn up.

The Titans should be optimistic in reaching the playoffs with this schedule, especially when you consider they have already defeated the Jags this season and have only lost 1 game at the Nissan Stadium so far. The Titans, somewhat surprisingly, have the 5th best ranked defence against the run and if they keep this up this could lead to the AFC South title. This solid run defence will force the likes of Tom Savage and Blake Bortles to throw the ball which can only be a good thing if you are a Titans fan. However, in all this positivity it is hard to find any compelling evidence to convince myself that the Titans will be a serious Super Bowl contender come the post-season.

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One area where the Titans can be optimistic is their Quarterback, Marcus Mariota, whom is clearly a better passer and overall more efficient QB than Blake Bortles. Blake Bortles has been extremely error-prone this season, throwing a number of 4th quarter interceptions and you can’t help but feel this will eventually derail any playoff hopes the Jags have. Yes, they have a talented and competitive defence that is ranked number 1 in the NFL but it is clear to see that it is Bortles that is holding the Jags back from reaching their potential this season.

Although Mariota is a class above Bortles, he has not looked as inspiring as we have seen previously. When Mariota first jumped on the scene in 2015, it was evident he was a good rusher when under pressure. In 2015 Mariota averaged 7.4 rushing yards whereas this season he is averaging 4.8 yards. Add this to the fact that he has 150 less rushing yards this season compared to 2015, it highlights Mariota is not at his best after his recent injury concerns. Another area of Mariota’s game that is suffering is his passing. He has already thrown 12 interceptions this season which is already more than the 9 he threw all of last season. This could be due to less offensive talent for him to work with but is plain to see something is missing in the passing game.

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All season the Titans have looked considerably poor on offense whether it is rushing or passing. They are currently ranked the 20th best offence in the league which is worrying when you consider they have hopes of a playoff run. Both the Redskins and Cardinals have higher ranking offenses and they are not even considering making the post-season. They are the 21st best ranked passing team which again shows the lack of cohesion on offense with the Jets and Broncos recording better passing averages.

The impact of their passing game has been limited to say the least. Eric Decker has been disappointing since his move from the Jets and has only 1 TD to his name all season. Before the season started it was hoped Mariota had another weapon to target in the passing game but it has simply not turned out that way with Decker only recording 303 receiving yards all season. Overall, the Titans have no WR in the top 26 players for receiving yards in the NFL. Rishard Matthews is their best WR at present but until recently has looked short of the good form he had in 2016. Matthews has been limited to 3 TD’s this season compared to the 9 he recorded last year. Corey Davis is without a TD all season despite a positive debut in week 1. Taywan Taylor is another WR with a limited impact and this does not make positive reading for a team looking to go far into the playoffs.

It is not only the passing game which has been underwhelming this season for the Titans. DeMarco Murray is averaging 3.5 yards per carry and has a solitary run all season which has totalled over 25 yards. Before the season started, it was hoped the Titans would be a run first, powerful running unit but it has simply not manifested this way. Murray totalled over 1200 rushing yards last season and he looks well short of that form leading to Derrick Henry getting more snaps. In fact, Derrick Henry has more rushing yards on fewer attempts when compared to Murray. When you analyse these stats and take into consideration Murray’s recent injury record you begin to think have we seen the last of Murray’s best? Derrick Henry certainly does look an exciting addition for the future and it would not be surprising if he took the majority of the snaps next season as the first choice RB.

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On the whole the Titans have been infuriatingly inconsistent this season. They have recorded impressive, big wins against both the Seahawks and Jaguars but this feels a long time ago now. They are now finding it difficult to beat teams with losing records such as the Bengals and Colts. With each new game the Titans look more and more underwhelming as a playoff team with little or no explosive talent on offense. The final game of the season against the Jags you expect is going to be the AFC South decider, but to reach that milestone the Titans must not slip up against teams with a losing record.

Overall, I feel it is a season too soon for the Titans to mount a considerable playoff run. The WR core of Decker, Davis and Taylor are all in their first seasons in Nashville and with Mariota’s injury problems earlier this season still evidently playing on his mind, it doesn’t make a healthy formula for a playoff bound team. Yet, if the Titans manage to build on the strong run defence they have achieved this season and get a full pre-season with Mariota and the full WR core healthy and back to their explosive best, we could see a surprise Super Bowl bound team next season.

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