We’ve given the reasons for optimism down in Nashville and they were valid. There is some optimism to be had. But, if we’re being really honest with ourselves, there are also some reasons not to be too optimistic. Indeed, we might even say…fearful? And with that priceless tee-up, let’s investigate why Titans fans shouldn’t get too overexcited about the 2016 NFL season.
The Head Coach
Tennessee left Houston in 1996, had a couple of seasons drifting as the Tennessee Oilers where they played their games in Memphis whilst being based in Nashville before assuming their current franchise identity.
Current LA Rams head coach Jeff Fisher was at the helm of the team throughout the move, the two years essentially playing 32 road games (they went 16-16) and the first 12 seasons as the Titans. That’s a huge period of time that brings us up to the 2011 season. Fisher went 110-82 in those Nashville years, playing in 11 play-off games and winning five, three of those wins coming in their trip to Super Bowl XXXIV following their first season in Nashville.
Since winning the AFC South in 2008 with a 13-3 record, things have been less than rosy in the Volunteer State’s second largest city (doing my best to creep some nice trivia into this piece…), with the Titans becoming gradually more irrelevant. They’ve had one winning season in the last seven, not been to the play-offs in eight and have won 12 of 48 games over the last three seasons, 5-27 over the last two!
Since Jeff Fisher was fired, the Titans have had three coaches over five seasons. Mike Munchak went 22-26 before Ken Wisenhunt tenured a disastrous 3-20 record as HC. Wisenhunt was canned midway through last year to be replaced by their Tight Ends Coach, Mike Mularkey.
Mularkey is a brash, I’ve-got-my-ideas-toughness-wins dude. That’s fine. That can sometimes work. But for a team in the basement, with a depleted roster (see below for more), then the HC needs to bring more. To get the best from a crestfallen team that has had its ass handed to it for two seasons straight, you need to do whatever it takes to win.
Mike Mularky recently stated he would do “the things that I’ve had success with since 2001 and I will continue to do that until someone stops us” – this was noted in a piece on theringer.com with Kevin Clark. As Chris B Brown of smartfootball.com pointed out since 2001, teams of which Mularkey was either the HC or OC have finished 29th, 29th, 29th, 28th and 31st in offence. That’s not good. Wait, that’s downright all-time bad.
We heard earlier in the season about ‘exotic smashmouth’ which is both idiotic and meaningless, which itself is a meaningless comment to make. See? Just by getting in to the type of football Mularkey wants to play, we are losing our minds.
The coaching here needs to be nuanced and inspirational to galvanise a team that has no mega-stars and is reliant on a sophomore quarterback to lead them forward. When the coach talks about doing what he’s always done (even when it hasn’t been successful) or saying that football hasn’t changed (when it clearly has) and says he is going to tailor a type of football that itself is an anachronism (smashmouth) then I fear for the team.
It feels like the culture won’t be the most productive and positive under a HC so trenchant in his views without much of a record to back them up.
Offensive Skill Positions
Let’s make clear immediately – Marcus Mariota is not included here. And I’m also generally loath to put Delanie Walker here too. Though he isn’t a world-beater, he is a huge safety blanket for Mariota and can be a release value when this under-strength offence gets bottled up. Which with the level of talent around these two, they might frequently be.
At running back, it is likely to be DeMarco Murray (DMM – not a nickname but my shorthand) who will be the No1 guy rolling through camp. DMM had a season for the ages behind the best o-line in football for Dallas.
Rolling for 1,845 yards at 4.7yards a clip and 13 TDs, he was a beast. He also took 392 rushing attempts and 57 receptions. The Cowboys used him with a sense of abandon bordering on the reckless but his personal stock was never higher. He pushed for a big deal and Dallas, wisely as it turned out, didn’t want to handout that level of cash.
He took his talents to the rival Philadelphia Eagles and proceeded to look slow, weak and, at times, disinterested in Chip Kelly’s floundering last season. Murray had a career low 3.6 yards per carry as he struggled to 702 yards and six TDs. He was discarded by an Eagles brass keen to remove the red wine stain of the Chip Kelly era on the crisp white sofa of their new roster (feels a little tortured).
The thing is, what does DMM have left? The conventional wisdom on RBs after a season with 350+ touches is not good. That much wear is debilitating for a body and DMM wasn’t the picture of durability prior to that beastly season. At 28 he is likely on the slide of his career too. In Dallas he had one of the best lines to run behind of the last half-decade and in Tennessee it is fair to say, he doesn’t.
To go along DMM, the Titans drafted Alabama runningback Derrick Henry with the 45th pick. Henry has won most of what there is to win in College, as well as playing for the most pro-friendly offence outside the NFL. Henry is a bruiser who, whilst not the fastest in a straight line, showed real ‘football’ speed with the ball in his hands throughout his career. He could be a stud in the making or was his slip to 45th in the draft not purely on the devaluation of the RB position? Henry won’t have a great line in front of him and he will be the No2 guy. He seems to need to build momentum in games in order to build up speed and power and that isn’t the best thing for a guy who comes in for a series here and there or is a guy in relief. The Titans might have one good RB on their roster but they might be using him in all the wrong ways, that’s one thing to be worried about, for this season at least.
At wide receiver – well, it’s literally a ‘who’s that?’ of talent. Dorial Green-Beckham (DGB) is an ultra-talented guy who doesn’t seem to have the aptitude to put it all together. Hopes were high for a break-out sophomore season but he showed up to camp out of shape. Not a good sign. Behind him Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter have shown promise in the past that has never materialised, Andre Johnson, as I wrote about here, is in the deep, dark twilight of a once luminescent career and Harry Douglas, Tre McBride and others may not be there come the end of the pre-season. Rishard Matthews is one potential ray of light. Signing from the Dolphins on a three-year-deal, Chris Wesseling of nfl.com was optimistic about his ability to help this offence (but who wouldn’t right now?) as a guy who plays in the slot with decent run after catch ability.
Overall, the WR and RB are talent poor with a few bright spots. When the highest hope is a 2nd round rookie, it leaves a lot to be desired.
The Titans have ranked 24th and 26th against the pass by defence-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) (per Football Outsiders) over the last two seasons. There is a list of no-name talent back there and the most recognised player, Jason McCourty, has not been reliable. With Dick LeBeau one of our reasons to be cheerful, there is hope that the D can be coached up but with the level of talent at the back end, this is harder than up front where the lone star on this side of the ball resides, Jurrell Casey.
In a division with Black Bortles, Andrew Luck and Brock Osweiler (though really, Bill O’Brian and DeAndre Hopkins determining) slinging it around, the pass D is crucial. Guys are going to have to step up but the Titans didn’t invest in the draft (Kevin Byard at safety was taken in the fourth and LeShaun Sims, a cornerback, in the sixth but neither are pencilled to start, obviously) either so it’s hard to see a radical transformation this season.
Oh, and they face Aaron Rogers, Phil Rivers and Derek Carr as well this season. Though, they face Robert Griffin III and whoever Denver shove out there from Paxton Lynch/Mark Sanchez/Trevor Siemian so they could have a couple of nice days.
Gareth Duxbury enjoys football both American and Association. Follows Washington in the former, Sheffield Wednesday in the latter. His love of QB play only topped by his fandom of Inside Linebackers. He tweets from