After a week to stew, Titans thoughts
The Titans got some time off for the bye week and this writer did too.
After the game, I was not very happy with the Titans or their season. Some time away and some thoughts and…it’s OK. It’s fine. I should be correcting my Monday viewpoint and say “what are you so upset about? They’re 4-3 and in first place.” I think what it is is that I wanted more than “fine” and the recent terrible seasons had me maybe too hopeful with their “loaded with talent” team this year. In general, I shouldn’t have been unhappy.
Titans coach Mike Mularkey (and his staff) has to do a better job at some basic things fans expect. If a player isn’t doing well, the player needs to be pulled and coached up on the sideline. If a play isn’t working, they need to stop calling it. If a player is doing well, he needs to play more if the opportunity is there. These are an elemental basis for a fan coach relationship.
That displeasure mentioned earlier stems from some of these things. Suppose player Y has dropped three passes. He needs to sit. We need it for that fan viewpoint and the Titans team needs it because it’s a basic element of sports and utilizing a bench. I don’t think Mularkey has this problem BUT he does appear to not have confidence in his staff. I haven’t noticed a single wide receiver pulled and then meeting with wide receivers coach Frisman Jackson. Avery Williamson struggled early. I didn’t notice him being pulled and then coached up by Lou Spanos, the Titans linebackers coach. There is one caveat here. The camera is on the field and we only get what we get as far as views of the sideline. It’s possible I missed some. All in all though this could be construed as giving the appearance that Mularkey doesn’t trust his staff. Fans want to see a player pulled, coached, and then do well. We want to root for this. It’s an unspoken inherent feeling inside us to cheer for a player to overcome.
Another possibility here is that Mularkey doesn’t have confidence in the subs that would enter the game to replace a player. This, if true, causes a disconnect for fans. If we see some backup play well in preseason or in limited minutes late in the game, we do figure he can fill in for a few plays while the starter is coached up. This issue could also be construed as Mularkey not having confidence in his staff because they should have the backups ready. I do think Mularkey lacks confidence in some backups.
Let’s go back to this fan-coach relationship. No one is saying Mularkey must call this play or start that player. We expect him to do his job. In those expectations, however, is that he’ll adjust all game long to put the best “product” on the field. With a staff of 20 some odd coaches, Mularkey is often times more manager than coach. He won’t read this but if he were to, I think so far has been quite reasonable and Mularkey could appease the fans here.
Putting my more critical writer’s hat on now.
The same play over and over can work in the NFL until it doesn’t. It’s a grrr part of football that a team must run enough times to make the defense guard against it. I can swallow 3-4 runs for no yards now and then to do this. Begrudgingly, this is alright. There have been occasions that were unacceptable though. These sweeps rarely work and are called often as if they do. Eric Decker has run the same slant route from the left side many times and it’s rarely completed. That needs to go. It doesn’t matter if it’s not his thing, not Marcus Mariota’s, or the sky is too blue…whatever the reason, if a play is called a bunch of times and doesn’t work- stop calling it. Decker can surely run a different route there. The Titans will force the ball to Delanie Walker and he’ll muscle his way to catch many of them. That’s fortunate. That’s not a reason to keep forcing the ball to him on the same play running the same route. The shovel passes haven’t worked. I don’t think even once. If offensive coordinator is trying to get Mariota to use his college skills, then let him run outside and ad-lib from there. If they’re too worried about him getting hit so they do the shovel pass behind the offensive line, well…ya can’t do that. It clearly doesn’t work in the NFL or college. Mariota is looking for a defender to make a choice and then he will do the opposite of what the defender chooses. That takes some setting up and it’s not going to work in a crowded backfield. There’s a slew of offensive issues that stem from Robiske not owning up to a play not working.
Coach Mike Mularkey has stated that he and his staff will be reviewing the game tape and making adjustments accordingly. If those adjustments are “let’s scratch this play” and “let’s have Decker do this” well then it’s over and done with. That would be an excellent decision and review by Mularkey if he does that.
Free agency failures
I’m not seeing an improvement on special teams. Whether it be statistically or something to be noticed in games. A few times, Adoree Jackson has shown to be an exciting return man, but otherwise, there hasn’t been much. The Titans spent millions on special teams players to ramp up this third phase of their team. It hasn’t worked. Daren Bates and Brynden Trawick were signed from the Raiders. Eric Weems was signed from the Falcons. Collectively they have ZERO tackles. Not one. Zilch, zip, nada, a big fat goose-egg. Aside from a play here and there, Weems doesn’t play offense. Bates has zero snaps on defense and Trawick has four. When Mularkey picks his 46 active players, it’s limiting to have a player solely play special teams. Surely he does it with the intention that these three will make plays. They are not. He could have had two extra defenders and an extra offensive player each week. The Titans have the depth to replace them. Mularkey needs to have special teams coach Steve Hoffman fix this issue and if they aren’t making plays, then they sit. There must be an improvement on special teams.
Phillip Supernaw needs to play more on special teams. Supernaw was to be the starting tight end and Jonnu Smith got that role. If he’s a backup, then he needs to play special teams more than the 60 percent he has been playing. In prior years, he has made several tackles and forced two fumbles. That’s exactly what the Titans need on special teams. There’s just no reason for him to not be utilized on special teams.
General Manager Jon Robinson or defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau need to allow that Sylvester Williams was a poor signing. I’ve posted videos of him being pushed around. He’s a 7 million dollar benched nose tackle that has even been inactive for one game. “Halfway” through the season, he only has six tackles and the weakest part of the Titans run defense continues to be the middle. Antwaun Woods had Mularkey, Lebeau, and Jurrell Casey raving this offseason. Not complimenting but raving. He became the starter until something off happened and Williams was suddenly starting after a poor game. Did JRob tell Mularkey his seven million dollar player must start? There was no game evidence to support this, in fact, Woods played excellent all preseason. Whatever happened…what’s done is done. Someone inside the Titans building needs to allow that the best player start here.
Jalston Fowler has been a constant (fictitious) debate with Mularkey. I say I want him to play more and Mularkey plays him 15-20 percent of the game. He was PFF’s top-rated fullback last year. Every NFL team should play any top-rated player often. Is that even debatable? Looking up some stats, the Titans have run for 5.6 yards per carry when Fowler is in the game. The run game has struggled. Fowler is clearly a solution. Mularkey (and Robiske) needs to change his ways some and play Fowler more.
Back to Supernaw the blocker. I was not a fan of Supernaw. He was outstanding this offseason and summer. After Anthony Fasano and Craig Stevens left, I was worried that Supernaw could not replace their stellar blocking. He must have worked on his game and bulked up and…whatever he did, he looked great this summer as a blocker.
Jonnu Smith seems like he is going to have a bright career. He is already a two-way threat and quite capable of filling in for Walker. The Titans are putting Smith in at Fasano’s spot. The likely thinking is that he will command the defense’s attention in fear that he could run a route rather than stay in and block. He only has 11 receptions. He’s on pace to tie Fasano’s 26 catch season. Four of these catches are when Walker wasn’t in the game. He is not grabbing the defense’s attention. He has been used as a one-dimensional threat.
A change needs to happen at tight end. If “the other tight end” is going to be one dimensional with 98% blocking and the occasional pass route, then Supernaw is better at this role. If Smith is to get more targets, then throw him the ball and run him on more routes. As long as he is emulating Fasano, Supernaw is better there. I fully support the notion of using him more and throwing Smith the rock, but that hasn’t happened. Smith could be used in the backfield as a fullback and in the slot. He doesn’t have to be inactive or completely minimized. The Titans gotta commit to the rookie one way or another though. Either change the Fasano role to truly be a two-way role or put the best Fasano imitator in that role.
Aaron Wallace should return soon from IR. Wallace could be a pivotal player during the second half and hopefully the playoffs. Wallace can play all four linebacker positions and fill in wherever he is needed. At times during the preseason, he was allowed to roam and looked outstanding. Wallace can be the guy to sub in for any linebacker that struggles.
Pick a number
If Adoree Jackson or Jayon Brown are having a bad day and gaining experience getting burned by tight ends or wide receivers, that’s fine. That happens. At some point, the player needs to sit though. If it’s after allowing ten catches or 100 yards, or some other number. Lebeau needs to pick a number though and pull the rookie. Letting the rook get burned for the rest of the game doesn’t do the team or his confidence any good. The two of them have been impressive, but they’ve each had bad days too. Make a plan to get through those bad days.
Taywan Taylor was the talk of the offseason. The Western Kentucky star lit up the Titans defensive backs all offseason and both Mularkey and Robiske raved about him. Thus far into the season, he has been used sparingly. He plays 36 percent of the snaps and only has 16 targets. Per target or per catch, he is the Titans most productive wide receiver. Eric Decker has 226 yards and plays 83 percent of the snaps. Taylor has 178 yards. He’s only 48 yards behind Decker, yet has played less than half as often as Decker. This is what I mentioned above. The Titans need to pull the starter and put the sub in. Whether we go on the coach’s preseason quotes or statistics, it bears true that Taylor needs to play more when Decker is struggling.
Brice McCain is playing poorly. He has a 47.1 grade by PFF. Curiously, this is almost the same grade Perrish Cox had before he was released at about this time in 2016. Is McCain “fixable?” Are there technique issues? Would some coaching help? The Titans need to stew on that and either help him to improve his game or consider playing Kalan Reed. Reed played well this summer and should be capable of replacing a cornerback playing poorly.
He is my starter!
This stuff with DeMarco Murray needs to be dealt with. Derrick Henry surpassed Murray, statistically, in week 6. During week 7, Murray pulled ahead again. The starter now has 41 yards more than the backup. Cmon now, Robiske. A starter should have far more yards than a backup.
Murray is excellent in the passing game. The former Sooner is one of the best backs in the NFL at pass protection. Last season, he played the slot wide receiver role on third down for the first few weeks due to Kendall Wright being injured. He led the Titans in receiving at that point. With Murray’s prowess in the passing game, they can certainly use him there and use Henry more as a runner.
Mularkey needs to listen to himself
Mike Mularkey has said some variation of “he was the hot hand” countless times since taking over the Titans. If there is one thing that the Titans could improve upon it’s this hot and cold notion. Let everyone on the team know that if they’re not playing well, they could be pulled and if they’re playing great, they are staying in.