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VOL. 39 | NO. 52 | Friday, December 25, 2015

No need to risk putting Mariota in more danger

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The Tennessee Titans are holding out hope that Marcus Mariota’s right knee injury, sustained in Sunday’s loss to the Patriots, won’t be season-ending.

Titans interim coach Mike Mularkey made it a point at his Monday press conference to refute several national reports that said the rookie quarterback would definitely be out for the final two games of the season.

“I just told you from the real source. I would listen to where it’s coming from,” Mularkey said when asked about reports that had already ruled Mariota out for the Titans’ final two games.

Mularkey promised that the Titans would err on the side of extreme caution before making any final decision on whether or not to play Mariota again this season.

“If there are any issues, if we have any concerns as we did yesterday, we would not play him, if there was any way that he was not going to be capable of playing. No way,” Mularkey said.

But why even run that risk?

Even if Mariota somehow healed enough to play on Jan. 3 against the Indianapolis Colts, is it really worth it? To me, it would be like taking a priceless Ming vase to a skeet shoot.

Mularkey said the benefit to Mariota trying to return this season is to get a little more game experience in one final outing before the Titans put a wrap on the 2015 season.

But my question to that is – is it really necessary? At this point, the Titans seem to know what they have in Mariota, and from all indications it is very good – perhaps even special.

Which brings us right back to the point at hand. This is a Titans franchise that has waited a decade for a franchise quarterback, something it last had when Steve McNair was under center.

And other than Mariota, Delanie Walker, Jurrell Casey and perhaps a couple others, there are few blue-chip commodities on the current Tennessee roster.

In fact, one of the areas that needs the most upgrading for the Titans is a young and often porous offensive line.

In fairness, it was a missed block by running back Antonio Andrews that cause the injuring hit on Mariota Sunday, but the unsettled state of the o-line is one of the primary reasons not to put the rookie quarterback back in harm’s way against this season.

In Sunday’s loss to the Patriots, the Titans made yet another move on the offensive line, benching rookie center Andy Gallik and bringing veteran Joe Looney off the bench for the second half, presumably because he has more experience in making the line calls.

When asked who would be his starting center this week, Mularkey said that was still being discussed. Thus far, due to injuries and ineffectiveness, the Titans have started six different offensive line combinations in 14 games. If Looney moves in to replace Gallik this coming week, it would be seven combinations in 15 games.

So why even ponder putting Mariota at risk once again when his health is less than 100 percent and the game is meaningless except that losing it might land the Titans the first overall pick in the 2016 draft?

Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (99) celebrates after he sacked Tennessee Titans quarterback Zach Mettenberger (7) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015, in Houston. Fate seems to want to see Mettenberger-Watt IV, which will happen this Sunday.

-- Ap Photo/Eric Christian Smith

That’s not to say that players and coaches want the first overall pick – their job remains to try and win as many games as possible. But in this case, it should be within reason.

The Titans, at best, assuming a win Sunday vs. Houston, would be 4-11 entering the finale at Indy, and one more win is inconsequential in the grand scheme of where this organization is right now. That final game matters little if it even remotely puts Mariota and his future at risk.

The last thing the Titans need is to have the face of the franchise suffer an injury that might cost him part of the off-season or worse yet, training camp or next year’s regular season.

Besides, one more game – good or bad for Mariota – is not going to change their opinion on him. He is the future of the franchise at quarterback – unless he is injured to the point where he can’t be. See Locker, Jake.

Yes, there is a chance that we have not seen the last of Marcus Mariota this season. But in this case, the risk far outweighs the reward.

Five things to watch

1.The MettShow

Zach Mettenberger is 0-8 as a starting quarterback in the NFL. At times, he has shown potential, and part of the reason he is winless, is that the Titans are a bad football team. But this is an opportunity for Mettenberger to elevate himself and his play in the final week two.

2. Feed DGB

Dorial Green-Beckham is raw and unpolished, but he has two 100-yard receiving games in the past three weeks. Despite his mental lapses and concentration issues on occasion, he is a playmaker and the Titans need to get the ball in his hands often.

3.What to do with Watt?

Former Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt seemed to be OK with trying to single block J.J. Watt on too many occasions. It got him fired after the first meeting between the teams this year. It will be interesting to see how Mularkey game plans the best defensive lineman on the planet this week.

4.Two to go

Yes, we know that the Titans players and coaches desperately want to win in the final two weeks. The difference in Mularkey returning or not could hinge on how the Titans play in these final two games. Two wins and he could be back. Two losses, and he may be out the door with a new regime wondering what to do with the No.1 overall pick in the draft.

5. Special teams

The Titans special teams have had some issues this season and last Sunday was no exception. A missed extra point by Ryan Succop and a bobbled kickoff return by Tre McBride were last week’s issues. It is something that needs to be corrected, no matter how late in the year it is.

Three matchups to watch

1. Zach Mettenberger vs. J.J. Watt

J.J. Watt has been a thorn in Mettenberger’s side ever since he criticized the rookie last year for taking a selfie before his first start. Mettenberger later was knocked out of a game against the Texans and was sacked seven times filling in for Mariota earlier this year in Houston. Fate seems to want to see Mettenberger-Watt IV, which will happen this Sunday.

2. DeAndre Hopkins vs. Titans secondary

Tennessee’s secondary has had issues, especially in the second half of the season. Hopkins has been one of the best wide receivers in the league and will be a big-time problem for the Titans on Sunday.

3. Weeden or Hoyer vs. Titans defense

Who will the Titans face on Sunday? Brandon Weeden came off the bench after T.J. Yates was injured to rally the Texans past the Colts and into the AFC South lead. Brian Hoyer is the starter, but he missed last week with a concussion.

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com

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