Titans' midseason breakdown

Friday, October 28, 2016, Vol. 40, No. 44

With the Titans reaching the midway point of the 2016 season, let’s get a quick evaluation of where they are in all aspects of their offense, defense, special teams and coaching with half a season left to play.

RUSHING OFFENSE: DeMarco Murray has been better than advertised, becoming the bell cow back the Titans have needed and running behind a rebuilt offensive line that appears to have a very bright future with young stalwarts like Taylor Lewan, Jack Conklin and Quinton Spain already solid and just beginning to tap their potential. The only question thus far has been what happened to Derrick Henry? He’s gone from having a supporting role behind Murray to virtually disappearing in the offensive game plan.

PASSING OFFENSE: Marcus Mariota has had his ups and downs through the first half of the season, but he entered Thursday night’s game with the Jaguars with 12 touchdown passes and six interceptions. The numbers don’t factor in the lost fumbles Mariota has had issue with, but overall, Mariota still gets a passing grade, despite inconsistencies in his throwing. One thing is certain, the Titans need to add more speed and size on the outside at receiver, because Mariota’s most reliable target is still tight end Delanie Walker, who also remains his most consistent playmaker in the passing game.

RUSHING DEFENSE: Beginning with the season opener when they held Adrian Peterson to 31 yards, this has been a strength of the defense, in large part because of a solid defensive line, led by Jurrell Casey. The Titans front seven has been stout in keeping opposing ball carriers in check on a consistent basis. Tennessee has not allowed a 100-yard rusher through the first seven games.

PASSING DEFENSE: When the Titans get their pass rush going, it masks many of the issues that exist in the back seven in pass coverage. For example, they held DeAndre Hopkins to just one catch for four yards The Titans’ cornerbacks are venerable veterans, who have lost a step over the years, but know the scheme and how to execute it. However, when the pass rush isn’t consistent, it can get ugly, as it did with T.Y. Hilton against the Colts.

SPECIAL TEAMS: In a word, horrible. Yes, kicker Ryan Succop is consistent and Brett Kern is pretty reliable, his low punt to the Texans’ Will Fuller notwithstanding. But the Titans have already fired Bobby April as coach, and the units still have deficiencies. Just as areas in the starting lineup on offense and defense have to be replenished and upgraded in the off-season, so must the special teams units in order to diminish the costly mistakes this unit has consistently made.

COACHING: Mike Mularkey has the team buying in, and after two years in the abysss under Ken Whisenhunt, that may be one of the most important things the Titans have going for them. Unfortunately it hasn’t always translated into victories.

Dick LeBeau is still a master of the 3-4 zone blitz scheme, but in truth, he may be a couple of players short (especially in the secondary) of being able to run it the way he wants.

Offensively, the Titans’ identity is clear – they want to run the ball with DeMarco Murray. The challenge has been how to fit Marcus Mariota’s skill set as a passer into that system.