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VOL. 43 | NO. 39 | Friday, September 27, 2019

What’s wrong with Titans' offense? NFL evaluators weigh in

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Quarterback Marcus Mariota isn’t the only problem the Titans have on offense, but his play is part of the reason Tennessee is 1-2 after a disappointing loss at Jacksonville. NFL experts also place blame on the offensive line, receivers and the game plan of first-year coordinator Arthur Smith.

-- Photo By Phelan Ebenhack|Ap Photo

Three weeks into the NFL season, the question around the Tennessee Titans has shifted from “Will Marcus Mariota earn a contract extension?” to “Will he and the offense ever find any sort of rhythm in the passing game?”

Plenty of problems have emerged, making the season-opening thrashing of the Browns seem a distant memory.

Mariota – when he has time to throw behind a makeshift offensive line that has allowed 17 sacks – has at times appeared indecisive, inaccurate and robotic. He was often all three in losses to the Colts and Jaguars.

So what is going on? Exactly where has the confident youngster of 2016-17 gone as he rapidly approaches a crossroads to his Titans career?

I asked a pair of NFL evaluators who have many years of experience in the league sorting through players, personnel and decision-making. On the condition of anonymity, they offered their candid observations on what they see as the problems with Mariota and the Titans offense as a whole.

“It’s a lot of things. That offensive line is not good, the quarterback is not playing that good and the receivers aren’t that good at creating separation and getting open,” the first evaluator explains.

The second evaluator laid much of the blame on the entire offense and the scheme itself.

“I think it’s a number of different things to me,” he explains. “Part of it is the offensive line. You start to see something that he’s doing this year that he did a little bit last year, especially in some of the bigger sack games like Baltimore, where he’s starting to stare the rush down. He’s starting to expect the rush, instead of expecting it to be picked up.

“I think his first three years in the league, you could easily see him take a hit, because he knew that the rush was going to be picked up, even if it wasn’t.

“Now, he’s staring it down, expecting someone to break free. And, just like on Thursday night (at Jacksonville), nine of them broke free. That’s why you see a different looking player in the pocket.”

The second evaluator says the Titans used a smart game plan for Mariota in the season-opener at Cleveland but have not used it much since. And the results have been a lot of hits on the quarterback the past two games.

“It’s especially different from Week 1 where they were moving the pocket for him. They were rolling him out, they were stretching him and there were a lot of play-action passes. Now, teams are not worried about the receivers downfield, and not worried about them uncovering quickly, because they don’t.

“What ends up happening is they’ll just rush the passer on play-action anyway and play the run all the way to the passer,” he says.

Of course, Mariota isn’t blameless, either. The first evaluator points out he does not look comfortable in his decision-making, even when he has time to find a receiver or throw the football away.

“You have to be decisive, and he does not look decisive. You have to be unafraid to make mistakes, and he looks afraid to make a mistake.

“Russell Wilson and Tom Brady, they’re not afraid to make mistakes. They cut it loose,” he adds. “I’m a big believer in that you can’t get too excited or too depressed over one game, and I know this is two in a row, but I’ve watched him enough to know that his anticipation is not good. He doesn’t anticipate. He doesn’t believe what he sees, and I don’t know if he reads defenses that well.”

He also said he does not see a confident quarterback right now in Mariota.

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“It’s on him. I know they have to be telling him, ‘just cut it loose. Cut it loose. Cut it loose.’ He’s such a nice kid, but there’s no swagger to him,” he says. “Brady, Wilson, Mahomes, Brees – they all have that swagger that all great quarterbacks have to have.”

The second evaluator says that the personnel the Titans have at receiver is really not the same types of players Mariota played with in college, where he won the Heisman Trophy at Oregon.

“You look at Oregon’s offense when Marcus played there. They had speed guys – speed backs, speed receivers for screens, jet sweeps, reverses. They ran short hitches and ran to spaces. In college, they didn’t play man-to-man against Oregon, because they knew Marcus would run if they did,” the second evaluator says.

“Nowadays, the Titans receivers, Corey Davis and A.J. Brown, Jacksonville played man and kept them from getting into their routes, because they’re not that fast. (Giving him that type of personnel) hasn’t happened with any of the five offensive coordinators or three head coaches he’s had.

“You see a struggle with the receivers getting open consistently. They’re just not those type of receivers. They’re more physical guys. They don’t have a guy who can stretch the field and get vertical.”

That lack of a vertical game, which should be part of play-action most times, has led to the offense’s and Mariota’s woes.

“Teams are not worried about that vertical threat. What they do is they’re just going to hem up the outside and take away Delanie Walker and Adam Humphries and take away the run game,” the second evaluator says. “When you take away the run game, that means you’re setting up the linebackers and safeties at a certain spot on the field, and that means you can take away the underneath stuff. It’s really on the way the team is built from an offensive standpoint than it is the personnel on the field.”

So the next question is this: How much of Mariota, the receivers and the offensive line can be fixed to keep a promising 2019 season from going further south?

“It’s going to be hard for him to turn it around. I personally would ride Marcus till the wheels fall of. I would ride him, and who knows, maybe the back half of the year he runs for some big plays and gets some things going,” the first evaluator says.

The second evaluator says that the way the offense is built that the best formula maybe to go back to the run game and add things to the offense that Mariota does well to take advantage of his athleticism.

“I think that first week was a good indicator of what they should be doing with him – getting him outside the pocket, let him get the ball out of his hands quickly, running the football when they needed to. I thought they ran the football well (against Jacksonville), but they got away from it. And they ran the ball well against the Colts, but they got away from it. Stay with it. Don’t be afraid to keep running it,” he says.

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