Real Titans had better stand up, stay up

Friday, November 3, 2017, Vol. 41, No. 44

Back in the day, where was a TV game show called “To Tell the Truth.” On this game show, there was one person who had forged a unique accomplishment and two imposters also claiming to be this person. At the end of the show, the panel would vote, and then the real person of accomplishment would reveal themselves by standing up.

Now, after seven games and a bye week, it is time to play “To Tell the Truth” regarding the Tennessee Titans’ offense, in a manner of speaking. In other words, will the real Titans offense please stand up?

For seven games, the Titans offense has displayed only flashes of its potential and has been confounding in its inconsistency thus far in 2017.

There are any number of factors as to why the Titans offense has not done as well in the first half of this season as it did last year.

The running game, which still ranks a respectable 10th overall in the NFL through seven games, was third in the league last year. This season’s run game, and the accompanying play of the offensive line, has been a bit more up-and-down.

When it has been good, it has been very good – as it was against Jacksonville and Seattle in weeks two and three. But when it has been bad, the struggles have been very real and taxing.

Nowhere was more evident than against teams like Miami and Cleveland, who were determined that Tennessee’s run game was not going to gash them.

Titans coach Mike Mularkey says his team is only a bit behind (actually 132 yards through seven games) the 2016 pace. And certainly, DeMarco Murray being slowed by a hamstring has been a factor.

But Mularkey says the mobility of Marcus Mariota also helps to key the run game. That lack of mobility the past two games and when Matt Cassel played against the Dolphins has been a big factor, Mularkey says, for a run-based offense.

“I think there’s a lot that goes into the run game,” Mularky says. “It’s who you face too that has a lot to do with it. We’ve got to do a better job with some of those one-on-one blocks up front and blocks outside.

“We’re not far behind from where we were last year – maybe 175 (actually 132) yards. Again, we didn’t have a quarterback for three and a-half games that could run the ball. That makes up for that 175 yards. That has a little to do with it. What he can do off that also helps our run game, not just with his legs, but what he does when he affects teams. It has a lot to do with the run game, so that’s a big factor.”

The Titans’ inability to dominate in the run game was particularly exposed against the Browns when they had a first down on the 1-yard line and failed to score on three runs and an errant pass.

Which brings us to the other area where the offense has faltered – the red zone. Last year, the Titans were tops in the league in red zone play, coming away with a touchdown 72 percent of the time inside an opponent’s 20. This year, the Titans have reached the end zone on just 41.2 percent of their red zone trips thus far.

Last year, Ryan Succop attempted only 24 field goals all season, making 22. This season, Succop already has 22 field goals, hitting 20 and becoming the team’s offensive savior.

“We target what we think it is and we think, obviously, we’ve got to get better down there, there’s no question about it. We saw some things down there that we need to get better at,” Mularkey says of the red zone.

And it’s not just the run game.

Last year, through seven games, Mariota had thrown 12 touchdown passes and six interceptions, compared to four and four this year.

So, while his remarkable streak of never having thrown a red zone interception remains intact, Mariota and his receivers are not finding the end zone nearly as frequently as they did at the same juncture last year.

While the bye week offered the Titans lots of ways to self-scout and remedy their issues going forward, one thing is certain. Those problems have to be solved for Tennessee’s offense to get straightened out in the final nine games of the year.

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for