I've now had a few days to process the 2017 season opener, read fan thoughts and complaints, and heard all the "talking heads" theorize over what happened. Now, I guess it's my turn to chime in and give my analysis.
The Titans' fan base came into this game with the hopes of improvement and dreams of a playoff run, and many of what I heard from the hopefuls was that these were the same old Titans. However, this is not what I saw in the game. Yes, there were mistakes by players and the coaching staff, but if we look past the over inflated expectations and get real with ourselves, we will see that there are plenty of positive take-aways from this game (and therefore hope still exists for this season).
Season Opening Onside Kick
I'm not totally against this choice by the coaching staff. Historically, the Titans don't play well from behind, and against a high powered offense like the Raiders it would be better to have the first crack at taking the lead. Unfortunately, the special teams unit misfired on many levels in this play alone. Succop didn't get the ball to bounce in any meaningful way. The lead gunner didn't "blow up" the rookie returner like most onside kicks are designed. Finally, the coaching staff didn't educate the special teams unit thoroughly enough on the execution of this play. I don't care how many times you say "lack of execution" on the part of the players, it boils down to the coaching staff and preparation.
Titans Response/Opening Drive
The Titans' offense responded on a 12 play, 75 yard TD drive. They converted 3 - 3rd and longs, with passes of 19 yards (Matthews), 9 yards (Matthews), and 23 yards (Davis). Murray had 5 carries for 14 yards. Not impressive, but it was enough to keep the Raiders' defense respecting the Titans' run game. Finally, we saw that Mariota still has his legs and raced around the left side, with a sweet block by Delanie Walker, for 10 yards and the touchdown.
Speaking of Mariota, some people looked at his day as "okay", but with many of what people are calling misfires were simply the lack of chemistry with his receiving corps and a few incorrectly run routes. Mariota had 24 completions on 41 attempts for 256 yards. The key number that wasn't in the stat line (other than TDs) is that he didn't turn the ball over. I venture to say that he may have never had a game where he threw the ball at least 40 times without any turnovers.
There was a considerable drop-off in the "Exotic Smashmouth". The Titans only had a total of 95 yards rushing on 21 attempts. However, there were bright spots in a 21 yard gain from Murray, the Mariota TD run, and a nice little 8 yard carry from Henry. The problem in the game is that the Titans continued to get themselves in difficult 3rd down situations where the run game became less and less of an option. There was also a few poor choices in play calls by the coaching staff (like the call on 3rd and 2 from the 7 yard line). There was plenty of blame to go around in the failure of the running game. I still believe that this is something that can be more easily worked out before the Jaguars game.
- Rishard Matthews came through with some timely catches. He had 5 catches for 71 yards, several to convert 3rd downs. He looks like he has picked back up from last season.
- Although Corey Davis never took a snap in preseason, he showed us all that he is the real deal. He had 6 catches for 69 yards. His best catch of the day was for 23 yards, high-pointing the ball along the sideline and staying in bounds.
- Delanie Walker is still a stud. He continues to show us all that he can play this game as long as he wants to play it. With 7 catches for 76 yards (and one killer block), he lead the team in catches and yards.
- Adoree Jackson was picked on from the first play to the last, but the rookie hung in there. He had one pass interference call go against him, but two nice breakups with one of those taking away a TD. If that weren't enough for a rookie, a kick return that looked like an Olympic event was a beautiful thing to behold and tells us all that he will definitely break one for the distance at some point this season.
One Final Negative
The Red Zone offense had trouble scoring touchdowns. Again, this appeared to be a combination of poor play calling combined with poor execution. Three times the Titans got into the Red Zone, but came away with only 1 TD and 2 FGs. With the much reported efficiency of Mariota in the Red Zone, he needs to be given more freedom to put the team on his shoulders and make a play.
No loss is a good loss, but this one came very close. We all have to admit to ourselves that this game was going to be a tough one to start the season. We also need to realize that this was only one loss in a 16 game season, and our next few games could catapult us to the top of our division. So, for all you fair-weathered Titans fans, stay tuned for the fireworks instead of falling asleep before it even gets dark.