Another Titans win. Another lackluster performance. However, something very different happened in this game... the crowd at Nissan Stadium had a heartbeat. With the game very much in doubt, the Texans on the move, and the Titans were putting up a valiant effort, the Titans' fanbase rose to their collective feet, causing such a deafening roar that the Texan offensive linemen were confused into three straight false start penalties. This extra 15 yards wasn't enough to end the drive, but it did show the Titans players and coaches that this once proud fanbase has risen from a long slumber.
The running game sputtered, but started like a 1970's Beetle; once it starts the reliability is undeniable. Both Murray and Henry carried the ball 11 times, and were both effective in different ways. Murray had flashes of his slashing runs to gain 66 yards (6.0 yards per carry). Henry had minimal gains until his burst of 75 yards at the end of the game where Mariota pitched him the ball in a misdirection to the left. He ended the day with 109 yards (9.9 yards per carry) and a touchdown, breaking the 100-yard barrier for the 2nd time. Mariota also added 23 yards on 3 carries (7.7 yards per carry) and a touchdown. The running game amassed 198 yards; the highest total for the season. Although this total was perhaps overly bolstered by the 75 yard run at the end of the game, it was more than pleasing to see this part of "Exotic Smashmouth" produce something besides 2 yards and a cloud of dust.
Mariota had his first interception-free game since week 7 vs. Cleveland, and he did show some flashes of running the ball with aggression. However, with the exception of Delanie Walker (and perhaps Eric Decker), he has yet to find a real connection with any of his wide receivers. Corey Davis is coming along, but with all honesty appears to need work on his toughness. Taywan Taylor has great speed and elusiveness, but rumors abound that he is not learning the system like he should. Rishard Matthews is an excellent receiver, but there is nothing that really shows a true connection between him and Mariota. I'm not sure this is something that can be solved this season. Most likely needs to happen is an offseason workout between Mariota and one or more of his receivers. If he is the leader we hope we drafted, this will also be in his mind as well.
On the other side of the ball, the Titans' defense continues to improve from the last few seasons. The run defense can only be described as "Madden-esque". I can't remember the last time I saw some many tackles for a loss or little-to-no gain. With 14 tackles from the defensive line and an addition 25 tackles added by the linebackers, the defense continues to deny quality running backs from having a big day. On top of that, the defensive backs are immensely better than they were just last year. As much as it pains me to say this, even Brice McCain has improved to the point of not making game-killing errors. This alone is a minor miracle performed by the Dick LeBeau scheme. The defense isn't great yet, but they are definitely very good. I am a firm believer of the old saying, "Offense sells tickets, defense wins championships." If we keep this up, then the Titans can expect to see the playoffs more often in the future.
This team has yet to put together a complete game by all 3 phases, but maybe this team is built in such a way that as long as two phases are performing the Titans can come away with another win. The one thing that no one can deny is this team has come together to find ways to win where, in the past, they would have folded like a house of cards. This has translated into an excitement in the fanbase that is coming to a crescendo at the right time. Right now, all I can say is #TitanUp!
Recently, there was an article on NFL.com written by Bucky Brooks, ranking the top 5 candidates for NFL coach of the year. The article list these 5 coaches (in order):
- Andy Reid, Chiefs
- Jason Garrett, Cowboys
- Jim Caldwell, Lions
- Jack Del Rio, Raiders
- Bill Belichick, Patriots
After seeing this list, I have some definite opinions on where Coach Mularkey fits into this list, and even why some of them are on the list at all. Let's take these candidates one at a time.
Andy Reid, as the article states, has won 20 out of the last 23 regular season games. However, if this is supposed to be about this season I'm not sure it's fair to consider those prior 10 games. Therefore, let's just give him the 10 out of the last 13. That's still a fair comparison, and I think he definitely deserves to be on this list. He has dealt with injuries in key positions, but still had crucial victories over the Broncos, Raiders (twice), and Falcons.
Jason Garrett, although I'm sure he is a capable coach, I've always thought of him more lucky than a true coaching genius. Yes, he is dealing with 2 rookies in key positions, but at least in one of those positions it wasn't a stretch to get a quality player. Ezekiel Elliott was a high first-round pick and most likely going to have an easier time behind the great offensive line of the Cowboys. Also with this line, Dak Prescott was going to have plenty of time to throw the ball. To be quite honest, I can't see why Garrett is on this list.
Jim Caldwell is a surprising choice for the list and on the surface he may actually be worthy, but when you look deeper he seems like a bag full of confusion. With early losses to the Packers, Titans, and Bears, and wins over very shaky teams like the Eagles, Redskins, and Jaguars. He seems to be a coach that squanders the talent he has more than focus them. Yes, the Lions are currently in the lead of the NFC North, but I forecast that this Lions team won't be there much longer.
Jack Del Rio is a coach I believe that mirrors Mike Mularkey. He has had coaching opportunities in the past without success, but now has found a home where he is thriving. He has taken a young QB in Carr and WR in Cooper, and turned this offense into a potent weapon. Also, even though the Raiders have some issues on defense, they are coming together nicely.
Finally, Bill Belichick, I hate to admit it, is one of the best coaches in history. This season he started with his biggest crutch (Brady) suspended. He came out of the first 4 weeks with a 3-1 record. Now he continues to win without his 2nd best player (Gronkowski). Admittedly, he is one of my least favorite people on one of my least favorite teams, but you cannot deny that he wins.
Seeing how I would eliminate both Caldwell and Garrett from his list, that means I need to add 2 more. So, let me make the pitch for a couple of coaches here. The first one is obvious. I think Mike Mularkey is extremely deserving to be in this list. This Titans team has been a screwed up mess over the last couple of seasons, and even before that was heading into chronic mediocrity. Granted, he has been given much better players to work with by Jon Robinson. Although Ken Wisenhunt had many of these players, he showed that he was absolutely not a match for this franchise. So, Mularkey was able to build this group of players into a true team. That is harder to do at the NFL level than any other. He has also put together a fantastic staff with the additions of Russ Grimm as the offensive line coach, Terry Robiskie as offensive coordinator, and moving Dick LeBeau to full-time defensive coordinator. He truly should be in this list.
The other coach to consider is Dirk Koetter of the Buccaneers. Many of the same issues the Titans possessed also belonged to the Bucs. However, Koetter has harnessed Jameis Winston to take this team to a tie for 1st in the NFC South (yet another Titans similarity).
So, here is my list in order. I'm trying not to be "homer", but I'll let you make that judgement.
- Jack Del Rio
- Mike Mularkey
- Bill Belichick
- Andy Reid
- Dirk Koetter
At this point I believe the Coach of the Year is still up for grabs. Coach Mularkey could very well end up being at the top of this list with a successful playoff run. This has been a truly impressive coaching job by a man that has been minimalized over his career. All I can say is well done, Coach Mularkey, well done.