Titans Fans, Take A Deep Breath

During the game against the Chargers I was reading the comments from Titans fans on Twitter, and after each Titans' mistake person after person threw up their collective hands and gave up on the entire season. I have to admit, it was extremely difficult to watch the team go from a 2 point lead to being down by 15. On top of that, Mariota cost the team by throwing 2 interceptions (resulting in 10 points) and a fumble (resulting in 7 points). These 17 points certainly cost the team the win. 

However, Mariota is making huge strides. He threw for 3 TDs and was 27-of-43 for 313 yards. He is showing real leadership skills and a deeper understanding on how to run Terry Robiskie's offense. Also, if you look back on the quarterbacks this team has endured over the last 5 years (Mettenberger, Locker, Fitzpatrick, Whitehurst, Hasselbeck), he is by far the best of the bunch. He also has a huge upside. As much as I hate interceptions, we are finding out that one of the two interceptions was an poorly run route by Kendall Wright, and the other was just a spectacular read by the defensive back. The real problem with Mariota is his fumbles. This is lesson that can be taught.

There are other positives that came out of the game against the Chargers. Rookie Kevin Byard is showing that he coming into mid-season stride and has improved his understanding of what the team needs from him. He had 9 tackles (5 solo 4 assists). He was consistently a disruption, and played a good game. Also, DaQuan Jones came through with 8 tackles (7 solo 1 assist), Jurrell Casey had 8 tackles (5 solo 3 assists), and Wesley Woodyard had 5 solo tackles and 1 sack.

On the offensive side of the ball, Rishard Matthews is continuing to prove that he is bucking the trend of failed wide receiver free agents. He had 6 catches for 63 yards and 2 TDs. Kendall Wright is still making nice catches (2 for 64 yards), and even though DeMarco Murray didn't have over 100 yards rushing, he did have 51 yards on 14 carries (3.64 yds/carry) and 1 TD. His touchdown run was what we need to see from a determine back.

The big unspoken news in this game, which is also a piece of good news, is that the special teams unit didn't have any huge failures. There were no missed extra points, no allowed touchdown returns, and no special teams turnovers. This is a breath of fresh air in itself, and deserves some kudos for this unit.

So, in conclusion, Titans fans please take a step back, a deep breath, and realize that this season was building on the positives and not a Super Bowl run. All that is required is that we should all show up, cheer loudly, and keep the faith.

Finally, What We Have All Been Waiting For...

Marcus Mariota and the Tennessee Titans came into Thursday night's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars reeling from a recent disappointing home loss to the Indianapolis Colts, and show the home fans what they've been waiting to see for more than a season. The offense ran up 27 first half points and 354 yards (more than any other team this season for a half of football). The defense held the Jags to zero points and only 60 yards in the first half. Even the special teams didn't make any first half mistakes.

In the last 4 games, the offense has been scoring the number of points this team needs to win (30, 28, 34, and 36). Mariota has thrown 10 TDs with only 1 interception and 949 yards, Murray has rushed for 406 yards and 3 TDs, Walker has 146 yards receiving and 2 TDs, Matthews has 177 yards receiving and 3 TDs, and Wright has 229 yards and 2 TDs. In the game against the Jaguars, Mariota was particularly sharp and now seems to be in complete sync with Offensive Coordinator Terry Robiskie. The offensive line has been especially strong in their part of the "Exotic Smashmouth" scheme. Although both Murray and Derrick Henry are slow starters in each game, they finish with a kick, and in most cases have had strong performances. Although there isn't a huge stand out in our receiving corps, there are a cohesive unit without huge egos to get in the way.

The defense has been cranking up the pressure on the QB too. Although the secondary has shown some definite cracks and the linebackers have had trouble covering the running backs and tight ends, the defense as a whole has kept the team close enough to win every game. Derrick Morgan has 5 1/2 sacks, and Brian Orakpo and Jurrell Casey have 3 sacks each in the last 4 games. They have only allowed 220 total rushing yards as well, with Avery Williamson getting 28 tackles alone.

The only piece of this team that seems to be seriously lagging behind is the Special Teams unit. They have allowed returns for touchdowns, missed extra points, failed to recover onside kicks, and received critical penalties. All of this has actually cost the team points and very likely cost the team at least one win. In all likelihood, this team could be sitting in first place if this unit were to stop making so many mistakes. It has already cost one job on the team. It might cost more before the end of the season if things don't get better.

Even with one of these units not pulling their weight, this team looks poised to take over the AFC South. 

Preseasons First "Practice" Test

Saturday will be the first (practice) test for the "new and improved" Titans. I'm sure that the team is excited, nervous, and chomping-at-the-bit to start hitting another team. The coaching staff is ready to prove themselves to the organization, but also to the city of Nashville. Finally, and probably most importantly, Jon Robinson is going to be on the edge of his chair to see if the risks he took will help this team escape the dumpster fire lit, dark alley they have lived in for the last two season. 

There are going to be some interesting story lines that have already been brewing for the last couple of weeks. First (and most importantly), can this offensive line keep Marcus Mariota from getting pounded into an early retirement. There are the obvious starters in Lewan, Warmack, and Jones. Then there is the rookie, Conklin. He has had a fantastic camp, but can he continue that work when it meets with direct competition? Next, there is the left guard spot that is currently penciled in to Quentin Spain. He is a second-year, off-the-street free agent out of West Virginia. Right now this is obviously the weak point of the line on paper. The depth chart shows the rookie from Arkansas, Sebastian Tretola as the backup and second-year man Andy Gallik bringing up the rear. I have to believe that this is a very close race between these 3 men and it will be interesting to see how many mistakes this coaching staff will allow before making a change. My guess would be that if a veteran guard became available in free agency, that this GM will be more than willing to make the move to acquire them. I wouldn't even rule out a trade if this spot is seen as the difference between rebuilding and the playoffs.

Another storyline that cannot be ignored is wide receiver. Don't expect to see probable slot-receiver Kendall Wright in the mix due to his recent injury, but there are players on this squad that might need to "ball out" in order to make it onto this roster again this year. Yes, Justin Hunter, I'm talking about you. Hunter's University of Tennessee days are well behind him now so his "favorite son" status is long gone. He has been "ok" in camp, but that won't make this team any better, and this front office will not wait any longer for you to find a way to harness your raw talent into a bona fide deep threat. When you have a late-round rookie (Tajae Sharpe) step in and earn the starting slot over Hunter and second-year physical phenom Green-Beckham, that speaks not only to the skills of the rookie, but volumes to how this coaching staff will not put up with someone who isn't willing to put forth their full effort on every play and practice. The wide receiving corp also contains an aging but serviceable veteran in Andre Johnson. He is looking to finish his career on a more positive note than his pedestrian numbers from last season. Let's say that Wright, Sharpe, and free-agent acquisition Rishard Matthews are our starters. That most likely leaves 3 more open slots to fill. DGB, Johnson and Hunter will be competing to fill those spots with Harry Douglas, Andrew Turzilli, and Tre McBride. Douglas will most likely be one of the men on the outside because he hasn't brought enough to the table that will match his veteran salary. Turzilli or McBride will make this team and the other will be placed on the practice squad (as long as they clear waivers). In my opinion, that means Hunter is out unless he can prove his worth throughout the entire preseason. There are also two other receivers (Ben Roberts and Reece Horn) on the chart that won't make the team, but are playing for that chance they might fit in somewhere else.

This team appears to be on the cusp of making a real and meaningful change of direction to move toward a sustained return to playoff contenders. Yes, this may be too much to ask at this stage, but can this game help us as fans move from hoping a team will get better to expecting with few questions that a team will be better. Maybe I'm just tired of never finding that gold at the end of the rainbow, and am now on the edge of demanding a better product on the field at Nissan Stadium.