To understand how good the Tennessee Titans can be on offense, one must recognize how much of a leap they made from 2015 to 2016. In quarterback Marcus Mariota’s rookie season, they were last in Defense-adjusted Value Over Average. Last year, they jumped all the way to ninth overall. Mariota improved. The offensive line improved. DeMarco Murray ran like an All-Pro. The Titans offense was humming last year.
What’s interesting about the Titans success last year is that they didn’t usually start with good field position. Nor did they run a lot of plays per drive. The Titans consistently moved the ball. The offense averaged 5.7 yards per play. That’s good for 10th in the league. It’s once a team gets the opportunity to score and converts it into seven points that’s the problem.
Not for the Titans, however. They dominated in the red area. They were four percentage points better than anyone at converting drives into touchdowns. That takes a lot of pressure off their defense, which was bad. It also puts a lot of pressure on the opposing offenses to keep up. Most units don’t have a problem moving the ball between the 20-yard lines. But once an offense gets in those scoring zones, things get a lot tougher. The field gets more condensed. The windows close faster. There are more defenders in the box. The level of difficulty goes up a notch.
Here’s why the Titans can be even better in 2017. They were able to be that efficient in the most important part of the field without a true No. 1 receiver. Don’t get me wrong. I think Delanie Walker is a fine tight end, but he’s not drawing double teams like an Antonio Gates or Travis Kelce. The Titans drafted wide receiver Corey Davis out of Western Michigan with the fifth overall pick in the 2017 draft.
Davis has areas in his game he needs to refine if he’s going to be worth that slot in this draft. For a guy his size, he tends to run into contact too much in zones and struggles to uncover against zones as well. He didn’t really see too much press coverage in the Mid-American Conference. He had some passive releases and that could be a struggle at first as a rookie. He’ll need to keep himself clean and keep defenders’ hands off him. That and going up and extending on 50/50 balls are his main concerns.
Everywhere else, Davis is a stud. He’s an underrated route runner. He can really get separation. He is a yards-after-catch monster. I don’t think he would’ve cracked sub-4.45 if he were healthy enough at the combine. With the ball in his hands, though, he has a burst that not many do. Davis should immediately make an impact on the Titans in the red area, where he is superior. It’s like his weaknesses go away and he takes his game to another level. That’s what most greats do. They step their game up when their teams need them the most.
It’s exactly what Davis did in the MAC and there’s no reason to think that’ll change now. Especially considering how he won last year. Davis should help Mariota in more ways than one. Throw in a healthy Rishard Matthews and Eric Decker. Plug in speedy rookie third-rounder Taywan Taylor. If the Titans aren’t top 5 in points per drive this year, it most likely will be due to injury.
Even with adding four new pass-catching weapons for Mariota to utilize, the offense still will rely on a smash-mouth ground game. Taylor Lewan came out of nowhere and was a top-10 left tackle in the league in his third year. Lewan moved bodies in the run game and only allowed two sacks as a pass protector. They did a good job of helping rookie right tackle Jack Conklin, and he really did his job nicely.
Another year under the belt of guard Quinton Spain could really make this offense go next year. When you talk about strength, it’s hard to find five stronger guards than Spain in the NFL. If he is just competent in pass protection, the offensive line will continue to be great. Factor in Murray showing off his patience, vision and power at running back, and there’s no reason to think the rushing game will regress next year.
Like the majority of offenses and their success, it’ll come down to how the quarterback plays. The red carpet is laid out for Mariota. There will be no excuses this year. He has the targets. He has the run game. Will he be able to continue to progress as a passer and get this team over the hump? If he can, they’ll stroll into the playoffs. He greatly improved last year. With better weapons all-around, it’s hard to imagine he’ll take a step back this year. The Titans are primed to be playing in the second week of January for the first time since 2008. If they get there, it’s because of the fireworks on offense.