By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – October 21, 2018)
3-4. Fourth down TD to Stocker. Then a penalty. Then a curious pair of mental deliberations that didn’t work. Without Melvin Gordon in the lineup, the Tennessee Titans made it tough on the Chargers running game. Luckily for Los Angeles, Philip Rivers and his receivers are completely dialed in. Another close loss for the Titans, but one that feels like a missed opportunity – and one where the genius vs. fool debate will likely dominate our airwaves for the next few days.
Here are my Big 6 Takeaways from the Titans 20-19 loss in London to the Los Angeles Chargers.
This is easy for anyone to say after it didn’t work, but allow me to tell you this wasn’t what I would have done. Mike Vrabel has shown himself to be aggressive, to a fault, and as such, sometimes it will be boom and sometimes it will be bust. But, even though Philip Rivers picked the Titans secondary apart at times during this game, your offense proved it could move the football against them.
Because of that last truth, you give your offense a chance in an overtime session to win the game without having to push all chips on the table with a middling hand. The problem here is you get one play or you get a series or a drive. If your defense can’t stop them, you lose, but in that case, I don’t feel Tennessee was in a “might as well” situation. Mariota and the run game were successful, the screens were working, so I give them a REAL chance rather than making the rash decision.
Second guessing it? Sure. But as soon as I saw them go for it, I said out loud, “What in the world are they doing?”
After Marcus Mariota threw to Luke Stocker for the equalizing touchdown, which flummoxed the television crew as they assumed it would be a run, Ryan Succop stayed on the sideline. Los Angeles committed a penalty on the go ahead two-point conversion, which was a pass attempt.
Okay, so you basically need six inches to (probably) win the football game. You have an athletic quarterback and you have a versatile player in Dion Lewis, plus a guy in Derrick Henry that had shown a little physicality in his limited time on the Wembley Stadium grass.
You passed inside the 3 for the TD and then Matt LaFleur has Marcus try another throw. Intended for Taywan Taylor, it falls incomplete…and the Tennessee Titans fall to 3-4 on the season. When you consider the inconsistency of the receivers, shy of one, it seems obvious even if it’s predictable that you keep it in Mariota’s hands. He had shown some elusive moves already in the game. Maybe go with the RPO, maybe look to Lewis, possibly Henry if all else fails, but you pass.
If it works, everyone’s excited and singing your praises. It didn’t, you lost, and now I’m writing about how you overthought it and went with the part of your offense that had the least chance of success.
TAJAE COULD BE MR. RELIABLE
It’s not just today, but over the past few weeks, the ONE receiver I like in a Titans uniform is the guy who wears 19. Sharpe, if you noticed, seemed to always end up with his hands on the football on third down throws from Mariota today.
Tajae caught his first ball on a 3rd and 10 on the opening drive and moved the chains, he was targeted again later in the drive on a play that was broken up. Later in the first half, he caught a 2nd and 8 for a first down and then a 3rd and 10 in the same series with the same result. In the fourth quarter, Sharpe gained 16 more on another 3rd and 10.
All in all, he finished with 7 grabs for 101 yards. He was largely great today, and it’s become a bit of a trend that if the Titans need a third down catch, HE is the guy I trust most on this offense. He’s moved the chains in a couple of games on third and long situations this season and increasingly, he’s becoming the most consistent pass catcher on this Titans team. Mariota needs to continue to look for him. At this point, he’s the number two WR. More on that later.
SECONDARY STRUGGLES CONTINUE
On both of Rivers TD passes today, the Titans were victims of glancing too long in the wrong spot and being blown past for long scores. The first culprit was Logan Ryan, whose eyes stayed in the backfield as Tyrell Williams ran right by him down the left sideline.
75 yard touchdown.
Later, Kendrick Lewis misplayed a route in similar fashion as Mike Williams played the role of beneficiary to the tune of a 55 yard touchdown. Williams, incidentally, dropped a TD in the end zone that might have made the Titans comeback story null and void.
Philip Rivers was barely even on the field in the first half, as the Titans dominated time of possession. That’s good in theory, but Rivers found Williams for 75 on the first offensive snap. It was a nine second drive.
He played far more in the second half, but Rivers, who has been one of the best in the league at age 36 this season, goes over 300 on the day and throws 19/27 with no picks. The Titans secondary barely bothered him at all, and he’s never been a guy afraid to throw it away and settle for the next play.
TITANS TAKE ADVANTAGE OF GORDON’S ABSENCE
You can’t underestimate how big it was that the Chargers didn’t have Melvin Gordon on the field due to the Friday setback in practice. He’s having a ridiculous season both as a runner and a receiver, and adding in the return of Wesley Woodyard to the Titans defense, this should have been a favorable scenario for the Titans.
And it was.
Los Angeles had 16 carries for 47 yards on the day, far better than yardage surrendered over the past few games. The Chargers only held the ball for 24:37 and were just 4-9 on third down. It’s that second stat where Gordon would have likely changed the fortunes. The Titans played Ekeler, Williams, and others well and alongside Woodyard, Jayon Brown in particular really played solid ball, including a beautiful close on Rivers to drop him in the backfield for a sack.
MARIOTA TAKES FRIENDLY FIRE
It was a mixed bag for Mariota today, but that’s how it’s likely to be throughout his career. He missed a TD throw that turned into his first ever NFL red zone interception late in the first half. Personally, I’m glad that streak came to an end, because it was so overstated. He nearly threw a pick in the first quarter on the other end, narrowly missing it, but it’s such a meaningless number compared to many others.
These WR drops have got to stop. Taywan Taylor dropped a big gainer, Corey Davis probably should have caught one in the end zone, though Mariota may have put too much on it, but he dropped another first down throw in the fourth quarter. Again, the only guy I trust right now is Tajae Sharpe. Dion Lewis played very well today also, but I’m speaking only of the “actual” receivers in this case.
Marcus was generally accurate and we finally got to see him run a little more, which again is where he seems to find a level of comfort. He’s still taking too many risks, but he was by no means a negative throughout much of this game. His receivers are letting him down badly. It has to be driving him, not to mention the coaches, insane.
THE LAST WORD
I love aggression, but not misplaced aggression. You were moving the ball, so why go all or nothing on that two point conversion call? It was a mistake. It was an unnecessary decision, and as gutsy as it was, gutsy today means 3-4 going into the bye week.
Tajae Sharpe and Dion Lewis were there for Marcus Mariota today, and then there was everybody else on the offense. The secondary has got to be better than they were today, especially when they had to know Rivers would be looking to throw quite a bit without Gordon in the backfield.
The Titans played well enough to win, but only if they didn’t make mistakes. It wasn’t a game riddled with turnovers, but Tennessee couldn’t get the ball away from Los Angeles, committed a few bad penalties, and these drops are just killers, even with Mariota and Sharpe bailing out a few of them.
Dallas in primetime awaits in two weeks. The Cowboys have figured it out a bit more on offense and are playing better football. Following that trip, it’s New England in Nashville. It’s only getting tougher. This team is executing better, but still not to the level it needs to if it hopes to be relevant in late December.