By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – November 18, 2018)
Shortly before Sunday’s kickoff in Indianapolis, I tweeted out “Don’t Buffalo this.” While I was fully aware the Colts were far better than the Bills, it was more about the road letdown after a major home victory. After three straight wins, culminating in the overtime dub over the defending Super Bowl Champions, we got the 13-12 game that gave Josh Allen a win. The Titans would then proceed to be blanked 21-0 by the Ravens and beaten by the Chargers 20-19 in London.
Then came Dallas on Monday Night Football and the unreal 34-10 beating of the New England Patriots, the defending AFC Champions, last Sunday at Nissan Stadium. It was a historic win, but “Don’t Buffalo this.” Courtesy of some unfortunate on field situations, one frightening off-field situation, and a tremendous performance from a healthy, stud quarterback, they didn’t exactly Buffalo this one…
…They just got their butts kicked.
Here are my Big 6 Takeaways from the 38-10 loss to the Colts, which could have been much worse.
FIRST OFF, DEAN PEES
I’m not going to make excuses for the defense, but there’s no question watching as their coordinator left the field to be taken to a medical facility had to shake these players. We wish the best for Pees, and it appears based on Mike Vrabel’s postgame comments that he should be okay, which is a blessing to be thankful for. It was a scary day across the NFL, just in the early session alone, but when the reports emerged about Pees exiting the game and with no one knowing anything past that one fact, there’s an unsettling hushed feeling that can’t be denied or fixed.
I’m just glad things appear to be improving. That’s far more important than a football game, win or lose, regardless of the performance.
ANDREW LUCK IS BACK
One of the best results for any franchise in the NFL over the past few seasons is Ryan Grigson leaving his role in Indianapolis and letting someone else, in this case Chris Ballard, start “shopping for the groceries” as general manager. His 2018 draft selections have been stellar, and one of the big things Grigson failed to do was pay attention to the beating his quarterback was taking. Andrew Luck’s health fell off a cliff as a result of the lack of protection or attention to strengthening the offensive line.
Not the case anymore, and following Sunday’s win, Andrew Luck has not been sacked in his last five games, which is on the short list of best all-time marks. Nobody will touch Dan Marino’s 19, which is about as absurd a statistic as I’ve ever seen. Luck has been accurate, he’s moved the ball around well, but he clearly still remembers how good TY Hilton is. 9 catches for 155 yards and 2 of Luck’s three TDs,
He’s been on fire during the Colts four-game win streak, which by the way puts them right tin the mix in the AFC South, and now with a key win over the Titans.
MARCUS DINGED AGAIN
I’m not calling him injury prone. I’m just going to say he gets hurt an awful lot. This time, it was again his throwing arm, which had been bothering him for a few possessions prior to the second quarter sack that knocked him out of the game. But, before that point, he still wasn’t very good. With the exception of one third down throw to Corey Davis the first time the Titans had the ball, he dealt in mediocre fashion with pressure and made a few bad decisions, including a terrible interception on a throw to the sidelines intended for Jonnu Smith where it’s impossible to understand what he possibly could have seen to make him send the pigskin in that direction.
He was 10/13, but at no point did he appear to be in control of the Titans offense, which was a bit surprising considering how authoritative and in command he was over the past seven quarters leading into the matchup with the Colts. Mariota’s injury history is longer than you want, he was harassed again, but on this day, he looked like the OTHER Mariota, the one that’s merely a starter in the NFL for a mediocre football team. The inconsistency continues.
LAFLEUR GAME PLAN
When adjustments are necessary, I’m still waiting to see when the Titans offensive coordinator is actually going to make some. I see so few alterations from the first to the fourth quarter in losing scenarios for Tennessee, and you have to wonder why that’s the case. Here, Matt LaFleur had to deal with Blaine Gabbert entering the game, not to mention the Dean Pees news being on his mind, but nothing about the offensive scheme felt in sync from the opening kickoff to the final whistle. It did all look relatively uniform though, meaning there were no discernible changes, resulting in a whole lot of short possessions and a fatigued defense that had no answers for Andrew Luck.
While we have praised LaFleur during the wins, we’ve been forced to kill him after the losses. It either works or it doesn’t, there’s no middle ground to be found with the lone outlier being the Chargers game, where the team went for two when I still believe it should have been Succop kicking the extra point. But generally, Matt LaFleur has shown some good things, but he’s also absolutely proving to be a work in progress to say the least.
ROLLING AROUND IN THE MUD
If you’re not going to move the ball effectively, averaging 3.5 yards per rush and less than 200 total passing yards, you’d better play clean or you’re going to get destroyed.
The Titans threw two interceptions, both awful passes, and committed 8 penalties for 112 yards. Marcus Mariota also fumbled, though Tennessee maintained possession on that play. There were a few composure issues, but overall this was indicative of one team that didn’t manage to show up in a key division matchup. A win would have been enormous, moving the Titans to 3-0 with the Monday night showdown in Houston coming up in eight days. Instead, you’re 2-1, the Colts are now tied with you and have beaten you, and the Texans found a way to eek out a victory in Washington to expand their lead in the AFC South.
On a day where the offense couldn’t get going and the defense was at the mercy of the neck beard, the fact that the ledger was this mucked up with sludge should have led to something like… a 28 point thrashing.
QUESTION: IS THIS TEAM GOOD?
The answer is no. They’re unfortunately exactly what I said they were at the beginning of the season when I predicted 7-9 or maybe 8-8. They’re a team that is capable of beating anybody on a given day, minus the Rams, Saints, and Chiefs at this point, but a team that can absolutely lose to anyone as well. What that means is they’re mediocre, can’t be trusted, and the only thing you can believe in when it comes to the Titans is they’ll do the opposite of what you expect if you have any expectations at all.
There is a lot of talent on this team, but the quarterback is injured quite a bit, his backup just isn’t very good, the receivers are spotty, the OL is overhyped relative to production, and against a QB with weapons, the secondary can be torched with explosive plays. Perhaps they make the playoffs, though right now I’d bet against it, but even if so, this is not a good football team. It’s also not a bad football team.
It’s just a football team, which might actually feel worse for some fans, who see glimmers of present hope but then turn around to face a thick fog that eliminates all visibility whatsoever.
THE LAST WORD
This was a major loss after two good wins. The Titans have to take care of business in the AFC South and try to beat up on the East… because they let the Bills and the Dolphins slip through the cracks. The Colts are also now sitting at 5-5 right alongside you, but they just beat the doors off your automobile and outplayed you in every facet. The Houston Texans await, amidst a seven-game winning streak, on Monday Night Football. The national audience worked well for the Titans last time, but we’ll have to wait and see about Marcus’ hand. The OL will also have to deal with a Houston pass rush that is far better than it was in Week 2, with both JJ Watt and Jadeveon Clowney causing havoc, amongst others.
The Texan offense is stronger as well. So this will not be easy. But yes, it’s doable. Not a single game remaining isn’t winnable. And not a single game remaining isn’t losable.
The Titans seemed to be on the cusp of that playoff feel. No longer. My prediction didn’t really change, but I was starting to believe this team was putting it together. This was at least three steps back, and leaves me feeling like 7-9 is still in the offing, though 8-8 feels more likely. The schedule is still favorable, but that hasn’t mattered for the Titans this season.
It needs to start… or they won’t be playing football in January.