By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – November 26, 2018)
I mean seriously. THAT effort after last week against the Colts. Yes, the Texans have won eight in a row, that defense is legit, Watson is dealing, Hopkins is outstanding, and Lamar Miller has had a great a season. But this was a 17 point loss in division after eight days ago sustaining a 28 point loss in Indianapolis.
This team has been inconsistent and on this night, we saw an inconsistency INSIDE THE GAME ITSELF. We have no idea what to expect on any given week. Marcus Mariota didn’t throw an incompletion for nearly 59 game minutes and the team still got beaten by more than two touchdowns.
It’s no good. Here are my Big 6 Takeaways from a rough 34-17 night in Houston.
4TH AND 1
Just dumb. Nothing else to say here. You’ve got an excellent short-yardage back in Derrick Henry, who had looked good in his first few carries, plus a mobile quarterback with toughness in his blood, and you choose to go fullback dive to Luke Stocker, get stuffed, and then proceed to completely fall apart.
Mike Vrabel got this wrong, as did Matt LaFleur, and not a soul apparently was around to tell them so. Rookie coaches make rookie mistakes, but anybody with functioning ocular nerves knew this was boneheaded beyond belief. On the very next play, Lamar Miller went 97 yards for a Houston touchdown.
Tennessee never recovered from it. The defense broke down, the offense largely went stagnant, and what went from 14-10 to maybe 14-13 or perhaps with the conversion 17-14 became 21-10 and effectively destroyed the early Titans momentum. Adding in the inability to get the fumble in the first half on special teams, everything ran away from Tennessee from an enthusiasm standpoint. But 4th and 1 was a putrid play call, an example of trying to get creative using the most inane choice imaginable, and blowing it.
You could argue with me when I said going for two in London was a mistake, even if no one would argue the decision to try and throw to Taywan Taylor was ridiculous. But, no one can argue this one. This was a catastrophe of a mental blunder, overthinking and trying to do too much without using your brain.
Just atrocious. Nothing more to say. In addition to Lamar Miller’s 97-yard touchdown score, the Texans torched the Titans on the ground all night, whether it was Miller, Alfred Blue, or quarterback Deshaun Watson. 34 carries for 281 yards and 2 touchdowns. Folks, this is an NFL defense, and one ranked in the top ten (which I believe might be somewhat bloated), not the Oklahoma Sooners or the Arkansas Razorbacks.
If I saw that stat line and it was attached to Auburn with Nick Marshall and Tre Mason, I might not blink, but the Tennessee Titans surrendered EIGHT POINT THREE YARDS PER RUSH. What even is that, other than a key ingredient in a 17 point road loss?
This was a game where Marcus Mariota didn’t throw an incomplete pass until the 1:09 mark of the fourth quarter, and his team was soundly beaten. The defense looks old, they’re missing tackles, taking terrible angles, and although the Texans have plenty of talent, what we’re discovering is that the Titans have taken advantage of largely unimpressive offenses this season to achieve their defensive status.
Imagine if they had played ANY of the following quarterbacks this season: Drew Brees, Patrick Mahomes, Jared Goff, Kirk Cousins, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton.
There’s a lot of money on that offensive front, the vast majority of it in the bank account of Taylor Lewan. My pal and sometimes Fox Sports Radio cohost Geoff Schwartz mentioned two seasons ago that Jack Conklin was receiving a lot of help that people couldn’t see that made him look better than he actually was. He tweeted during the game that the new offense doesn’t handle pass pro in the same manner and is causing additional problems, but reiterated his Conklin point.
Jack doesn’t look right at all. Whether it’s health or rust or talent or some portion of all three, the OL is struggling mightily. Taylor Lewan is an injury risk game after game, Josh Kline isn’t playing well, and this group also manages to cripple its offense with horrific penalties that wipe out positive gains or lead to -15 personal fouls. Against the Texans, it was seven infractions for the Titans that cost them 50 yards, but also led to first downs or turned 3rd and 2 into 3rd and 7.
There’s no discipline, there’s not a lot of running room, and there’s virtually zero time for Mariota in the pocket. He was sacked six times in the game and was running for his life all night long. Boss Hogg costumes aren’t nearly as funny when they’re not backed up.
Right now this unit is basically invisible.
What can you say? 19-19 and then the lone incompletion in the final 70 seconds of the game. He made plays, he found Corey Davis for a touchdown, he found Jonnu Smith for a touchdown, he took off and ran it a few times when he needed to, and he continually tried to keep the team in the game. He finishes 22/23 for 303 yards, two TDs and no interceptions.
He threw the ball well all night long and said the stinger that knocked him out against Indy resulted in feeling like his arm was “dead.” It was very much alive on this night, and should have been employed more than it was. Truly, Marcus only made one major mistake all night, but it was a big one.
On 2nd and 3 on the dreaded 4th and 1 drive, he failed to make the right read and kept the football rather than handing it to Derrick Henry, who had room on the left side off the fake. He lost yardage on the play, leading to Dion Lewis coming up short on third down…and then Luke Stocker as a runner.
We still don’t know whether Marcus is “good” or not though. I sense he won’t be here after next season, and we still won’t know when he leaves how good he is. I remain of the belief he’s decent but unspectacular, can win games and can lose games. He also appears to be an injury waiting to happen. It’s going to be a big decision whether to keep him, but it might be Jon Robinson’s final play…that it wasn’t his pick.
That said, not a bit of this loss falls on Mariota, who largely played extremely well. Paul Kuharsky mentioned his lack of awareness of an effective clock in the pocket, leading to breakdowns and extra sacks or risky decisions. He’s not wrong. We’ve talked about this before. Marcus has a tendency to hold the ball too long.
8 carries for 30 yards and that’s it. It felt like he did more, but he really didn’t. He looked pretty good in terms of running the ball aggressively and with power, but 8 carries ain’t much. He should have gotten the ball on 4th and 1, with Mariota being the second option, but what we’re seeing is a reluctance to place the rock in his hands. Does this coaching staff, that continually talks about how good he is, really believe those words or is it lip service? It seems like the latter, based on his usage rate.
It’s either a lack of trust or LaFleur, who sometimes makes great calls and sometimes makes bafflingly terrible calls, has no idea what he’s doing or how to utilize Derrick Henry… or Corey Davis.
5-6 means you’re still in the hunt in the AFC, but this is not a good football team. When there’s an obvious advantage downfield with Corey Davis against the Texans secondary and he only gets FOUR targets, one that goes for a touchdown and all of which are caught, that’s coaching malpractice. He’s the fifth pick in the draft, healthy and making plays early, and then he disappears completely from the offense.
The Titans were once 2-0 in division, and now they’re 2-2 after surrendering 72 points to the Colts and Texans, while scoring all of 27 combined in those two games. It’s simply not good enough, and again, no one wants to hear Mike Vrabel say tomorrow, “We’ve got to be better.” We know. Eventually, if you’re not, none of you will have jobs.
What the inconsistency and maddening misfires of this team has led to is the very real argument that Mike Mularkey actually should have been retained. That seemed unthinkable at 3-1, but at 5-6, it’s a conversation you’ll hear across the Music City for the rest of the season.
THE LAST WORD
That was bad. The Colts loss was bad, but this time, you had a seemingly healthy Marcus Mariota playing at a high level and Dean Pees thankfully back running the defense. This was an awful performance in front of a national audience against another division opponent that outclassed and drastically outcoached you.
The Titans are mediocre at best. The matchup with the Jets on Sunday at Nissan might be one of the worst attended games in franchise history, although Jets fans do travel…and are used to watching losing football. Titans fans can’t possibly care at this stage, or not enough to drop big money to stand in lines to see this team in person.
The idea that the Titans controlled their destiny after the New England win, even following a bad three game losing streak and the reignition in Dallas was appetizing, and now it’s evaporated. They’ll need help, and who exactly wants to see this group in the playoffs against anybody good? Outside of diehard Titans fans and maybe some Oregon alumni, very few.
Two bad weeks in a row have the team’s season on the ropes. The Houston Texans have won eight in a row, the Colts have won five. Both are demonstrably better than the Titans at this stage. If it weren’t for the Jaguars, Tennessee would be taking even more flak, but Jacksonville has absorbed a lot of the national attention. The Titans are back to being Mr. Irrelevant in the NFL, not bottom of the barrel enough to be a talking point…and certainly not good enough to be one either.
Maybe they can run the table, but who on earth would believe that at this point? The Jets SHOULD be a win. It had better be, or it really is a wrap.