I don’t mean to toot my own horn (I actually do), but before the season started, I wrote that the Tennessee Titans were my pick to win the AFC.
After one month of football, that predictions is looking mighty fine.
Somehow, the Titans are 3-1 despite every obstacle possible thrown their way. They’ve soldiered on through the longest game in NFL history, a game where Marcus Mariota and both starting tackles were out, another game where the backup quarterback got hurt and forced a still-injured Mariota to play, and most recently, a duel against the defending champions.
Wins over Houston and Jacksonville didn’t necessarily move the needle, but after upending Philadelphia on Sunday in overtime, the Titans established themselves as true contenders in the AFC.
Here’s why Tennessee was so impressive on Sunday, and why the rest of the league should start taking notice.
The Offense Flashed What It Could Become
The expectations surrounding Matt LaFleur — a member of the Sean McVay coaching tree — pierced the stratosphere after numerous years of mediocre Titan offenses. He was the offensive guru hired to turn one of the league’s least inventive offense into the AFC South version of the Los Angeles Rams.
At this point in time, the Titans don’t have the Rams’ level of personnel. Furthermore, LaFleaur’s first three games as Tennessee’s offensive coordinator featured so many critical injuries that it was impossible to accurately gauge how effective he was.
Despite low scoring outputs during the first three weeks, it was as clear as day that LaFleur’s philosophies would eventually work for the Titans. On Sunday, we saw a glimmer of the offenses’ potential.
Early in the game, Mariota did what all the great quarterbacks do — win the play pre-snap.
The Eagles had a single high safety with a corner on Corey Davis. After the snap, Mariota focuses on the middle of the field so the safety doesn’t immediately run to the right side and cut off Davis’ route. This is a classic case of eye manipulation, and it led to a long completion on third down.
When the Titans opt to play the short passing game, Dion Lewis is clearly the top option. His savviness in the open field is a dimension Tennessee hasn’t had since Chris Johnson.
Despite experiencing nerve damage only a couple of weeks ago, this pass by Mariota to Corey Davis was sublime. It had the perfect amount of air underneath it, which then allowed Davis to catch it in stride.
Remember Tajae Sharpe? Notice his route on the touchdown. He ends up wide open because he absolutely embarrasses the Eagle defender with a perfect route.
What I love about this play is the fact that Mariota sets up like he’s running before dropping a fourth-down converting pass in the bucket to Dion Lewis. Mariota knew he was going to get smashed after this throw, but he did what was needed in order to win.
When facing a quarterback of Carson Wentz’, applying pressure is of the upmost importance. Tennessee’s defense — one of the league’s best and most underrated — accomplished exactly that on several occasions.
Gutsy Calls in Overtime
The Titans’ decision making in overtime made for entertaining television. Three times Tennessee attempted a fourth-down conversion, and all on three attempts, they succeeded.
The first conversion came on 4th-and-15 after the Eagles experienced a massive mental block in coverage:
After converting a fourth down due to a pass interference penalty, the Titans faced 3rd-and-19. On schedule, Mariota came up with a clutch play, galloping for enough yards to make the fourth down manageable.
On 4th-and-2, Mariota got the ball into the hands of Dion Lewis, who of course gained the first down and glided his way for several extra yards.
Then, there was the game-winning touchdown on 3rd-and-10 to Corey Davis. Do I need to say anything else?
Ultimately, what makes the Titans so promising is that they haven’t reached anywhere near their peak yet. Every September, a few teams surprise everybody, only to begin crumbling in October.
Based on what we’ve seen so far, Tennessee isn’t in a positive to crumble. They’re in a position to ascend.