Following another brutal defeat, the Tennessee Titans have three key questions that they need to answer if they want to turn things around.
Another week, another brutal loss for the Tennessee Titans.
Many thought that last week’s barn-burner in which the Titans sleep-walked for four quarters against the Bills was as bad as things could possibly get for the 2018 Titans. Those people were proven very wrong on Sunday.
Against the Baltimore Ravens, the Titans embodied every single word that appears under the “bad” entry in a thesaurus. To pick a some of the aptest from the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus, the Titans were inept, unacceptable, atrocious, abysmal, bum, lousy, and “not up to snuff.”
All of those adjectives really don’t even begin to describe the egg that the Titans laid at Nissan Stadium against the Ravens. It was the first time in the stadium’s history that the Titans did not score a point.
The team was also one sack away from allowing the most in NFL history. Quarterback Marcus Mariota was sacked a total of eleven times, a number that’s higher than the number of completions (10) he finished the game with.
After a game like that, a lot of questions arise for a team. After all, it was just two weeks ago that the Titans were begging the likes of ESPN and NFL Network for attention.
Now, they’re struggling to even keep their fans intrigued.
Of all the questions that surround the Titans after the 21-0 disaster against the Ravens, three stand out.
Who is Marcus Mariota?
The easy and obvious answer is, of course, the quarterback of the Titans. But this question, for the purpose of evaluating who the Titans are at this point of the season, goes a bit deeper.
Live look at Marcus Mariota: pic.twitter.com/WcYEpRfECB
— OddsShark (@OddsShark) October 14, 2018
This season has been a massive rollercoaster for the fourth-year signal caller, something Titans fans should be used to by now. In game one of the season, he threw two interceptions and was knocked out with an injury. In game two, he was absent with said injury. In games three and four, he was the hero. In games five and six, he manned an offense that failed to muster much of anything.
“It’s such a rollercoaster of emotions,” said Mariota of the Titans’ season to this point. “With that being said, we’ve got to dust ourselves off and move on. It’s a long season, we’ve got another good opponent coming up this week. No one’s going to feel sorry for us, we’ve just got to go out there and work and grind and get better and find ways to win.”
Obviously, it’s hard to get anything accomplished as an NFL quarterback when you’ve constantly got pressure in your face to the tune of eleven sacks. But Mariota was by no means spotless against the Ravens.
Early in the first quarter, he had receiver Taywan Taylor wide open deep down the field. Right in line with everything else that plagued the Titans during the game, Mariota’s throw was inaccurate and sailed right by Taylor.
Additionally, Mariota tried to run around too much in the face of pressure and left his teammates out to dry. He attributed the pressure he faced to “A combination of a lot of different things,” saying, “I can do a better job of stepping up in the pocket. I put our guys in a bad spot, trying to run around too much. Those are things I’ve got to do better.”
The Titans don’t need Mariota to be their superhero in order to win games. What they do need from him, however, is consistency. That’s something Mariota has yet to master.
With a new offensive coordinator that was supposed to “fix” him, Mariota has been repeatedly underwhelming. His identity is a big part of the Titans’.
Where is the pass rush?
If you were watching a Titans game over the first four weeks of the season and blinked for too long, chances are you would have missed a sack from the team. At the very least, you would have missed a pressure, hurry, or QB hit.
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) October 14, 2018
That’s because the Titans were getting consistent pressure from all their position groups. In those first four games, the Titans got sacks from at least one inside linebacker, outside linebacker, interior defensive lineman, safety, and cornerback.
Over the last two games, against the Ravens and Bills, that pass rush has vanished. The Titans have just one sack over the last two weeks, compared to the 12 they had over the first four weeks of the season.
Pinpointing the origin of that drop off is a difficult task. “Just not good enough,” is how head coach Mike Vrabel described the lack of pressure. “As a coach, you’re trying to find some answers, you’re trying to get into the pocket, you’re trying to cover them. Again, we didn’t do a good enough job of starting with the plan, starting with the preparation, and then obviously today with the execution.”
The Titans’ defense was incredibly strong as a unit when they were getting pressure. Without pressure, the entire unit looks worse. They look like pushovers, constantly allowing opponents to move the ball at will.
“I feel like they took whatever we gave them,” said LB Rashaan Evans of the Ravens passing attack. “Whether that was our own mistakes, that beats you up every time. You know, just simple things. They played a great game. They continue to keep getting the ball to the playmakers and they just made plays.”
Figuring out what has been plaguing the pass rush over the last couple of weeks will be a major key if the Titans hope to get the ship turned around.
Can the team bounce back?
This is an obvious question after any loss, but it is a little different for this Titans team.
In just two weeks, the Titans locker room has gone from being frequently filled with cries of “for the boys!” to being filled with silence. The exclamations of “we deserve more attention” have been replaced with “we need to do everything better.”
For the Titans, rebounding from this tough stretch of games will take more than simply completing some passes and getting some sacks. It will take a return to the mentality that carried them through their three straight wins from Weeks 2-4.
In those games, the Titans were underdogs. They allowed the lack of national media attention to fuel them, to serve as motivation.
After the team’s overtime win against the Eagles, though, they slipped from confidence to arrogance. They became cocky, and there was likely a little bit of overlooking when it came to the Bills.
Energy has been one of the Titans’ biggest keys ever since Mike Vrabel took over as head coach. To bounce back, they need their energy back.
The Titans travel to London on Tuesday ahead of a week of practices prior to facing the Los Angeles Chargers. Answering these questions could help them get a win.
Cover image via AP Photo/Donn Jones.