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NFL Team Previews: Tennessee Titans

If Mariota can be more consistent then I think Davis is a guy who you can get as a WR3 or WR4 with a ton of upside.

2018 Season Review: 9-7 (3rd in the AFC South)

Fresh off of a Divisional Round Playoff appearance in 2017, the Titans had high hopes for 2018. They actually fired HC Mike Mularkey after only two years and one playoff appearance, and hired former Patriots player, and Ohio State and Houston Texans coach Mike Vrabel. Vrabel brought in Matt LaFleur to the run the offense, and Dean Pees to run the offense. One had a unit ranked in the top 5, the other had a unit ranked in bottom 5.

LaFleur, who is now the HC of the Green Bay Packers, came in and was hoping to be the guy to “fix” Marcus Mariota and bring him to another level. I put fix in quotations because I don’t believe Mariota needs fixing. He needs three things: more weapons, to stay healthy, and probably more importantly consistency at the offensive coordinator position. LaFleur was Mariotas fourth OC he’s had since entering the league in 2015. You can’t get consistency out of a QB with switching coaching staffs year after year after year. Look at Alex Smith who was a bust in San Francisco going through OC after OC until Jim Harbaugh came in, coached him up, called plays he could be successful at and gave him some consistency. From there on Smith has been nothing but a good starting QB in the NFL. Mariota has shown he can win in this league, and that he has the talent to win, in fact we won a playoff game against Alex Smith’s’ Chiefs in 2017.

In 2018 Mariota suffered from all those things I just mentioned. He played in 14 games while starting 13, but Blaine Gabbert came in to play in eight total games because of Mariota’s injuries, and started three games throughout the year. Mariota only threw for 2,528 yards, 11 TDs, and 8 INTs. He did bring up his completion percentage to 68.9% but that just tells you how much dink and dunk Mariota did during the year. Mariota did run for 357 yards and 2 TDs which was a positive.

Because of Mariota’s poor passing year, no receiver really stood out besides Corey Davis, and even some would say his year was a disappointment. Davis ended the year with 65 catches on 112 targets for 891 yards and 4 TDs. Other than Davis, no receiver eclipsed 500 yards.

Rushing wise, it took the Titans awhile to figure out how to utilize Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis. Henry didn’t take off until the end of the year, but when he did he really fucking took off. His last four games, Henry rushed for 238 YDS, 170 YDS, 84 YDS, and 93 YDS. Three of those four games were wins for the Titans, and in all those games he got 15+ carries, something that only happened twice in the season previously. Henry ended the year with 1,059 yards rushing and 12 TDs, he also caught 15 balls for 99 yards.

On defense the Titans were very good and reason they managed to win 9 games on the year. They only allowed 18.9 PPG which was 3rd in the league only behind Baltimore and Chicago. They gave up 333.4 yards per game which was 8th in the league, but they did give up 116.4 of those rushing which is a part of their defense they will want to improve on in 2019. They had three games where they gave up more than 30 points, and four games where they gave up 10 points or less. One of those teams was actually the Patriots in Week 10, but the other three were pretty miserable on offense in 2018.

Individually a few guys shined especially DT Jurrell Casey who made the Pro Bowl. Casey had 2 FF, 1 FR, 7 sacks, 62 total tackles, 11 TFL, 11 QB hits and 1 TD. He was an absolute beast for the Titans and was the leader of that front seven. On the back-end S Kevin Byard had another great season. He recorded 90 tackles, 3 TFL, 5 QB Hits, 2 Sacks, 4 INTs, and 1 TD. He did regress from 2017 where he had 8 INTs, but you can’t really blame him. Byard has led the league the past two years with 12 INTS and just recently got rewarded with a new 5 year contract extension worth $70.5 million.

Another area of improvement the defense would like to see in 2019 is the sack (39) and turnover (17) numbers. The Titans 39 sacks were good for 16th in the league and Casey led the team in that stat. Turnover wise the Titans finished tied for 22nd and finished with a -1 differential on the season. Although the Titans didn’t let you score very much, they also didn’t create a lot of pressure or force any havoc.

The Titans on the season were a bit of a roller coaster. They started out 3-1 beating teams like the Texans, Jags, and Eagles. Then they slipped to 3-4 before getting to 5-4 then back to a losing record at 5-6. They were still in the AFC playoff hunt though and reeled off four wins in a row against bad teams to be 9-6 going into Week 17. They got the final SNF game of the year for the final Wild Card spot at home against the Indianapolis Colts. However, Mariota was hurt so they had to put all their hopes in Blaine Gabbert which isn’t good cause he sucks. Well, they got beat soundly 33-17 and played a pretty bad game overall only managing 258 total yards. Besides the defense, this Titans team was really inconsistent throughout the whole year. Going into 2019, they are looking for more consistency from the offense, and specifically Marcus Mariota.

Key Off Season Acquisitions

G Rodger Saffold (4 years, $44 Million)

Saffold was most likely the top G on the FA market and the Titans scooped him up for a good sized contract. Saffold has only allowed 17 hurries, 5 QB hits, and 3 sacks in 608 pass blocking snaps for the Rams last year. He’ll be a big help to Mariota and Henry.

WR Adam Humphries (4 years, $36 Million)

Humphries was overshadowed by Mike Evans and Chris Godwin in Tampa Bay but he’s a very good player from the slot. He finished last year with 76 catches for 816 yards and 5 TDs. He’ll be a great safety valve for Mariota in tough spots, love this pickup.

DE Cameron Wake (3 years, $23 Million)

We mentioned the Titans lack of sacks in 2018, so they brought in Wake from Miami who is known for getting after the QB. The risk here for a 3 year deal is the fact that Wake is 36 years old. In 14 games last year he finished with 6.0 sacks, 5 TFL, and 17 QB hits. Just two years ago though, Wake had double digit sacks, and has just as many years with double digit sacks as he does without. He will be an upgrade for the Titans when it comes to pass rushing.

QB Ryan Tannehill (via trade with the Miami Dolphins)

With Mariota’s injury history, I love this pickup. Tannehill becomes one of the best backups in the league and can come in and give the Titans quality starts if Mariota does miss some time.

2019 Draft Class

Round 1 Pick #19: DL Jeffery Simmons

Simmons was a value pick for the Titans here because he tore his ACL in February. If Simmons didn’t tear that ACL, he probably would have been a top 10 pick. Simmons can do it all and if the healing process goes well, he could make his debut for the Titans as early as Week 8. Simmons and Casey could become the best DT pair in the league. He has all the tools to become a Pro Bowl type player, and a great run stuffer opposite Casey’s pass rushing skills.

Round 2 Pick #51: WR A.J. Brown

The Titans needed another weapon even after adding Adam Humphries. Brown was a guy who had 1st round talent at the start of the year and really fell in the draft with all the other WRs. Brown played a lot of slot in college, I don’t know how much he’ll play there with Humphries in Tennessee but he has all the tools to be a good WR. Out of all the rookie WRs in the NFL, I could see him putting up the best stats if Mariota stays healthy all year.

Key Off Season Departures

G Josh Kline (via free agency to the Minnesota Vikings)

The only big loss for the Titans on the offensive line and he was replaced with Rodger Saffold. The Titans also spent a third round pick on Nate Davis to fill up some depth on the OL.

2019 Season Preview

The Titans bring back most of their defense and even added to it with Wake and Simmons (later on in the year). They should end the 2019 season with a top tier defense, especially in scoring even though they have to play a lot of high powered offenses.

If the Titans make the playoffs in 2019 it will be because Marcus Mariota stayed healthy, and he finally made a jump up in his progression as a QB. Now that LaFleur is gone, the Titans brought in last years TE Arthur Smith to run the offense.

Smith’s job should be this: run the ball more, and keep Mariota healthy. First to run the ball more the Titans need better offensive line play. Taylor Lewan is a Pro Bowler at LT and Jack Conklin made First-Team All-Pro as a rookie two years ago, but only played 9 full games last year. With the addition of Roger Saffold and drafting depth in the third round with Nate Davis, the Titans should have a better line overall. If Smith and the OL can open holes for Derrick Henry early and often, the Titans offense is going to be much more efficient and give their defense a break.

If the Titans can run the ball effectively, that will obviously only help Mariota. Mariota for most of his time in Tennessee did not have the weapons to succeed. Now he has a 1,000 yard rusher in Henry, a great third down back with Dion Lewis, two early round drafted WRs in Corey Davis and A.J. Brown, he has a good slot WR in Adam Humphries, and two TEs that are more than capable of making plays in Delanie Walker and Jonnu Smith. This is another new coordinator yet again for Mariota, his 5th in the the past 5 years, but he needs to show improvement this year. He was the talent around him, and the offensive line in front of him to make noise in the AFC South and possibly win this division.

Schedule

The AFC South plays the NFC South and AFC West this year. The Titans finished third in their division so they also get the Cleveland Browns and Buffalo Bills.

FOLKS WE ARE BACK. THE TITANS AND JAGS GET A THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL AGAIN. LETS. GO. Titans play at the Jags in Week 3 for their only prime-time game of the year. They do have four other late afternoon games, that have the possibility of being the main game if the Titans prove to be a good team during the year. The best chance is probably Week 7 at home against the Los Angeles Chargers.

The Titans have a good team but they get off to a tough start. Three of the first four on the road are at Cleveland, Jacksonville, and Atlanta. The only home game against that stretch is against Indianapolis. To be blunt, the Titans could be a good team that finds themselves in a 0-4 hole to start the season.

Really the only quirk to the Titans schedule is the fact that they play the Houston Texans twice in the final three weeks of the season. They get their bye week in Week 12.

Fantasy Player You Want

I’ll take a shot on Corey Davis. Davis is a #1 WR with a ton of talent that is going very late in drafts. Some of his production relies on Marcus Mariota, who can be streaky. If Mariota can be more consistent then I think Davis is a guy who you can get as a WR3 or WR4 with a ton of upside.

Fantasy Player to Avoid

Gonna go with Delanie Walker. Walker has had some good years but he’s an older player whose coming off an injury. He’s not getting drafted but I wouldn’t even think bout picking him up.

Ceiling

The AFC South is such a tough division to gauge. The Titans have a good talent and just a solid team all around. If the offense can become more consistent, I could see them being a surprise team and winning up to 10 games.

Floor

If the offense sputters and the defense regresses even just a little, they play in a touch division and have to play the AFC South also. I think this team wins at least 6 games.

Corey Davis talks with Marcus Mariota at the Titans Training Camp (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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