If Luke Bryan isn’t singing on a roof in a Titans hat come January then 2018 was a failure

Welcome to the Podcast AF offseason review series, astutely titled “The Probe” – the unofficial official NFL offseason review series of the Vegas Golden Knights. Here, like most NFL “writers”, I will regurgitate takes I read or heard somewhere else and pass them off as original thoughts. Will Ryan Tannehill breakout in 2018? Was Mike McCarthy abandoned by the run game as a child? Does Saturn have a playoff atmosphere? Your questions, answered! Sponsored by “Ready Player One”, in theaters now!

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#19 – The Tennessee Titans (9-7, 2nd AFC South)

I don’t know how I managed to churn out four of these things yesterday. I’ll admit, after slamming through the Broncos and Chargers entries I had a bit of fatigue for the Ravens entry. HOWEVAH;;; I don’t want to toot my own horn, but the Texans entry might be the magnum opus. It’s The Probe’s “First Class.”

If there’s one resource we’ll never run out of, it’s words, gas, and coffee.

True story, after the Super Bowl I walked through one room going to another and I heard someone say “Nick Foles is better than Marcus Mariota.”

(Don’t Look Back In Anger, Rock N Roll Star, The Masterplan, Bring It On Down, Columbia)

The Foles statement is the opposite of the Oasis statement. It’s one of those takes that lets you know that that person knows very little and that you should not engage because they aren’t changing their mind. You’ll make points about one player’s nuanced play in the pocket, his accuracy at all levels of the field, and his Rodgers-esque navigation of the pass rush and they’ll just be like “stats”.

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Titans beat writers spent the 2017 season lamenting Mike Mularkey’s offensive scheme. The “exotic smash mouth” as he called it was very ineffective. So how’d the Titans win nine games, go 5-1 in their division, and win a playoff game? Two reasons.

  1. In no-huddle situations, Marcus Mariota called the plays. It’s well-documented that when this was the case, the offense was by and large more effective and often they’d march straight down the field.
  2. The “playoff” part:

Despite winning a playoff game, Mularkey was fired. My theory is this: it was reported he’d be fired if the Titans lost to the Chiefs in the wild card round, but it was harder to justify the firing after the win. As was reported, Mularkey met with Amy Adams Strunk following the playoff loss to the Patriots. I’d guess she told Mularkey he can stay if he changes the offense to one that works to actually uses Marcus Mariota instead of neglecting him completely…and he was stubborn. Mularkey thinks 9 regular season wins, a fluke win in the playoffs, and scoring 14 points against the same Patriots defense on which Nick Foles and the Eagles, who actually have a similar offense to the Titans talent-wise, were due to his offensive scheme. The “exotic smash mouth”. The two sides disagree, Mularkey is fired.

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Exotic Smash Mouth.

Before I talk about Matt LaFleur, here’s a quick look at their offensive line, which returns all 5 starters after being one of the NFL’s best in 2017:

POS: Player (PFF Grade)

LT: Taylor Lewan (16)

LG: Quinton Spain (27)

C: Ben Jones (12)

RG: Josh Kline (22)

RT: Jack Conklin (13)

Remember when the Rams offense was horrible and then Sean McVay came in and it became the best offense in the league? Although McVay called the plays, Matt LaFleur was heavily involved in the gameplanning. Sticking with the Rams comparison, Mariota is far and away more talented and has a much wider skillset than Jared Goff (Mariota had the highest passer-rating and YPA on play-action passing of any QB in 2017), and aside from Todd Gurley, the Titans offense has more talent than the Rams.

With DeMarco Murray cut, it’s Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis combined with an actual tight end in Delanie Walker, who’s still a top-5 TE in the NFL despite some bad drops last season, and a WR corps that still has last year’s top-10 pick Corey Davis and Rishard Matthews as a very solid WR2. This cast in a spread offense with heavy play action and rollouts…

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While I understand someday I may be required to, I don’t love making “predictions”. I prefer outlining the situation to show what outcome is more likely. For the 2018 Titans offense, the likely outcome is Luke Bryan singing “Oh my god, this is my song, I’ve been listenin’ to the radio all night long” on the roof of Tootsie’s on Broadway in Nashville.

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Huge hockey fan.

 

DEFENSE:

Movie Comparison: “The Prestige” – phenomenal movie but for some reason didn’t land with most people probably because they hear the word “magic” and tune right out.

Although Mike Vrabel didn’t really deserve a head coaching job based on the fact that his Houston defenses really weren’t that good, the fact that he’s so open to collaboration on both sides of the ball is a good sign. Vrabel knows he doesn’t know everything so he’s brought in people that he trust: LaFleur on offense and former Ravens and Patriots DC Dean Peas on defense.

After Malcolm Butler left New England for Tennessee, all the shows in Boston I’m exposed to failed to mention the Patriots connections in GM Jon Robinson as well as Dean Peas. Everyone went with Logan Ryan and Mike Vrabel; there was no mention of Robinson or Peas.

This is a complaint and has nothing to do with anything.

The Titans had the 4th-best run defense in the NFL but the 8th-worst pass defense. The Titans lacked pass rush and had a couple crucial holes in the secondary. Adoree’ Jackson is one of the best young CBs in the league and adding Butler in with he and Logan Ryan is a major improvement. FS Kevin Byard was first team all-pro, despite Deion Sanders thinking he’s a fan.

SS Jonathan Cyprien is the a major problem and the Titans could look to replace him in the draft.

The over-arching issue here is the lack of a pass rush. Aside from DT Jurrell Casey’s elite play in both pass and run situations, there isn’t much penetration going on on passing downs. This doesn’t mesh well assuming Vrabel tries to bring over the same scheme he used in Houston, which features DBs that will disrupt routes at the line of scrimmage but drop into more conservative zone play. The crossroads of conservative DBs and a lack of pass rush is a dangerous game to play against Andrew Luck and Deshaun Watson twice a year, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, and the entire NFC East.

DE DaQuan Jones has been re-signed and NT Bennie Logan was added from the Chiefs, but the Titans will undoubtedly look to add a pass-rusher in the draft. Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo are back at the OLB spots and are still performing well but Orakpo especially is getting up there.

The biggest loss on the defense is ILB Avery Williamson, PFF’s 10th-ranked LB in the NFL. I question letting him walk when the Titans had $59M in cap room prior to free agency and still have $36M, so if ILB play becomes a problem in 2018 then it’ll be one of those “you had the answer, let him leave, knew it was a need and didn’t fill it” type of situations. Wesley Woodyard is back at one spot and replacing Williamson as of now is Nate Palmer, who hasn’t played in a game since he was on the Packers in 2015. These two are responsible for 2-gaps in read and react roles, so there aren’t positions that should be messed with if the goal is to either breakeven or improve on your incumbent 4th-best run defense.

MAJOR DRAFT NEEDS: Pass Rusher, ILB, SS, interior OL depth 

Prisco’s Pickanosis:

In honor of Pete Prisco telling me I’m dumb and that I’ll fail, here’s this entry’s edition of “Prisco’s Pickanosis,” where I highlight something the Tom Brady of acting like an infant on Twitter was completely wrong about.\

START ‘EM: Pricksco being a dumbass. Bit of a cold streak the last couple entries, but this segment is back in a big way.

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  1. Titans pass defense did stink. Not the run defense though.
  2. If the implication is that Mariota himself regressed, that is just completely wrong and coming from someone who continually tells his Twitter followers they’re idiots and they don’t know the game as well as he does, that’s a pretty wild statement. I’d guess that is the implication because if Pricksco were to implicate Mularkey, there was plenty of space left in those tweets to do so.

HE EVEN MAKES THE POINT THAT IS REASON FOR MARIOTA’S DIP IN PRODUCTION AND DOENS’T PUT 2 AND 2 TOGETHER! (Production and performance are two very different things folks.)

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Funny enough, my response to that first tweet was what caused Pricksco to berate me and tell me I’d fail in this industry. Very admirable guy.

That doesn’t even address the main issue in this screenshot. Wow. Again, and this is what I said to him; seeing statements like that help me sleep at night knowing I’ll be alright in this industry.

@JohnAnders42