Know Your Enemy is back!!! This series analyzes the NFC North’s opponents in 2016 in the AFC South and NFC East. The series kicks off in the AFC South with the Tennessee Titans.
The Titans didn’t fare very well in 2015 with a 3-13 record and earned the 1st overall pick. The Titans old coach Ken Whisenhunt was fired before completing two seasons in 2015. The team has many roster holes but some talent to be wary of on game day. New GM Jon Robinson was hired this offseason and has bolstered the Titans young talent after a blockbuster trade to give up the number 1 pick.
New coach Mike Mularkey has a good offensive mind and Dick Lebeau is a great defensive mind to run the 3-4 defense in his second year as the Titans defensive coordinator. Terry Robiskie is a veteran coach and will be the offensive coordinator for second year quarterback Marcus Mariota.
The Titans scored 18.7 PPG which was 28th in the league in 2015. Marcus Mariota was a rookie QB but this was not good enough for Ken Whisenhunt (an offensive guru) to keep his job.
Marcus Mariota had a solid rookie season considering the lack of talent around him. Mariota threw for 62% on 370 attempts with a 7.6 YPA. The second overall pick in the 2015 draft notched 19 TDs and 10 interceptions as a rookie. The Titans expect big things out of Mariota in year 2 of his career in 2016. Veteran Matt Cassel is the new backup after Zach Mettenberger struggled in 2015 and was traded this offseason.
Trades and Offensive Line
The Titans drafted to help Mariota and added some talented running backs (DeMarco Murray (trade with swap of 4th rounders with Eagles) and Derrick Henry (2nd round pick)). The Titans ran for 4.0 YPC but this was due to Mariota’s 7.4 YPC on scrambles and 4.5 YPC by Dexter McCluster on 55 carries. Lead back Antonio Andrews (143 carries) had only 3.6 YPC and the additions of Murray and Henry should be a big boost to the run game despite Murray’s issues in 2015 with the Eagles.
The Titans traded the 1st overall pick to the Rams for the Rams 1st, 2nd, 2nd and 3rd round selection in 2016 and a 1st and 3rd in 2017. The Titans ended up trading back up to the 8th pick while giving up a 3rd rounder and a 2nd round pick in 2017. The Titans selected Jack Conklin to help their offensive line and pair with Taylor Lewan as book-end young tackles.
Conklin should play right tackle this season and help to provide better protection for Marcus Mariota (35.1% of drop backs under pressure). Taylor Lewan (left tackle) and Chance Warmack (right guard) are both former first rounders to help on the offensive line of the Titans. Veteran Ben Jones was added at center from the Texans. Jeremiah Poutasi was drafted in Round 3 in 2015 and will get a shot to start at left guard. The Titans have a young offensive line that must protect Mariota and must block better for their new talented running backs. However, the Titans lack depth on the offensive line.
The Titans did have a 1,000 yard pass catcher in veteran tight end Delanie Walker. Walker had 94 receptions on 133 targets for 1,088 yards at 11.6 YPC and 6 TDS. Walker was a great security blanket for Mariota in 2015.
However, the other pass catches lacked for the Titans. Rookie 2nd round pick Dorial Green Beckham had a great 17.2 YPC but only caught 32 of 66 targets. Free agent Harry Douglas had 411 yards and 2 TDs on 71 targets. Former 1st round pick Kendall Wright had 408 yards and 3 TDs on 61 targets. Former second round pick Justin Hunter did worse with 264 yards and 1 TD with 31 targets. The Titans need two of these players to step up in 2016 at least. Wright has an 1,000 yard season in his past (2013) and may be the best bet out of the slot for the Titans.
The Titans have plenty of high draft pick weapons and a good tight end. Mariota, Mularkey and Robiskie must figure out a way to make things work with these players. Rishard Matthewas added in free agency from the Dolphins. Matthews had 662 yard and 4 TDs with 61 targets. Tajae Sharpe was drafted in Round 5. The Titans need someone besides Walker to step up for Mariota.
DeMarco Murray had a disappointing 2015 season with the Eagles after a monster 2014 season with the Cowboys. Murray had 3.6 YPC on 193 carries with 6 TDs with the Eagles. Murray had 4.7 YPC and 1,845 yards with 13 TDs with the Cowboys in 2014. The Titans are hoping for 2014 type production from Murray. Henry is a big shifty Alabama back drafted in Round 2. The Titans hope Henry can have the same success as Mark Ingram and Eddie Lacy in the NFL. Antonio Andrews, David Cobb and Bishop Sankey will vie for the 3rd backup job after underwhelming the previous seasons. The offensive line additions of Ben Jones and Jack Conklin could help the run game as well.
The Titans defense gave up 26.4 PPG which was 27th in the league. Dick Lebeau will have his work cut out for him in 2016 but this will be his last chance leading the Titans defense. Lebeau was the DC in 2015 and couldn’t get the young Titans to play better defense.
The Titans defense has a lot of no-name players but they do have some talent. Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo can be talented OLBS in a 3-4. Morgan had 4.5 sacks, 7 hit and 20 hurries in only 538 snaps. Orakpo is a former 1st round pick from the Redskins and had 7 sacks, 6 hits and 36 hurries with the Titans in 2015. Kevin Dodd was drafted in early Round 2 from Clemson to help the pass rush for the Titans.
Jurell Casey is a very good pass rushing DE with 7 sacks, 6 hits and 36 hurries from the 3-4 defensive end spot. Karl Klug had 4 sacks, 6 hits and 17 hurries in only 339 snaps at 3-4 DE. Klug, Casey, Orakpo, Dodd and Morgan could provide a decent pass rush for the Titans. Austin Johnson was added in Round 2 for a young nose tackle to pair with veteran Al Woods. Woods didn’t offer much pass rush and Johnson is a big body but more athletic. Young nose tackle Angelo Blackson struggled in 200 snaps in 2015 for Tennessee. The Titans have a solid defensive line led by Casey.
ILB and Run Defense
Nate Palmer, Sean Spence and veteran Wesley Woodyard will be the ILBs. The Titans only gave up 3.9 YPC in 2015 which was 8th in the league. They will look to build on this run defense in 2016.
The Titans gave up a 101.3 QB rating and struggled in pass defense in 2015. This was their biggest downfall and may continue in 2016. Their best corner Jason McCourty only played only 238 snaps and having him healthy will help the Titans. Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Perrish Cox, Antwon Blake and Brice McCain will battle for the number 2 CB and nickel jobs. The Titans could be in trouble at cornerback in 2016.
Da’ Norris Searcy is a solid strong safety especially in run defense and coverage. Rashad Johnson was added at free safety from the Cardinals defense. The Titans hope these veterans can be enough on the back end in 2016. Kevin Bayard was drafted in Round 3 out of Middle Tennessee State to help bolster the Titans safety issue but may take some time to develop from a small school. The Titans have a decent safety situation after adding Johnson and Bayard.
Schedule and Overall
The Titans were 1-7 at home last season and 2-6 on the road in 2015. The Titans won in Tampa Bay and New Orleans in 2015 and beat Jacksonville at home for their only three wins. The Titans host the Vikings to start the season and travel to Detroit in Week 2. The Titans welcome the Packers Week 10 in Nashville and travel to Chicago in Week 12. All four North teams should beat the Titans this season but everyone should be wary of their QB, new run game, OLBs, run defense and Jason McCourty.
Tennessee appears to be a few years away from playoff caliber but added a lot of rookie talent in the 2016 draft after a blockbuster trade. If the Titans get good offensive line play from their young line, they could be more formidable than anticipated. DeMarco Murray finding his 2014 form would really help out in Nashville. The defense (mainly secondary) will cost them many games but they have some pass rush fire power. We’ll see what kind of development Marcus Mariota makes in year 2 of his career. Enjoy the win against the Titans but don’t sleep on them in 2016.