When Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Mularkey unveiled his new philosophy for the offense this season, some raised an eyebrow…some snickered…and most did both at the thought of an exotic smash mouth professional football team in Nashville.
And for good reason, the Titans hadn’t finished higher than 25th in the league in rushing in 2014 and 2015.
But four games into the season no one was laughing. Tennessee ended the month of September as one of the best rushing teams in the league, thanks in large part to the rejuvenation of running back DeMarco Murray.
While the Titans continue to run the ball effectively, those who follow the team have watched the offense evolve into a well-rounded, multi-faceted unit spearheaded by the ascent of quarterback Marcus Mariota and the passing game.
Mariota has thrown 17 touchdown passes over the last six games. The offense has been less predictable, and as a result, the points (and wins) have been coming in bunches. The Titans have scored at least 35 points in three consecutive games for the first time since relocating from Houston.
In addition, Tennessee is 4-2 over that stretch, and if not for a couple of fourth quarter turnovers the Titans could have easily been 6-0 during that span.
But I digress.
Early in the season Tennessee’s offense took turns being one-dimensional. Either Murray and the run game got things going at the expense of the passing game, or vice versa.
On Sunday, in their highest profile game of the season, both phases of the offense excelled in a dominant 47-25 victory over Aaron Rodgers and the storied Green Bay Packers.
Murray showed why he is the league’s second leading rusher, racking up 123 yards and a touchdown against the league’s number one rush defense, after starting the day with a 75 yard score on Tennessee’s first offensive play of the game.
Mariota was magical, completing 73% of his passes for 295 yards, 4 tds, and zero turnovers. His four touchdown tosses were to four different receivers.
Not to be outdone, Murray chipped in his own touchdown pass (on his first career attempt) to tight end Delanie Walker after taking a pitch from Mariota on a supposed toss sweep.
For those keeping count that’s five touchdown passes to five different receivers.
Going forward, Tennessee’s balanced offensive explosion should keep opposing defensive coordinators up late at night for the remainder of the season.
Do I keep eight players close to the line of scrimmage to stop Murray, and leave my cornerbacks exposed? Wide receiver Rishard Matthews has feasted on that philosophy lately, hauling in a touchdown pass in each of the last six games.
Or do I keep my safeties back to stop the suddenly surging Mariota? And take my chances with Murray and the offensive line dominating the line of scrimmage?
After yesterday’s game, coach Mularkey stated as much, proudly proclaiming that his evolving offense is becoming increasingly difficult to game plan for.
At 5-5, and right in the thick of the AFC South divisional race, Tennessee’s offense is looking nothing like the one that took the field against the Minnesota Vikings in the season opener, let alone the one that was responsible for just five wins the last two seasons combined.
If the passing attack was what Mularkey was referring to when he said “exotic” smash mouth football, then he is starting to look like a genius.