The Tennessee Titans expected to be 7-4 after eleven games. What they didn’t expect was to amass that record in spite of their offense.
Tennessee’s offseason moves to upgrade the weapons around quarterback Marcus Mariota dominated the headlines all spring and summer, and the offense’s season-long run of inconsistent play has dominated the headlines throughout the season.
Meanwhile, the defense entered the season with little fanfare and fewer expectations. In fact, they were supposed to hitch their wagon to the offense’s success and ride them to the playoffs.
Their only job? Just don’t mess it up.
Not only has the defense held up their end of the bargain on that request, but they have quietly kept the Titans atop the division with a growing number of game changing plays over the last several weeks.
With more than a sample size to gauge from, it’s time to call it for what it is.
The Tennessee Titans are a defensive team in 2017. No need to “fix” the offense. Just build a game plan around the real strength of this franchise going forward.
A defensive-minded team is not a team without offensive talent. Some of the most successful and dominant defensive teams in NFL history had play makers on offense.
It does, however, call for a more conservative approach on offense with the signal caller acting as more of a game-manager than a risk-taking gun slinger that wings it all over the lot while putting up tons of points.
That can be tricky in Tennessee, as Mariota has been tabbed the franchise quarterback in Nashville, and those types of qb’s are usually asked to do more than just manage games.
But let’s face it, aside from a few flashes, Mariota has been anything but a franchise quarterback this season.
He now has an interception in four-straight games and eight overall picks during that span. He looks tentative in the pocket and has missed his share of open receivers.
Yet and still the Titans are 3-1 over that span thanks to a defensive unit that continues to put the clamps on their opponents, even with their backs against the wall far more often than not.
Today was another illustration of that.
The defense was dominant in the first quarter, smothering Jacoby Brissett and the Colts’ offense. Mariota and the offense put up two quick field goals and it looked like the route was on.
Two Mariota interceptions later, the Titans find themselves down by seven at the half.
If not for a fumble recovery near the Colts’ goal line late in the third quarter (that was converted into a touchdown shortly after), who knows if Tennessee is able to squeak out the 20-6 victory today.
The Titans’ go ahead score in the fourth quarter was executed by an offense that played conservatively, running the ball eight straight times before DeMarco Murray’s one yard lunge to take the lead.
The ball was taken out of Mariota’s hands, and given his current psyche, that’s not a bad thing.
Tennessee’s defense held the Colts to under 200 yards passing and under 100 yards rushing while recovering a fumble that swung the game’s momentum their way.
They also chipped in eight sacks on the day. One shy of the franchise record.
When you look at the stats beside the names in the box score, Tennessee’s defensive players routinely outperform their offensive counterparts.
Safety Kevin Byard is a Pro Bowl and All Pro lock, with a realistic shot at Defensive Player of the Year if he keeps taking the ball away as he did again today.
He currently leads the league in takeaways.
No one on offense, with all of their name cache, can make that claim.
Run game woes. The offensive line’s failure to open holes and protect as they did last year. Is Murray losing a step? What’s wrong with Mariota?
Amid all of those questions the Titans are currently the third seed in the AFC, thanks to a defense that would not allow this season to implode right before our very eyes.
Sorry Mariota, this is the defense’s team this year. They just need you to eliminate the mistakes, manage the game, and lead comeback drives when called upon as he did today…and the fourth time this season.
After a nine-year playoff drought, no Titans fan will care how they get there this year.
Riding the defense is working, so if it ain’t broke don’t break it.