Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Mularkey and franchise quarterback Marcus Mariota have one glaring thing in common.
They both have yet to win over their critics, even though they are enjoying the best team success of their careers.
Both will be under the microscope as the Titans prepare for their longest road trip in recent memory, staying on the west coast for two weeks with back to back road games with the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers.
In fact, given the magnitude of the games and scrutiny surrounding them, one could argue this is the most important road trip of the Mularkey – Mariota era.
The removal of Mularkey’s interim tag before the start of the 2016 season was met with a yawn from the local media and fan base. Yes, his losing record in his previous stints as head coach played a part, but fans were weary after a 2-7 record as Tennessee’s interim coach in 2015.
Since his hire, Mularkey is tied with Philadelphia’s Doug Peterson with the best record of any of the seven coaches hired in 2016.
Last season he led the Titans to a surprising 9-7 record, falling short of a division title and automatic playoff berth by just one game. Tennessee defeated five playoff teams along the way.
This season the Titans are 8-4, tied atop the division, and currently the third seed in the AFC. But if you poll the fans 70% still want him replaced.
The antiquated smash mouth football attack leads to ugly football week in and week out, something that is starting to grow old with fans. The offense, which was supposed to be the backbone of this year’s team, has yet to get on track….drawing more ire toward Mularkey and his staff.
And speaking of offensive woes, Mariota has and should shoulder most of the blame. After ascending his first two years the franchise qb has taken a step back in 2017.
Mariota currently has more interceptions than touchdowns, and his up and down play is a huge reason why the Titans are 24th in passing yards per game (202), even though they spent three of their first four draft picks on offensive weapons for him this year.
And four of four if you want to be technical. Rookie c.ornerback Adoree’ Jackson has played snaps on offense and has been impressive when called upon.
But I digress.
The run game has suffered from the passing game’s lack of efficiency, causing the entire offense to get stuck in the mud most of the season.
As a result the national media is discrediting the Titans’ success this season, while routinely crowing Jacksonville as the next best thing…even though Tennessee manhandled them in their week 2 match up.
The only thing that can change Mularkey’s and Mariota’s public perception is winning the division and making a good showing in the playoffs. And to do that, they must take of business the next two weeks.
With a two game lead in the Wild Card race with four left to play, Tennessee could conceivably return to Nashville with that coveted playoff clinching asterisk next to their name if they take care of their business on the west coast the next two weeks.
And if that happens, most…if not all will be forgiven.