The Tennessee Titans (0-1) caused quite a stir in January when they fired head coach Mike Mularkey after back to back winning seasons and the team’s first playoff win since 2003.
The reason for the firing was largely based on Mularkey’s stubborn unwillingness to move away from the archaic exotic smash mouth offensive philosophy, and the move was widely approved by the fan base.
But as the injury-riddled Titans literally limp into Sunday’s divisional match up with the 0-1 Houston Texans, the exotic smash mouth approach may actually be their best chance to come away victorious.
Ah yes….the irony of football.
Tennessee will enter Sunday’s contest without their All Pro right tackle (Jack Conklin – ACL), their reigning two-time Pro Bowl left tackle (Taylor Lewan – concussion), and their reigning three-time Pro Bowl tight end (Delanie Walker)…who was lost for the season after dislocating his ankle last week in Miami.
Dennis Kelly, Tennessee’s primary backup at tackle, is also questionable due to an illness that caused him to miss practice this week.
Not to mention the fact that quarterback Marcus Mariota is still on the mend after an elbow injury caused him to sit out the second half last week. Head coach Mike Vrable hinted that both he and backup Blaine Gabbert could see action Sunday.
Say what? I’ll digress on that for now.
With that said, a possible shootout with a Deshaun Watson led Houston offense that is scheduled to have their burner receiver Will Fuller V back in the lineup is almost a certain recipe for disaster.
Ex-coach Mike Mularkey’s exotic smash mouth approach is designed to ugly up the game by controlling the clock with a heavy dose of the run, then supplement that attack with smart physical play on defense and special teams.
The idea is to play keep away with the opposing offense, hang close, and let the chips fall where they may late in the game.
As the roster stands now, that approach would give Tennessee’s healthy players a fighting chance against a quarterback that accounted for 5 touchdowns in route to a 57 point explosion the last time he faced them.
New England was successful with that approach last week against Houston.
While New England’s all-world tight end Rob Gronkowski garnered most of the praise for his monster performance against the Texans last week, it was the run game that kept J.J. Watt and Company at arm’s distance last week.
The Patriots ran the ball more than they threw it last week (31-26), and racked up 122 yards on the ground.
As a result, New England won the time of possession battle. A far cry from their 2017 match up where it took some late heroics from Tom Brady to steal one in a shootout.
For all of their injuries, Tennessee’s running back duo of Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis are healthy and ready to go Sunday. And lets face it, they are far more talented than the running back committee of Rex Burkhead, James White, and Jeremy Hill that New England deployed last week…..and they averaged a collective 4 yards per carry.
The Titans had to abandon the run late in last week’s loss to Miami, but still amassed 116 yards on the ground between Henry and Lewis. And if not for a phantom holding call that wiped out a 62 yard Henry touchdown, then it could have been close to a 200 yard day on the ground.
No, I am not calling for Mularkey’s exotic smash mouth approach long-term, nor am I second guessing his firing, but the idea of it gives Tennessee their best chance to win this week. That is…if the organization can swallow their pride enough to do it…..
And you know what they say about pride…it comes before the fall.