The first point I'd like to make is that I think this team is going in the right direction, Jon Robinson has put together the strongest roster that we have seen in some time, and he's not been afraid of cutting under-performing high draft picks. However, what we saw was a classic Titans collapse, the likes of which we have become accustomed to over the last few seasons. Mike Mularkey has a losing record as a head coach and Sunday's game was a perfect example of why that is the case. Don't get me wrong, the Vikings are a good football team - even with Hill at QB - that possess maybe the best defense in the entire NFL, but we should've won that game. Any time you go into the half with a double-digit lead you have to finish the game off - no ifs or buts.
But let's not overreact. I saw many butthurt comments on Titans Report after the game - many fans ripping into Marcus Mariota, which I find to be laughable. This is the first game of the season, and we know how 'important' they are based on the last couple of seasons. If this trend continues over 4-5 games then there is cause to panic, but let's stand back and have some perspective about this result and what it actually means for our season. It doesn't mean a whole lot, as long as the team can come together can cut out those turnovers going forward.
In terms of the game, the first half was punctuated, I thought, by the success of our run game. It's nice to see two real powerful runners, who both have great vision and aren't afraid of contact, in DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry. We have missed runners like that since the days of Eddie George. Murray had early success, and I thought the offensive line blocked well for him with Ben Jones and Jack Conklin both showing up on tape. The only negative of the half in terms of the offense was the lack of ability to finish off the drive and generate points - we deserved at least 17pts at the half, perhaps more.
|I thought Murray had a nice first half, but he has to sort out those fumbling issues.|
Moreover, may I be the first to say that I may have underrated the Tajae Sharpe selection - and the Derrick Henry selection for that matter - in my post-draft analysis. Sharpe looks like a reliable target that could evolve into a legitimate number one receiver, despite the fact that he is effectively operating in that role already. He has everything you look for; strong hands, great route running, nice height, and a solid understanding with our starting QB. The only thing Sharpe doesn't have is burner speed. Make no mistake, however, the guy can run and I thought he had the beating of Trae Waynes all game - the coaching staff should've taken several deep shots on that match-up. We heard reporters talk about how improved Mariota's deep game was in off-season practices, let's see some evidence of that in the regular season.
In the first half, defensively, the team was stout and only gave up field goal opportunities. Jurrell Casey was his usual disruptive self, beating interior lineman at will with his speed - the Titans also seemed to be subbing him out of the game more often which appears to be a conscious decision by Mularkey - based on his post-game comments - to consolidate Casey's high motor. Indeed, the front 7 were pretty solid from top to bottom, Morgan was particularly good at getting in position on AP and making setting the edge effectively. What I would like to have seen, and this goes for the entire game, was more of a pass rush. Our front 7 is more than capable of generating pressure on the opposing QB, perhaps it was a conscious decision by LeBeau to hold back on the exotic zone blitzes so that they could be sure AP wouldn't run all over them. I'm not enamored by our secondary personnel, but they did a decent enough job in the first half. The multiple safety looks was particularly interesting, with Byard getting a lot of time on the field with the starting D.
What can I say about the second half other than to quote Mularkey...it was "catastrophic". First of all, and this is a particular pet peeve of mine, you can not start off the half by giving away big yardage on special teams. Special teams are momentum shift-drivers, the number of NFL games I have watched where a big return or special teams tackle has swung the momentum is too many to count. It was just amateurish. The coaching staff knows how special Patterson at returning kicks so we should never have given him the chance.
|Mike Zimmer deserves most of the credit for the Viking's success, their defense could carry them to the playoffs.|
But on to the 'actual' game (sorry special teamers). For whatever reason we just couldn't move the ball at all in the second half. I got the sense from Zimmer that he thought our offense was quite easy to stop once you can read the misdirection. I wouldn't be surprised if the defensive adjustments he made at half time was the major catalyst for changes in the levels of success that Titans offense had. Despite this, I thought the Titans shot themselves in the foot somewhat. They got away from the simple 'smashmouth' way of offense and incorporated far too much of the 'exotic' into their second half offensive gameplan. Mariota looked lost at times. I mean the interception was just horrible. We can talk about how Douglas should've secured the block and everything, but that ball should never have been thrown and Marcus knows it. But let's not get down on our QB, I thought he was solid in the first half and everyone can have a bad game - we're all human.
The fumbles pissed me off the most though. Secure the damn football. SECURE IT! This was the part of the collapse that annoyed me the most. DeMarco needs to work on this part of his game, because it can cost you a good number of games over the course of a season. Winning the turnover battle is key to winning football games.
Ultimately, the offensive collapse cost the Titans the game. There is nothing really extra to say in terms of what the defense did, it was a continuity of the first half performance. When your defense holds AP to 31 yards rushing, and the opposing offense to 9pts overall, then there is no excuse for the offense not winning you the game. The Titans should've won this game and they know it. But they should take heart in the fact that there were many positives to take away from this game, especially from the first half. My two lessons for next week would be; 1. Secure the football, and 2. Get Delanie Walker into the game early.
In conclusion, the overall message that should come out of this game is, "Dont Panic! It's Week One." Let's as fans look at the positives that came out of the game and have some perspective in terms of the fact that we have 15 games left.
MVP: Jack Conklin
I'm awarding my Titans Week One MVP this week to the rookie Right Tackle, Jack Conklin. Jack performed exceptionally well against, in my opinion, one of the strongest defensive fronts in the league. I know many felt a sense of disappointment with the draft pick several months ago, but Jon Robinson should feel partially vindicated for selecting him after this week one showing. PFF obviously saw the same things that I did because Conklin ended up with a grade of 75.9 from their 'experts'.
|Let's hope Conklin is able to emulate 'Big Country' Stewart and be a reliable force on the right side for years to come.|