The Titans’ first quarter has been a rollercoaster of emotions, from the longest game in NFL history, to numerous devastating injuries, to triumphant wins over contenders like the Eagles and Jaguars. With that, I’ve given position groups grades for their performance in their first four games.
Marcus Mariota is the QB of the future for the Titans. He silenced doubters by winning AFC offensive player of the week in a huge performance against Philadelphia.
He put up 334 yards and 3 total touchdowns, including a game winning floater to Corey Davis. Mariota has dealt with the injury bug, as he got hit hard in the elbow week 1 against Miami, and was hampered for the following weeks.
Mariota seems to have recovered, and we can hopefully put to rest the “injury prone” label that follows Mariota around. Titans fans should feel confident that they have a franchise guy to rely on for the coming seasons.
Also exceeding expectations was backup Blaine Gabbert, who played a solid game to bring the Titans to 1-1 in week 2. Gabbert only threw one touchdown and his statline is ugly, but he played a mistake-free game and led the Titans to victory, which is all you can ask from a backup QB.
Gabbert is a massive upgrade from Matt Cassel or Zach Mettenberger, and Tennessee is lucky to have him.
It’s been a perplexing season for Derrick Henry and free agent acquisition Dion Lewis, as they can’t seem to get anything going on the ground.
It’s important to recognize that at times Henry and Lewis aren’t performing; Henry said himself he needs to run harder and angrier.
That being said, it’s not fair to put all the blame on Henry and Lewis. The offensive line has been banged up and they’ve faced stacked boxes because of Gabbert and a less than 100% Mariota not being able to stretch the defense downfield.
Without a vertical threat, opposing teams have keyed in on stopping the run game. Expect the backs to have more success as the offense opens up.
It’s also important to note that Dion Lewis has been everything we asked for in the passing game. He had a huge 4th down conversion vs. Philly, and has been the safety blanket that the Titans desperately need following the loss of Delanie Walker.
You can make all the excuses in the world for the Titans receivers. You can say they haven’t played with a healthy Mariota for three weeks, you can say that it’s not easy to have the veteran in the room walk out on the team, you can say that they need time to grow.
The truth is the time is now for the young group. They appear to be stepping up after a great performance against the Eagles, as Taywan Taylor and Corey Davis were excellent, but some of their numbers are inexcusable.
They are top 10 in most passes dropped and bottom 10 in receptions of over 25 yards. They’ve left some points on the board, with an egregious drop by Darius Jennings on a play that would stick in Titans fan’s heads for a long time had they not won. This is a group with a good amount of talent and potential, but they aren’t there yet.
Delanie Walker was a staple for the Titans at TE, but he’s now out for the season with a leg injury. Former 3rd round pick Jonnu Smith and primary blocking TE Luke Stocker have been called on to step up, and haven’t been thriving.
Stocker does his job, he blocks well and is a smart player, but he offers little to no receiving value. Jonnu Smith has struggled blocking, and had a few key drops this season. Smith has a lot of potential but was thrust into a very difficult situation early in his career.
I expect Smith to continue to be used a lot this year and develop as a player: Delanie Walker is 34 years old and it’s clear the Titans need Smith to step up and eventually take over for Walker.
If he can’t provide much blocking wise, he won’t see the field much. He needs time right now, which isn’t uncommon among young players, but expect to see Smith be a piece on this roster for years to come.
Hats off to the O-Line. They already had to deal with missing their all-pro tackle Jack Conklin when Taylor Lewan and Dennis Kelly went down with injury and an illness respectively.
Tyler Marz and Kevin Pamphile (who is now on IR) have filled in and done an admirable job. The Titans are top 10 in fewest sacks allowed despite the injuries, and the D-Lines they’ve faced are no slouch. Robert Quinn, Cameron Wake, JJ Watt, Yannick Ngakoue, Calais Campbell, Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham can all bring the heat on opposing offenses.
Despite the RBs struggling, the patchwork unit has put together a strong first quarter, and the sky’s the limit for the now health group. One interesting note is that LG Quinton Spain is likely having his best season yet, and becomes a third member of the Titans O-Line who could reach pro bowl status.
Matt LaFleur: A
OC Mat LaFleur has been the offensive MVP thus far. No matter who is under center, whether it is Mariota, Gabbert, or Henry out of the wildcat, the Titans have been able to move the ball. LaFleur has been very creative and I can’t wait to see what he can do with an offense at full strength, like the one vs. the Eagles. Not much else to be said other that this offense looks 20 times better with LaFleur than Robiskie.