Promising beginning:
Mariota, Titans show improvement

Marcus Mariota

Marcus Mariota

It has certainly been a promising beginning to the 2015 season for the Tennessee Titans. An optimist would speak solely of that improvement and speculate on what it could lead to later. A pessimist would say they still are a losing team. I fall in the middle of the two. While encouraged by the start before this all-too-premature Bye week, I know how much better it could have (and probably should have) been.

The Titans had the chance to put the Colts away, to bury them, to finish them off, and they failed to do that. Had the Titans held on in that game, the Colts would have dropped to 0-3, essentially three games behind the Titans in the division. The infighting would have escalated, a long-rumored coaching change likely would have taken place, and especially given Andrew Luck’s injury suffered in that game, the Colts would have imploded. The confidence to persevere in the subsequent Jacksonville game would not have been there.

But the Titans failed to slay the dragon, and the rest of the league will likely pay for their failure.

So the Titans emerge from the all-too-early Bye at 1-2, while the now once again first-place Colts sit at 2-2 after their fortunate overtime win over the youthful Jaguars on Sunday. You can say the Titans are in the same place as the Jaguars, both needing to learn how to finish off games, something neither was able to do against the Colts.

While the status of Luck’s shoulder injury is unclear, the Colts have that confidence back with the veteran leadership of former Titan Matt Hasselbeck. The oldest non-kicker in the league still has it, or at least still has just enough to get the job done. Jacksonville is improving but still stand at 1-3. Houston is also 1-3, but a mess, so the AFC South does stand as football’s weakest division at this point. The optimist says: ‘go get this division then!’

Three successive home games greet Tennessee on the other side, starting this week against 2-2 Buffalo led by boisterous Coach Rex Ryan and a young quarterback further behind on the learning curve in Tyrod Taylor. Injuries to starting running back LeSean McCoy and starting receiver Sammy Watkins hamstrung the Bills in their 24-10 home loss to the Giants on Sunday. Their status is also unclear, but the Titans need to worry about themselves.

After that comes Miami, with a new coach after firing Joe Philbin on the long plane flight from a loss in London to the Jets which dropped them to 1-3, then the currently undefeated Atlanta Falcons come in. November opens with trips to current 1-3s Houston and New Orleans—a schedule certainly made for the optimists.

Marcus Mariota has surpassed expectations with a sterling 109.2 rating, 62.9% completion rate, eight touchdowns and only two interceptions—only one of those bad on his part. The committee approach at running back has yielded okay results, 4.2 yards per carry and 126 yards per game. This has translated to strong time of possession, nearly 34 minutes per. This has helped the defense, though the collapse in the fourth quarter against the Colts was alarming.

This team is better, no question about it. Coach Whisenhunt has done a good job tailoring the offense to Mariota’s strengths, but his game management skills are at least as much to blame for the Indianapolis loss as anything else. This division is there for the taking. Now is the part of the schedule to start banking those wins.